Last Updated on March 20, 2018

One of the scariest experiences as a parent is having a precious child injured or ill. It usually catches us by surprise, leaving us confused, worried, and emotional. Even if it is a planned operation, seeing a child hooked up to monitors and looking vulnerable is heart-wrenching. Few of us enter into parenthood with the expectation of spending much time in the hospital with our child.

We chose to adopt a child with a special need requiring surgical correction. We thought he would only need a couple of reconstructive operations. Unfortunately, the surgeon discovered his condition was more involved than we had expected, and he experienced complications. As I write this, my son is undergoing his fourth procedure in four months. He has had over a dozen in the past five years. A few of the procedures have been planned, but a majority of them have been minor but without much warning.

A few things we have learned on this journey:

  • If your child has a planned procedure, ask the hospital for a surgical tour. It will help calm your child’s anxiety and give you an opportunity to scope out the area. Knowing where you will stay during the procedure, how to find bathrooms and food, and what to expect will help you cope.
  • On the day of the procedure, leave 30 minutes early to allow time for road construction, parking, and registration. If you are late, your child may be bumped to a later time. Frequently there are early morning cancellations, and if you are at the hospital early, your child may have surgery time moved up. (My son was scheduled today for 1:30 p.m., but there were four cancellations ahead of him!)
  • For your child, take only a lovey and essentials for babies (even if it is out-patient). Leave the heavy coat, infant seat, blanket (unless it is a comfort), bag of toys, etc., at home or in the car. You will have to carry everything with you until you are assigned to a room or discharged.
  • If the procedure is out-patient, keep a small overnight back in the car, just in case there are complications and your child is admitted. Also, it is not unusual for children to vomit after surgery while you are holding them, so a back-up outfit in the car for both of you will make your drive home a bit more pleasant!
  • If your child will be admitted to the hospital, pack:
  • Easy slip-on shoes or slippers and comfy clothes that can double as pajamas for yourself.
  • Your own soap, shampoo, hairdryer, etc. Do not expect hotel amenities!
  • Take your own pillow — it’s worth it!
  • A white-noise machine (Homemedics carries a “sound spa” at Walmart for $20). Hospitals are noisy!!
  • Take a backpack (we call it our “adventure pack”) so you can have your hands free. In our adventure pack, we keep:
  • Gum, granola bars, and a water bottle for parents (do not let your little one see this — they can’t have food before surgery!). You may not have time to go eat, and food is not served in the surgical area. Wait until your child is in surgery to eat or drink.
  • Hand sanitizer, lip balm, and hand lotion. The hospital air is very dry.
  • Light sweater. The surgical areas are very chilly, while the waiting areas can be fairly warm.
  • Camera.
  • One-dollar bills and quarters for vending machines.
  • Magazines. There are usually too many distractions to get into a good book, but you will be spending a lot of time waiting.
  • Copies of your child’s medical history, all of your child’s current medications, and a list of any over-the-counter medications. If it is a prescription drug, the surgical team usually will want to see the label.
  • Your insurance information, your identification, and a list of emergency contacts.

A bag packed with the items above is a great help for a friend whose child ends up in the hospital unexpectedly. In an emergency, it’s hard to think of what you will need to take with you.

The most important treasure to keep with you is a Bible bookmarked at Psalm 139:14 —  a reminder that your child is “fearfully and wonderfully made”’ and that God is in control!

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