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Tips for the Hospital Trip

By Judy Loseff Lavin, M.S.W.
Author of Special Kids Need Special Parents

After my second daughter had stomach trouble, we ran a battery of tests and to our surprise learned she needed immediate surgery. This time, when we went for our pre-surgical exam, we found that Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago was dispensing information to help parents and children be better prepared for an operation. They even had a pre-hospitalization tour for the patient and his or her family. Here’s a hospital checklist of do’s and don’ts before and after the operation.

  1. Take insurance information, including your policy identification cards and claim forms to the hospital the day before surgery.
  2. Explain to your child what will happen at the hospital in simple, loving and direct terms. Always tell the truth.
  3. Refrain from telling “war” stories about operations you may have had. Those stories are not comforting.
  4. Assume the day of surgery will last at least ten to twelve hours and come prepared to wait.
  5. Bathe and shampoo your child the day before the operation.
  6. Avoid feeding your child fatty foods the night before the surgery. Fatty foods contribute to postoperative nausea and vomiting.
  7. Eating or drinking before surgery may delay the operation. Consult your surgical team regarding the number of hours your child needs to fast before surgery.
  8. While siblings eat breakfast, do something special with the child who is having surgery. This helps distract him or her from her hunger and keeps younger kids from wondering why “Johnny” isn’t eating.
  9. Bring a favorite toy to the hospital for comfort.
  10. Wear comfortable clothing and consider taking a pillow if you are staying overnight.
  11. After the surgery give your child transparent liquids, such as apple juice, because they are easier to digest. Popsicles are also a good idea after an operation.
  12. Inform the anesthesiologist of your child’s allergies. If your child uses an inhaler, bring it along.
  13. Make a postoperative appointment with your surgeon.
  14. If postoperative complications arise, call the doctor immediately.

Hospitalization and particularly, surgery is enormously stressful for all involved and can be frightening for children. Understanding what is involved and how to cope with the different aspects of the day will go along way toward helping things run smoothly. It is important to be patient with yourself. Kids often take their cues from parents. Being calm, confident and prepared will help your child handle the experience in a more positive way.

Judith Lavin, M.S.W., author of Special Kids Need Special Parents, and a former journalist with the Chicago Sun-Times, recognized the need for an easy-to-read resource for physically and emotionally exhausted parents like herself, as well as their families, teachers, doctors and others who work with them. Lavin speaks to numerous organizations and parent groups around the nation, giving them inspiration and hope.

Lavin’s work has been featured in numerous publications such as the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, Newsday, Washington Parent and Chicago Parent. In addition, she has appeared  on radio and TV news and talk shows around the U.S., including NBC-TV's Today show, PBS-TV's Small Talk for Parents and the CBS Radio Networks. You can visit Judy at