By guest author, Michelle Cuthrell.
Before we adopted a child with medical special needs, hospital stays were a scary foreign concept to me. I’d only ever stayed overnight in one to deliver our first two children, and I’d never held the hands of a child who’d undergone surgery.
And then we brought home the little boy we affectionately call “Superman,” and for a season, hospitals became our second home.
At age 5, Superman has had 14 casts and 10 surgeries/procedures under anesthesia, most of them while living inside our home. And after parking in children’s hospital garages at 5 a.m. more times than I care to remember in this lifetime, I’ve learned a few things — mostly through too-little-coffee surgery mornings, clearly a rookie mistake — about preparing myself and my superhero for surgery.
5 Tips to Make Superhero Surgery Day Run Smoothly
1. Take extra measures to keep your superhero healthy for surgery day.
After all the plotting, planning and sibling arranging you have to do in order to get your superhero’s surgery on the books, you don’t want to have to cancel it for sickness.
The week before each surgery, we refrained from playdates, outings, Mommy-and-me music classes, preschool and volunteer opportunities at big brothers’ school, where I was positive the little walking petri dishes that are elementary students would give Superman something. (I’m not a germophobe, but I am a reschedule-a-phobe, and that turned me into a temporary germophobe every week before surgery.)
We consumed pineapple, red peppers, oranges and other high vitamin C foods like they were going out of style, and I seriously almost broke my garlic press trying to add garlic (along with any other natural ingredient the trusty, all-knowing Google told me would keep my child healthy) to every bone broth soup and kale-and-spinach meal. (All my natural remedy friends, holla! And then teach me how to do better than Google next time.)
For a week straight, our team boasted some beautiful mix of garlic, local honey, Bragg’s apple cider vinegar and hand sanitizer — an aroma fit only for a hospital. Or someone with nose plugs.
But we never had to cancel a surgery on account of sickness. So we’ll take that as a win.
2. Visit the facility beforehand.
Before Superman’s very first surgery under our care, we took him to the children’s hospital and introduced him to the doctors and nurses who would be providing his surgery. The Child Life Specialist, this God-send of a resource at almost every children’s hospital in the country — FIND THEM! — happily gave us a tour of the waiting room and the recovery room, and she even supplied us with our OWN anesthesia masks and gear, as well as stickers and treats to get Superman excited about his overnight stay.
When we arrived on surgery morning, our superhero already knew exactly where he would go, what he would wear and who he would see there. It made the entire experience much less daunting. For all of us.
3. Practice surgery.
Using all the wonderful gear from our Child Life Specialist, we walked Superman step by step through his upcoming surgery — from the drinking of the “happy juice” to the placement of the anesthesia mask to the final wrapping of the arm cast. And then we asked HIM to perform hand surgery on HIS animals.
We had to pry him and his brothers from the stuffed animal O.R. that ensued to get them in bed in time for 3 a.m. wake-up calls, at which point the older two asked why THEY didn’t get to have surgery the next day, too.
4. Pack a PRACTICAL hospital bag that will equip you for pre- and post-surgery success.
For the check-in desk:
• Your identification
• Child’s insurance card
• Child’s referral from insurance company to receive this procedure/care
• Parking garage ticket (to see if they validate it for surgeries)
For the pre-surgery room:
• Small toys like Legos
• Stuffed animal or lovie that can go into surgery with the child
• Something to entertain the child while he waits for up to an hour and a half before being taken into the operating room
For the waiting room (items for YOU):
• Book/magazine (something light — your mind doesn’t focus well when you know your child is on an operating table)
• Cards (if you have someone to play with)
• Phone charger (the battery drains fast when you’re making those mid-surgery calls)
• Water bottle
• Snacks (Note: Most waiting rooms will not allow you to CONSUME snacks in the waiting areas out of respect for the patients fasting before surgery. However, if you don’t want to wander far from the waiting room to find a bite to eat, you can always take your snack in the hallway.)
For the recovery room:
• Light snacks that are easy on the stomach (I’ve cleaned purple popsicle vomit off more than one shirt following anesthesia)
• Favorite stuffed animal or toy
• Favorite blanket
• Loose-fitting clothing that will not rub on surgical areas and that will fit OVER any new casts/pins/implanted devices
For the hospital room:
• Children’s books
• Games (our favorites are checkers and Uno)
• Coloring books and crayons
• An undying love for Frozen, which, in any children’s hospital, will likely be on repeat play
• Slippers (for both of you)
• Pillow (for both of you)
• Extra blankets (for both of you)
• Extra clothes, pajamas and toiletries (for both of you)
• Extra towel (for you)
• Lotion (because hospitals dry out the skin fast)
• Motrin (for the back aches you will soon have from sleeping in a “bed” that feels more like a board)
• Phones and phone chargers
• Books or entertainment (for you after superheroes fall asleep, which may be often on pain meds)
• Chewing gum (because when the top surgeons in the nation make their rounds at 6 a.m., you are going to want chewing gum to hide your I-barely-slept-on-this-wretched-thing-they-call-a-couch breath when discussing your child’s medical needs at pre-Rooster hours)
Ultimately, there is no better way you can prepare your child for surgery than by putting him in the hands of the Great Physician.
Milspouse Michelle Cuthrell is an author, speaker and coffee-drinking, cape-organizing, chaos-embracing boymom with a special love for superheroes who have yet to find their forever families. Follow her blog, Of Capes and Combat Boots, at www.michellecuthrell.com/blog, or at www.facebook.com/ofcapesandcombatboots.