Whether it’s your kiddo’s transplant surgery, or something as low-key as getting ear tubes, your child undergoing a procedure can be pretty frightening. Luckily, there are several things you can do to ease your worries and those of your transplant warrior.
I’ve found that there are three main keys to success when your warrior needs an operation: education, communication, and preparation.
My number one piece of advice is to learn as much as you can about the required procedure. Knowledge is power. When you are armed with information, you can know what to expect, and fewer unknowns means fewer surprises and fewer reasons to fear the outcome.
You should research all you can on your own, and then control the flow of information to your child. That way, you can help them learn things in an age-appropriate setting. If your child is very young, teach them in a way they can understand. If your child is a little older, let them research with you while controlling what you allow them to see and read. This will help them feel empowered, as well. For older children, consider letting them do their own research and discuss it with them afterwards.
Education also allows you to formulate more questions for your medical team. The more you know, the more comfortable you’ll feel, especially when your medical team uses terms you may not have heard of had you not done your homework. If there is something you’ve read that you are uncomfortable with or do not understand, talk to your team. That leads me to my next point.
Communication needs to be transparent between you and your medical team and between you and your warrior. If there are questions you have about what to expect, ask them. And make sure you understand the answers. Your team should be open with details about pre-op, the procedure, post-op recovery, and returning home. If there is something that seems unclear, ask them to elaborate or explain it in a way that helps you better to understand what they are saying. If your child is a little older, let them talk directly with his or her medical team. Let them ask their questions and process the answers.
You should also communicate with your warrior. Be open and honest. Keep things age-appropriate, but be clear. Most importantly, be very careful about which words you use. There are certain words and phrases that can be discomforting, even though we mean well when we say them. You want to use words that make your child feel empowered. They need to buy in to what is going to happen, rather than feel forced to do something they aren’t comfortable with.
Here’s what I mean. Take the example of questions about anesthesia. Don’t tell them the doctors are going to “put you to sleep.” That may conjure up feelings and fears about what happens to elderly or ill pets. Instead, say something like “you’ll just fall asleep!” That leaves the power and control with them, and it helps them associate an unknown with something they know and recognize. You can tell them that you’ll see him or her when they “wake up.” This associates the “big scary part” with something familiar and “un-scary.”
Here’s the other really big piece of communication: your demeanor. You have to project confidence. Don’t shrug things off as if they are no big deal; this is a big deal, for all of you! And it should be. But don’t let them see that you are afraid or nervous. You can cry alone in the bathroom later, but in front of them you have to be rock solid. Even the littlest ones smell fear. If you are confident, they will be more confident.
My last thought on communication is that you need to be your warrior’s advocate at all times. Communicate with the medical team exactly what you need from them and when. Also, don’t be afraid to challenge people, especially if you don’t recognize them. You should know who is giving your child what and why. If you think something feels off, express that concern. You are their voice.
Don’t forget! Proper planning prevents poor performance! Preparation is crucial for success. You can wish and hope and dream all day long about how you want things to play out, but unless you take definitive steps to set those dreams into action, they are less likely to happen how you want them to.
One of the easiest ways to set yourself and your child up for success is to create a familiar environment. Bring lovies, pillows, blankies, books, games, whatever it is that your child will recognize as THEIRS. If you know about the procedure ahead of time, pack these things in advance, if you can. That way, when it’s time to go, you won’t be scrambling to pack comfort items and forget Mr. Teddy.
You can also mentally prepare yourself and your warrior for the big day. Go over the steps with them until they are comfortable with everything that will happen, and they feel properly prepared with what to expect.
There will be a pre-op physical the day or days prior. They will meet the anesthesia team. On the big day, you’ll have to sign in to the surgical ward. You’ll go back for pre-op vitals, and they’ll be put in a hospital gown. Prepare them to have to wait and be patient. Time can seem like it’s moving at a snail’s pace when you’re anticipating something. Remind them to stay calm and relaxed. Then, they’ll be wheeled back without you to the operating room. Let them know that you’ll be close by, waiting for them as soon as they wake up. Prepare them to be on their own with the medical team. Perhaps ask the team if a nurse can introduce themselves to your warrior so they have a “buddy” to go with them. Walk them through all of these steps before they happen so that everything is more familiar, and not as unknown and frightening.
Education, communication, and preparation can turn a stressful situation into a more manageable one. Remember, you can do this!!