After much anticipation and apprehension, it’s finally your child’s surgery day. You may arrive at the hospital already weary from worry, with a hungry child – since they cannot eat or drink for a number of hours before the surgery.

Prepare for a long and exhausting day physically, mentally, and emotionally.

It is normal to take most of the day to prepare your child for surgery, perform the surgery, monitor after surgery, and transfer your child to the intensive care unit (ICU).

The surgery is a small part of the day and your child will be asleep for much of the time. A specialized physician called an anesthesiologist will watch your child’s condition from the time they go into the operating room until they are stable enough to leave for the ICU.

There are some things you can do before the day of surgery to get ready. And if you know what to expect while you wait during surgery, it may help you manage the stress.

Things to Do Before and During Your Child’s Surgery

Be Prepared

Wear comfortable clothing and bring snacks along with anything that will help you pass the time – like books, hobbies, or a journal. Pack a laptop or other fully charged electronics and all the chargers you will need.

Learn the Rules About Visitors

Check with your hospital in advance to be sure you know their current policies about visitors. Consider whether you want friends, family, or religious support with you at the hospital during surgery, or whether you prefer to wait undisturbed.

Make a Plan to Share Updates

Decide if you will update family and friends through text or email. You can also choose to update one family member or friend who can share news with the group. They can be the main point of contact for others, so that you are not overwhelmed with messages.

Take Regular Breaks

During the operation, try to take short walks away from the operating room if you are able. These breaks will help you clear your head and reduce stress. Always leave your cell phone number with the operating room front desk so they can reach you if needed.

What to Expect After Surgery

  • 1. The surgeon will give you a report

    After the operation, your child’s surgeon will come to the area where you are waiting and give you a summary of how the surgery went with an update on your child’s condition. Your child will not leave the operating room for an extended period of time after this update. That is normal and should not concern you. Your surgeon will also call your primary cardiologist to tell them details about the surgery.

  • 2. Your child will move to the intensive care unit (ICU)

    The anesthesia and surgical teams will monitor your child in the operating room and decide when they are stable enough to be moved. After your child arrives in the ICU, you will need to wait to see them until the care team gets everything situated in their room. A physician or nurse will come out to the waiting area and invite you in.

  • 3. You may feel strong emotions

    It is impossible to fully prepare to see your child sedated, with an incision or open cavity in their chest. It is common for parents to feel shocked or overwhelmed when they see their child for the first time after surgery. Your child will likely have many tubes, wires, and cables connected to machines that allow the team to support their recovery right after surgery. This equipment is often needed for several days.

  • 4. It may be possible to spend the night with your child

    It is natural to want to remain at your child’s bedside throughout that first night. Consider taking turns sleeping and watching over your child with a partner or trusted adult so that you can both get some rest after an exhausting day. It’s important that you maintain your strength for the days to come. If you choose to get some rest and leave the room, the ICU team will always call you to share important information or changes in your child’s condition.

The Day of Surgery

The challenging part of it was the waiting.

Sameer, CHD Parent

PARENT TIPManaging the First Night After Surgery

When your child arrives in the intensive care unit after surgery it can be overwhelming. There are many different people – including physicians, nurses, and therapists – who are involved in your child’s care. You will hear constant noises, alarms, and beeping sounds.

Your care team understands that the ICU can be frightening at first, especially when you are stressed and tired. Ask your nurse to orient you to the room, equipment, and the many people helping to care for your child.

Some families find it helpful to tour the ICU beforehand. At your pre-operative visit, ask if your hospital offers this type of tour and how to schedule it.

Questions to Ask on the Day of Surgery

  • On the morning of surgery, when the team collects your child: Who do I provide my cell phone number to so that the team can contact me?

  • When you are meeting with the surgeon before surgery: What will my child look like after surgery?

  • If you feel anxious, stressed, or your emotions feel out of control, ask any care team member: Who can I speak to about support if I feel panicked or stressed during my child’s surgery or recovery?

  • When you are in the ICU, acute care unit, or cardiology ward: How do I find out which physician is managing my child’s care after surgery?

  • If a person comes into your child’s room to provide some form of care: What is your role in caring for my child?