Over the holiday break, my 5-year-old daughter ended up having surgery.
It was not a surgery planned well in advance; we had only had an appointment with the ENT a week prior to the surgery. We decided to move forward with it over the break so she could recover at home while things were calmer and hopefully restore the hearing that had been lost.
If you had asked me a week before her appointment, I would not have thought she would need surgery so quickly. I was not prepared to speak to her about having surgery, but after the appointment with the ENT, mommy mode kicked in, and I realized that I had to prepare her in some way so that she was not blindsided or confused by what was happening to her.
My daughter is a very observant child. She processes everything and sometimes overanalyzes. Knowing her personality, I did not want to talk to her too far before the surgery to avoid ruining her Christmas, in case she was scared, and also to avoid having too much time to overthink it. Nor did I want to provide too much detail that was way over her head and would cause more confusion. I was nervous about how to speak with her about it. At first, my husband and I were not on the same page about talking to her about the surgery, but eventually, we agreed to speak to her in a simplified manner.
I waited until the day before the surgery to talk to her.
There were a few obstacles that day that brought the thought of surgery to her before I had planned to talk to her. One was that I was contacted by the surgery center in the morning that if they did not have the pre-operative report from her physician clearing her for surgery by 2 p.m., they would have to cancel it.
My husband was on the phone for a good part of the morning with our pediatrician’s office trying to get complete this form, unbeknownst to us at this time. No one at the office had informed us that we had to bring her in to be checked out. It did not matter that she had seen the doctor earlier that week. All of these phone calls were in the presence of my daughter.
Earlier that morning, I had decided to take my daughter on some errands with me. While out, she wanted ice cream and so we stopped and got some. While sitting down, she started asking me questions about having surgery, and I answered them honestly in a broken-down version telling her that this surgery was to help her hear again and that she would be given some sleepy medicine so she could take a short nap.
We discussed having small tubes put in her ear (since the doctor had shown these to her at the appointment) to help drain some fluid preventing her from hearing. She responded by saying she did not want surgery, and I responded by saying that this would allow her to hear again and reassured her that her daddy and I would be there.
I focused on the truth and explained it to her in a way a 5-year-old would understand.
I also told her that she might be uncomfortable afterward and could eat ice cream and ice pops for days. This made her happy. I did not go into further details. As we drove home, I got a call from my husband that we had to go straight to the pediatrician’s office to examine her. The doctor had been out for the holidays, and when she saw the form, she immediately told her staff that we needed to come in. Mind you, this was at 1 p.m., and we needed the form in by 2 p.m. Thankfully, at this point, I had spoken to my daughter, and she was fine with heading back to the doctor as long as she wasn’t getting any shots.
On the morning of the surgery, she again said she did not want to have it, and I reiterated everything I had told her the day before. She was calm and relaxed going into the surgery. I was so proud of my little girl. What I did not prepare her for was that she came out of anesthesia and realized she was in pain. She was not a happy camper. That was disconcerting to see, and I felt so bad.
As parents, time and time again, we often question if we are making the right decision for our kids. In this instance, I questioned whether we rushed to proceed with surgery too quickly. But given that her condition was affecting her hearing and speech, and antibiotics were not helping, we felt it was the best way to proceed.
Watching as she came out of anesthesia hysterical and did not understand why she was in pain was hurtful. I am fortunate she recovered relatively quickly, and once the anesthesia wore off, she ate chips and acted normal. Now that she is back in school and telling me that her hearing is better, I am grateful for our choice.
If you have a child about to have surgery, be honest and answer their questions in a way that they will understand.
It will be normal to be scared as parents for your kids, and it will be normal to second guess your decision, but ultimately, no one else is looking out for your kids more than you.