Recently, my oldest son had the pleasure of having a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy. While it was no doubt the best thing for him, it’s been a slow go in the way of recovery. And while children typically bounce back easier than adults, it is still a surgery and the body needs time to heal. Since I have never had a surgery myself, nor had any experience with surgery, I knew very little about what to expect, and even less when it came to explaining things to my little guy. Nevertheless, I did find out some very important points along the way that can help prepare for your child’s tonsillectomy.
1. Ask questions. Talk through any reservations or anxieties you have for yourself or your child. Make sure you understand any food or drink restrictions before the surgery and any red flag or warning signs afterward. Do not feel silly for asking questions or feel like you are “in the way.” Your child’s doctors are working in your child’s best interest, but YOU are your child’s biggest advocate and your child is your first priority, not whether or not you are bothering the medical staff.
2. Give age appropriate information. Be honest with your child about their surgery. Don’t hide the surgery from them, but don’t scare them. It is equally as scary for a child to have no idea what to expect as it is to have too much or too detailed information. I asked the doctor for help with this. He explained that sometimes parts of our bodies, like our tonsils in our throats, get confused and instead of making us better, they make us sick a lot. When that happens, sometimes we need the doctor to take them out for us to get better.
3. Talk to your other children about the surgery. They may be worried for their sibling and have anxieties also. They may feel ignored during the stress of preoperative and post operative healing. Explain in simple terms that things may be different for awhile while their brother or sister is healing but that things will be back to normal soon.
4. Plan a family time several days after the surgery. Most likely, if you have other children, they may feel put on the back burner a bit during your child’s recovery time. Doing something low key together will give your other children some bonding time with you and give you all a change of activity. Try a puzzle, a short walk, a drive to the ice cream shop, or have a family camp-in. Get the sleeping bags, pup tents, and flashlights. Grab a stack of favorite books and read them all, make shadow puppets, play shoots and ladders, pick a family fun movie to fall asleep to.
5. Expect a lot of movies and tv for the first couple of days, and be ok with it. I typically only allow my children 2 shows a day after they read a book first, and after their shows, they need to be unplugged. But when my little guy was in so much pain recovering from surgery, I put my screen-free agenda aside and just focused on comfort. Normal routines will resume soon enough.
6. Drink, drink, drink! When they say drink lots of fluids, they aren’t joking. Your child may refuse, but make sure your child is taking drinks of fluid, any fluid, every 15 mins or so to stay hydrated and keep the throat moist and heal quicker. They should be peeing at least 4 times throughout the day. The nurses said even ice chips with a spoon or a teaspoon of liquid in a syringe every 10 mins or so during times of refusal is better than them not drinking anything at all. Try making your child this simple DIY slushie using just 2 ingredients!
7. Keep on top of the pain by keeping on schedule with dosing, for at least the first 48 hours. I was told by both the surgeon and the pediatrician to even set my alarm in the middle of the night to keep up on dosing. In the first 48 hours, we did a dose every 4 hours. The next day we did every 5-6 hours and after that we dosed only as needed until completely healed
8. Prepare your pantry before surgery. Your child will need soft things that won’t potentially scratch his or her throat. Yogurt, cottage cheese, Mac n cheese, pudding, jello, Popsicles, apple sauce (the go-pouches are excellent for taking with the medication), cooled oatmeal, Carnation Instant Breakfast are all great ideas. Also, Gatorade, slushies, bug juice/Hog or Belly Washers, and flavored water enhancers (“squeezie”) are helpful. Stay way from citrus drinks like orange juice and lemonade, as they can burn the throat.
9. Have a date night with your child the night before the surgery. If you can, get a babysitter or family to help watch the other kids and take your child out to their favorite restaurant. they may not want to eat much for many days following the surgery. This also gives them a chance to unwind with you and create a fun memory before the big day.
10. Dress your child in their favorite comfortable pjs and slippers. They will be changing into a gown at the hospital, but it helps to be comfortable until then. Also, bring any comfort items along that your child may want. For us, we asked him what he thought he would want to bring and he chose a framed baby picture of himself, a stuffed bear and a stuffed ninja turtle in his back pack. I tucked in his blanket and pillow just in case.
~We knew our little guy would probably be grumpy and out of sorts post op, so we got him a post surgery gift that we had ready for him in the car for the ride home, for being so brave.
~As much as it seemed tactless, I took pictures of him before and even after the surgery to document his experience for him. Having his tonsils taken out was a big deal and an event in his life he will always remember. I also saved his arm bracelet from the hospital, the stickers they gave him to cheer him up and the card the care crew and surgeons sent a few days post op to put together in a little brag book for him. That way he could look back at his experience and talk about it in a way that helps him process the event.
~Both the ped and surgeon suggested that he sleep in the same room as us for the first 2 nights but probably the entire recovery week. Our son has always slept in his own bed and in his own room from day one, but spending the nights with us during this time was a great comfort to him. And honestly, it was to me too.
~Your child may or may not have an appetite for several days post op. We were told not to worry, even if he ate little to nothing for awhile. The main thing is that they DRINK.
~If you are religious, pray with your child anytime they may feel nervous for God’s great peace that surpasses all understanding and the protection of their Guardian Angel. Pray with them also in the hospital before surgery, not conveying doom, but again for peace, comfort and protection. This also shows your child that we can rely on our Lord in times where we feel anxious or troubled.
~Lastly, don’t freak out if you notice a dramatic change in your child’s voice. I panicked, which sent me on a rabbit hole adventure of googling about this. Apparently, it’s normal. And yes, your child’s voice will return to normal after they are completely healed ;0)
Hopefully, with these tips you and your little one can make it through the surgery and post op prepared and with confidence.