In the Recovery Room

After the operation, your child will go to the recovery room, sometimes called the peri-anesthesia care unit (PACU). You'll go to this room to be with your child after he wakes up. The PACU staff will escort you to this room when your child is stable. For health and safety reasons, only two adults can be with your child while in PACU.

What will be happening in the PACU?

Father, daughter and hospital staff in post-op recovery room You may be a little surprised or concerned when you see your child for the first time after surgery. She may look puffy or swollen. She may also be receiving oxygen, have an intravenous (IV) line — a needle delivering fluids into her bloodstream — or may be attached to a heart monitor.

While your child's in the PACU, healthcare professionals will closely monitor her as she starts to wake up. They will:

  • Monitor her vital signs — such as blood pressure, pulse and breathing
  • Take your child's temperature
  • Watch for any signs of complications
  • Monitor your child's level of consciousness
  • Check the wound
  • Check IVs, tubes or drains, if she has any
  • Monitor your child's urine output
  • Reduce your child's pain with medication and body positioning
  • Make sure your child is awake enough to swallow effectively before offering her something to drink

When will your child wake up?

The length of time your child spends in recovery depends on the type of surgery he's had and his response to surgery and anesthesia, as well as his medical condition.

It's important to remember that each child wakes up differently. Some are wide awake in the recovery room. Others are groggy for hours. Some are very confused and agitated for up to an hour after the surgery.

Approximately a third of children, especially those under 6, experience what doctors call "emergence delirium." They appear to be awake, but aren't really aware. During this time, a child may cry, thrash and reach for his parent, and nothing seems to calm him. If this happens to your child, you'll obviously be upset, but remember that it usually goes away by itself; it just takes time for the effects of anesthesia to wear off. Sometimes, a quiet, dark room can help him go back to sleep. Your child's nurse will make sure that your child is safe. In the meantime, try to stay calm and comfort your child. He won't remember this excited state and will most likely wake up feeling fine.

What can you do for your child in the PACU?

One of the most difficult parts of a child's surgery for her parents is the waiting time. While you're in the recovery room waiting for your child to be fully awake, you may feel helpless. Here are a few things you can do to help your child and the PACU staff:

  • If your child is sleeping, don't wake him or her up.
  • Speak softly and calmly. Reassure your child.
  • Respect the privacy of other patients and focus on your child.
  • Don't use cellular phones or laptop computers, which may interfere with monitoring equipment.
  • Obey staff instructions. Sometimes, if there's an emergency on the unit, they may ask you to temporarily leave the room.

Where will he go next?

Once your child is fully awake and his vital signs (blood pressure, pulse and breathing) are stable, he'll be moved from the PACU. Where he goes depends on whether or not he needs to stay overnight or longer. If he's going home, he'll go to a day surgery or short stay area for discharge, and his healthcare team will give you follow-up care instructions; otherwise, he'll be admitted to a hospital room.

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