Pack a bag of toys
Most hospitals have a toy box full of broken junk in the paediatric ward. You probably won’t like the idea of your child sharing the old, chewed blocks or the grubby crayons. If you pack one or two toys in a bag (not a favourite, just in case it goes missing while your kid is in surgery) it will really help to pass some of the pre and post-operative waiting period. A new toy as a treat is also an idea, but keep it simple- a groggy child won’t want a complex building set. Quiet toys (without whistles, buzzers or sirens) are a good idea, as there may be other sleepy kids in the same ward.
It’s tricky trying to explain the concept of “nil by mouth”, or pre-operative fasting (your child won’t be allowed breakfast on the day of surgery) to a hungry tot, but you can make up for it afterwards. A favourite snack will help ease the recovery. Nothing too rich, though, he’ll feel a bit dizzy when he wakes up, and his tummy may be upset.
Talking it through
Surgeons and nurses are busy- their role is to perform or facilitate medical procedures, not entertain kids, so any information they give you probably won’t be understood by your child. Think about ways of explaining what’s going to happen to your child, and allow him to ask questions. You’ll probably be more nervous than him, so try not to make it sound too scary! You can say things such as "You know how your ears have been very sore? Well, the doctor is going to fix your ears so that you can hear properly, and they won't be sore anymore". Make sure that you are honest, though, so that your child can rely on the information you give him and trust you.
If your child is going to be in for a day or two, make a scrapbook of pictures cut out of magazines, drawings and words. You can write the words in for him, if he’s too young to write. For many children, a hospital visit creates all sorts of powerful memories because of the changes to routine, different food, the smell of disinfectant and the curious uniforms of the nurses. You can help to make these memories positive ones, perhaps even writing a happy hospital story.
Hugs and kisses
Many hospitals allow parents to sit with their children these days, sometimes even allowing parents to sleep over. This could mean a night on an uncomfortable armchair, or a bunk in a room. This could be added to the bill, but it’s worth it to be there for your child, to hand out hugs and kiss any owies better. For a child who may never have slept outside the home, having mom or dad there will help ease any nightmares.
Don't forget to take change for the hospital shop or vending machine for yourself!
Do you have any tips for making a hospital visit less traumatic?