When Your Child Needs Surgery: The Day of Surgery

Your child is having surgery. This can be a frightening experience for you and your child. Knowing what to expect can help both of you feel better about surgery. This sheet gives an overview of what happens on the day of surgery. It also gives suggestions on how to help your child recover afterward.

At home before surgery

Follow all food, drink, and medicine instructions given by your child’s healthcare provider. This may mean that your child can have nothing to eat or drink for a set amount of time before surgery.

What to bring with you to the hospital

Following are items that you may need to bring with you to the hospital:

  • Identification information for you and your child (such as a driver’s license or social security card)

  • Health insurance cards

  • Proof of guardianship (if you are not the child’s natural parent)

  • Medical records for your child

  • List of medicines your child is taking

  • Comfort item such as a toy or blanket for your child

  • Extra underwear or diapers for your child

  • Extra clothing for you and your child if an overnight stay or longer is expected

  • Books, toys, or games for your child to play with

Before surgery

  • Arrive at the hospital 90 minutes before your child’s surgery. Be sure to arrive on time.

  • You may be asked to visit the admitting department to register your child for surgery. Registration can sometimes be done in advance during an earlier hospital visit, on the phone, or online.

  • There may be a waiting period before your child is prepared for surgery. Have toys and games ready for your child to help him or her relax during this time.

  • A nurse will meet with you and your child.

  • Your child will change into a hospital gown and receive a hospital identification bracelet.

  • Your child may keep a comfort item such as a favorite toy or blanket with him or her.

  • The nurse will check your child’s vital signs (temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing). You’ll be asked about your child’s health history and whether your child has had anything to eat or drink. Other staff members will also likely ask you these same questions when you meet them later.

  • Your child’s surgeon may come meet with you and your child shortly before surgery. Be sure to ask any questions you have.

  • The anesthesiologist will also meet with you. This is a doctor with training to give anesthesia. There are different types of anesthesia, but your child will likely receive general anesthesia. This medicine causes your child to fall asleep and not feel pain during surgery. 

  • Your child may first be given a sedative before receiving anesthesia. A sedative is medicine that helps your child relax. It is usually taken by mouth.

  • Anesthesia may be started in a room called an induction room. Or, it may be started in the operating room. It can be given in gas form and breathed in through a mask, in liquid form through an intravenous (IV) line, or both.

  • You may be allowed to stay with your child until he or she is asleep. Check with your child’s anesthesiologist.

  • A resident or trainee working under the supervision of your child's anesthesiologist or surgeon may help with your child's care.

During surgery

  • The surgeon will perform the surgery. He or she may be assisted by other surgeons and nurses.

  • The anesthesiologist will control the amount of anesthesia your child receives. He or she may be assisted by a nurse anesthetist. This person also has training to give anesthesia. Special equipment is used to monitor your child’s vital signs. Anesthesia is stopped once surgery is complete.

After surgery

  • Your child is taken to a postanesthesia care unit (PACU) or a recovery room.

  • You may be allowed to stay in the PACU or recovery room with your child. Every child reacts differently to anesthesia. Your child may wake up disoriented, upset, or even crying. These reactions are normal and usually pass quickly.

  • Incisions may be covered with a bandage or dressing.

  • Your child will be given pain medicine to stay comfortable. These may be delivered through an intravenous (IV) line.

  • Monitors will be attached to your child. These check your child’s vital signs.

  • When ready, your child will be given clear liquids after surgery. He or she will gradually be given solid foods and return to a normal diet.

  • The surgeon will tell you if your child needs to stay longer in the hospital after surgery. If an overnight stay is needed, you’ll usually be told ahead of time.

  • Follow all discharge and home care instructions when your child leaves the hospital.

If your child gets sick before surgery

If your child gets a fever or a cold within 7 days before surgery, call the hospital or surgeon’s office and let them know. The surgery may need to be rescheduled.