my son, pre-surgery.
Physician and mom Danielle Ofri wrote an article in Slate about being a mom who happens to have an MD and PhD – who faces that mom-fear when her young son goes in for surgery.
Danielle’s words felt eerily familiar. I’ve always said there’s nothing worse that waiting for your child to come out of surgery. And the ‘good-bye’ said in the OR feels awful. In that, it might be, ‘good-bye; I might never see you again.’ Because things can go wrong in surgery. Kids can be allergic to anaesthetic, or there’s trouble intubating, or they can have an ‘incident’ in the OR, like a stroke. These things do happen.
Health professionals can help with us parents manage that clammy, stomach-churning fear.
Having parental presence at induction helps with anxiety. Instead of handing a screaming kid over to a stranger, we go to the OR with our children, and stay with them until they are asleep. While it is a bit disconcerting to see them knocked out, it is calming to meet the OR staff, and know that our babies are well taken care of. Since my son has a cognitive disability, having sedation for him before going to the OR helps with his anxiety level, too. He’s fairly out of it when we reach the operating room, which is a terrifying place with shiny sharp instruments and very bright lights for a kid with sensory issues. OR staff can help us by introducing themselves, and explaining what their role is and what’s going to happen next. This puts our kids’ fears at ease too.
And the warm blankets! I think very fondly of any warm blanket brought to cover Aaron and me on a stretcher by a nurse or porter as we are wheeled to OR. Long live the warm blankets.
On an organizational level, hospitals can install systems that allow us to track our kids – to know when they are in the OR, and when they move to recovery. They can give us pagers to call us back when we can see our children. They can ensure there are private spaces for us to talk to the surgeon after surgery. They can ensure they have policies about parental presence both at induction and in the recovery room.
Danielle sums up the whole unthinkable situation well:
My heart ached for parents whose children are truly ill, for the frightening bargain of uncertainty they must make as they entrust their children to the medical system.
Thank you to the health professionals who help us scared, sleep-deprived, anxiety-ridden parents along the way.