Recovery after surgery is difficult for anyone, but especially for children who may be overwhelmed by unfamiliar sights and sounds and may not always understand why they feel so uncomfortable. If you know what to expect, you can help prepare your child and help him better cope with his discomfort and fear.
The surgeon will talk to you when your child's surgery is over. Your child will either go to the recovery room (often called a post-anesthesia care unit — PACU) to allow the anesthesia to wear off or to an intensive care unit immediately after surgery. Depending on the type of surgery he's had, your child may then go to a day surgery (or short stay) area for a short time before being sent home, or an inpatient hospital unit to recover.
Here's a general overview of what to expect when your child comes out of surgery:
Most everyone experiences some discomfort and pain following surgery. How uncomfortable your child feels will depend on the type of surgery she's had.
Your child may have:
Your child's doctor and nurses will do all they can to help your child be as comfortable as possible after surgery. Be sure to ask what you can do to ease your child's discomfort, and be sure to tell the healthcare team what your child finds most soothing. You can find more information on helping your child cope with pain here.
After surgery, your child's doctor and nurses will decide when she may start drinking and eating again. She'll be started off slowly, with clear liquids, such as water, ginger ale, apple juice and popsicles. As long as your child doesn't vomit, she'll be given a light meal, such as soup or crackers. Don't force your child to eat, but do encourage her to get plenty of fluids.
Complications sometimes occur after surgery. The likelihood that complications will occur varies with each child and with each operation. Be sure to talk to your child's surgeon and anesthesiologist ahead of time, and make sure you understand the risks.
Here are some of the potential complications of surgery. How your child's doctor treats any complications will be based on your child's health and his unique situation.
Shock is the dangerous reduction of blood flow throughout the body, is most often caused by reduced blood pressure. If your child goes into shock, her healthcare team may treat it by:
Hemorrhage is the rapid loss of blood at the surgical site or internally, and can lead to shock. To treat rapid blood loss, your child's doctor may:
When bacteria enter the surgical site, it can cause a wound infection, which can delay healing. Wound infections can also spread to adjacent organs or tissue, or to distant areas, through the bloodstream. Your child's doctor may treat infection by:
Lung (pulmonary) complications sometimes occur because a child's discomfort after an operation can make it hard for him to take deep breaths or cough to clear mucus out of his lungs. Your child's healthcare providers will teach him deep breathing exercises to help keep his lungs healthy after surgery and encourage ambulation (walking around).
Temporary urinary retention — the inability to empty the bladder — may occur after surgery, usually due to the anesthetic or pain medication. It usually goes away without treatment, but your child's doctor may need to insert a catheter (thin hollow tube) to drain the bladder until your child regains bladder control.
Some people who undergo surgery sometimes have reactions to anesthesia. Common side effects include:
Serious complications can occur, but they are rare. It's important that you talk to your child's anesthesiologist to be sure you understand all the potential risks of anesthesia.