07/16/2013 12:39 EDT | Updated 09/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Ask Elizabeth: I'm Worried About My Child's Surgery

My four-year-old daughter is having surgery soon, and I'm a nervous wreck. Her doctors have assured me that she will be fine, but I'm worried about her getting put out, and especially worried about helping her recover at home after leaving the!

Natalie Strouth is a nurse with Saint Elizabeth and the information specialist behind Ask Elizabeth, a free caregiver support service. Saint Elizabeth, a home health care company, has been a trusted name in Canadian health care for more than a century and is a national, not-for-profit, charitable organization.

In her weekly column, Natalie answers your questions about caring for a family member or friend who needs extra support -- and caring for yourself as a caregiver.

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Melissa asks: My four-year-old daughter is having surgery soon, and I'm a nervous wreck. Her doctors have assured me that she will be fine, but I'm worried about her getting put out, and especially worried about helping her recover at home after leaving the! My daughter doesn't seem to be worried, and I don't want her to pick up on my stress. What can I do to stay calm and feel prepared?

Parents who have been in your shoes can relate to your anxieties and fears! You are right that if you show how you're feeling, your daughter will notice and may also become fearful. Try to stay calm and brave (easier said than done!). Empower yourself with information and know what to expect -- learn all you can about her condition, the operation, and what you will need to do for her at home.

Kristen Campbell, RN BScN MN, Saint Elizabeth Child and Family Program Leader, suggests contacting the hospital about a pre-operative preparation program, orientation or appointment with a child life specialist. Many hospitals understand your anxieties and offer tours and/or orientations prior to a child's surgery in order to ease some of the unknowns and increase everyone's comfort level. This will give you and your child the opportunity to see where you will be staying and ask lots of questions about what you can do to prepare and what you can expect before, during and after your child's surgery.

Be sure to ask the hospital staff questions, and consider having your husband or a friend take notes and ask other questions. Describe back to the doctor what you understood, in your own words, to check if you have the right information. If not, ask to have this explained to you again. Ask about pain relief, eating and drinking, and about what to expect during her recovery. Here are some examples:

  • Where will my child be when I first see her?
  • How can I best help my child after the operation?
  • When can my child eat?
  • How will my child's pain be managed after the operation?
  • Will my child need rehabilitation or therapy after the operation? What will be involved?
  • When will my child be ready to go home?
  • How long will it be before my child can go back to school or out to play?
  • How much time will I need to take off work to look after my child?

The SickKids web site has more great tips to prepare for your child's surgery, from planning your route to what to pack.

Home care will be available through your local health authority if your daughter qualifies. This may include nursing for things like wound care, injection administration or to perform certain other treatments or procedures. Your daughter may receive support from a home physiotherapist with exercises and rehabilitation, or an occupational therapist may visit to ensure your home is safe for your daughter's return and promotes her independence as much as possible. A discharge planner located in the hospital will coordinate these services and a smooth transition home. If you have any questions or concerns about your daughter's discharge plan, talk with the discharge planner, designated nurse or social worker on the unit where your daughter is recovering at the hospital.

It is always a good idea to plan early for events like these. Although you may not know exactly what things are going to be like after your daughter's surgery it is very likely that you'll need help to make sure you can stay rested, calm and focused on caring for your daughter's needs. Consider who is going to take care of other children in the family, walk the dog or make meals when you are at the hospital. Doing some early planning and asking for specific help from family, neighbours and friends will go a long way in relieving unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Before you leave the hospital, get a phone number to call in case you have a question about your daughter's care at home -- this may be her daughter's surgeon, a health care professional at the hospital, a home care provider, or your family doctor, who will be receiving any pertinent details of your daughter's surgery, recovery and discharge plan.

We have helpful patient information about children's pain on our website: Understanding Your Child's Pain, and Managing Your Child's Pain at Home.

Ultimately, there will be many things you can plan for and many things you can't. Whether it's a yoga class, time in your garden or even 15 minutes with a good book, take a deep breath and come back to what you know works best to help you relax.

Send your caregiving question to Answers may appear in an upcoming weekly column. Ask Elizabeth does not offer legal guidance, nor does it answer questions about personal health issues.