Two weeks ago we were at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, for the 5-year old geekson to have a simple, routine operation. Well, as simple as anything involving putting a child that young under general anaesthetic can be. I have already written about how he was born with this thing called a hydrocele, which has been monitored since his birth. This was something we were told would either sort itself out by the time he was four or five, or it would need an operation. Obviously we hoped it would be the former, but at our last consultation we were told it wasn’t sorted and we were recommended to proceed with the operation.
Being the slightly obsessive planner that I am, I originally requested that the operation take place at the start of the summer holidays, to avoid disrupting the geekson’s schooling. It was booked in for the end of July, I arranged two weeks annual leave from work to be with him, and we were ready to go. Unfortunately, the day before he was due to be admitted he suddenly developed a very high temperature, and in consultation with the hospital we agreed to delay the procedure. Obviously it’s not safe to put a child under general anaesthetic if they are showing any sign of an infection.
So, two weeks ago our re-arranged date came around, and this time the geekson was perfectly healthy. We had agreed his absence from school with the head teacher, and arranged a sleepover for the geekdaughter with her best friend, which she was very excited about.
One thing we found difficult was managing the geekson’s expectations. After all, he didn’t feel ill, so it wasn’t like we could say that going through the experience would make him feel better. So we had to explain it was something we needed to do now to prevent him getting ill in the future, but that’s quite a difficult concept for a five year old to grasp. We were honest with him whilst answering his questions, and assured him we would be with him every step of the way.
The operation was done in the day surgery unit of Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, and I have to say it is a fantastic facility. They’ve just moved into a new building which is bright, spacious, modern and well-equipped – interestingly I discovered that if the operation had gone ahead in July as originally planned it would have taken place in the old building instead. There was ample car parking available in the multi-storey car park, and it only cost £2 to park no matter how long we stayed. That’s a lot cheaper than our local hospital! The exit from the car park took us straight into the correct building, and the entrance to the day surgery unit was directly in front of us, so even I couldn’t get lost!
I had expected we would get signed in and then get assigned to a ward-type cubicle in which to wait. Instead we were shown to a large waiting room, with loads of toys including the most amazing interactive screen – three large TV screens on one wall showed an aquarium scene, and a touch screen on a little table opposite allowed the kids to colour in their own fish which then appeared in the aquarium. Loads of fun! We didn’t need the large number of electronic devices and activities that we had packed – the geekson was quite happy with the toys on offer.
On arrival we were asked if we would mind a medical student shadowing us for the entire process, and we were quite happy with that. It turns out that Liverpool University students on practical experience placements are encouraged to follow the patient rather than any individual staff member, so they see the entire process from start to finish. I thought that was a great idea, and it was actually a huge reassurance to me that the student we had been getting to know whilst waiting would be in the operating theatre with the geekson for the whole thing.
The big decision for any parent of a child going under general anaesthetic is the method by which they are put to sleep. From talking to friends I knew that I wanted the geekson to go to sleep with some gas administered via a mask rather than going straight in with the cannula. Given that his Daddy uses a mask to sleep with every night (the geekdaddy has severe sleep apnoea), I was hopeful that we could manage the geekson’s expectations and that this would be the least distressing way to put him under.
When the time came for the geekson to go down to theatre, only one parent was allowed to accompany him to the anaesthetic room. He decided he wanted me there – he is a bit of a Mummy’s boy. This is where things didn’t go as planned. Although I had tried to prepare the geekson for this experience, the sight of a strange room, with a strange bed in it, and 4 or 5 people buzzing around really freaked him out. He refused to put the mask over his face, and so we had to go with the cannula option. As we’d had quite a long wait, I think the local anaesthetic cream they had put on the back of his hands had started to wear off, and he was quite distressed by this. I held him tight, told him I loved him and that I would see him very soon, and once he was sleeping I left him.
It’s very hard to walk away from your child like that, but I just about held it together, and headed back to the geekdaddy. We then had an hour or so to wait, so we ate our lunch and had a coffee in the Costa within the hospital building. I couldn’t relax, and as soon as possible I headed back to the waiting area where we would be called as soon as the geekson came out. I wanted to be there when he came around, just as I had promised him.
After what felt like forever we were called, and shown to a recovery bay. I was then allowed to walk around to the recovery area where the geekson was coming around from his anaesthetic. As I approached I could hear him crying, and I rushed to cuddle him and tell him everything was OK. I had been warned that it’s not uncommon for kids (or anyone really) to come out of an anaesthetic in the way that they went in, so I guess that because he was unhappy when he went to sleep, he continued that as he came around. It didn’t last very long – he saw I was with him, started to relax, and quickly went back to sleep again. The team showed me the operation site – two, three-centimetre incisions in his lower belly/groin area, which looked very neat and tidy, and had surgical tape over them as a dressing. We then headed back to his recovery bay to be reunited with the geekdaddy.
It took a little while for the geekson to wake up again, and he was then quite groggy. There was a television across the ward playing the same 4 episodes of Peppa Pig on repeat, and eventually the geekson was awake enough to start watching those. The medical student asked us a few questions to get our feedback and then headed off, and the surgeon came around to tell us everything had gone as planned and there was no need for any follow-up appointment unless we noticed anything looking infected or not right in any other way. The geekson complained of some pain, so the nurses gave him a little bit of morphine, which sorted it out, and he soon perked up enough to play with his iPad. Then we were discharged, and instructed to keep the pain under control at home with kids paracetamol and ibuprofen.
Throughout the whole day the geekson was a little superstar. He coped brilliantly with all the hanging around in the morning (I think we were literally the last on the morning list, so we watched the waiting room gradually empty around us), and was very brave about the operation apart from just at the last minute, and I can totally understand him being freaked out by the anaesthetic experience. Apart from odd little murmurs about his “hurty bits” he hasn’t complained about any pain, and in fact the next day he was quite happily sitting cross legged on the floor! He was back at school after just a week off, and I had to keep reminding him that he was supposed to be taking it easy and not running and jumping around!
It probably helped that I bought him the latest Skylanders game, Superchargers, to aid his recovery. He is a huge Skylanders fan, and has been waiting eagerly for this latest incarnation, where the characters get vehicles to drive around in. I relaxed all rules around screen time for his recuperation, and he spent a lot of time playing on the Wii U. The Friday after his operation I found him in tears in the lounge, watching the end of game credits scrolling up the screen, “There’s something wrong with my Skylanders” he said. I had to explain that he’d managed to finish the game, something he hasn’t managed in the previous versions. Cue more tears. We were both very pleased to discover that all he’d finished was the “story mode” part and there were still loads of missions and races for him to play – whew!
So my top tips for getting a five year old through an anaesthetic are as follows:
- Talk to them honestly about what is going to happen in advance
- Take plenty of supplies to keep them occupied whilst hanging around in hospital
- Talk to the medical staff about the options in advance, make your decision, but be prepared to adapt if things don’t go to plan
- Reassure your child you’ll be there as they go to sleep and when they wake up
- Have some edible treats with you for when they feel ready for it after the operation – chocolate is always good!
- Have a present waiting at home for them to reward them for being brave – something to occupy them during their recovery is perfect!
I am pleased to report that two weeks after his operation the geekson is completely back to normal. Apart from the scars you wouldn’t know he’d had an operation at all. Kids really do bounce back from this kind of thing amazingly quickly!