What to Expect Before Your Child's Surgery

Suggestions for parents on how to prepare for their child's surgery


Child life specialists suggest you prepare your child for his hospital stay by considering these ideas:

  • If children are old enough to understand, tell them in advance about the upcoming hospital stay. Older children can be told about their medical condition, the procedures required and other details about hospitalization earlier than younger children. A younger child generally should not be told until a couple of days before the hospitalization.
  • Try to answer your child's questions about the hospital honestly. You may want to try to explain what the child can expect while at the hospital.
  • Reassure your child that you or another family member will be nearby while your child is in the hospital to make sure he or she is all right.
  • Pack some special items from home. Familiar objects will help your child feel more comfortable in a strange place. A favorite toy can serve as a security blanket and can accompany your child into surgery and the intensive care unit. Family photos at the bedside can be comforting.
  • Siblings may find a child's hospitalization almost as stressful as the patient does. The best way to calm their fears is to bring them with you on a visit to the hospital. Often, seeing the sibling in the hospital bed makes them realize that they will be OK.  Ask questions about what the child is thinking so you can change incorrect fears your children may have about a brother's or sister's illness or about hospital procedures. After the child comes home, set aside time to talk and play with each child individually.

Approximately three weeks before surgery

  • Make arrangements for blood donations: 
  • Encourage your friends and family to donate blood and platelets in your child's name at Cedars-Sinai Rita and Taft Schreiber Blood Donor Services.  These donations should be made 3 -14 days before the scheduled surgery.
  • Call Blood Donor Services at 310-423-5346.  
  • For complete information about blood donation, including hours and what to expect, visit the Rita and Taft Schreiber Blood Donor Services section. 
  • You will be notified by the surgery scheduler about an appointment for a pre-operative day.  

Approximately one week before surgery

  • Every patient scheduled for surgery will have a pre-operative appointment.  At pre-op, you and your child will receive information about the upcoming surgery, including when to stop eating, what time to arrive at the hospital, what will happened during the surgery, how long you will have to stay at the hospital, and other instructions.
  • This pre-operative appointment will include a visit with the pediatric nurse practitioner to go over the child’s medical information and a have a brief physical examination.  Please bring a list of your child’s medicines.
  • Pre-op visits generally take a full day and include a blood test, chest x-ray and electrocardiogram (ECG), as needed.
  • If your child is over 3 years old, we encourage you to make an appointment with the Child Life Specialist to explain to the child what to expect while they are in the hospital.  Call 310-423-8054.  It is convenient have this appointment on the same day you see the nurse practitioner.
  • A brief tour is available if requested.

The day before surgery

  • Your child cannot have anything to eat or drink after midnight the night before surgery
  • Give the child’s usual medications the day and evening before surgery, but not in the morning of surgery
  • You may want to pack a few familiar things that will make the child comfortable such as a couple of special toys, a special blanket, books, or DVDs. You may also bring pajamas and slippers, but this is not necessary

The day of surgery

  • It is very important that your child has nothing to eat or drink
  • Do not give any morning medications
  • For information about parking, please click here. Parking is free for parents only, on the day of admission and the day of discharge.
  • Arrive at the hospital at 5:30 am,  go to the information desk on the street level, South Tower. They will direct you to the registration department.
  • After registration, you will be directed to the pre-operative holding area
  • At this time, you will meet the anesthesiologist, who is the doctor that will be putting your child to sleep and monitoring him or her during the surgery.  Usually, the anesthesiologist will give your child a small amount of oral medicine, which will help the child relax and not be afraid when he is taken into the operating room.
  • There is a large lobby on the 6th floor, the same floor as the cardiac operating rooms are.  You may wait here during the surgery, and tell and family and friends that will be at the hospital that this will be a good place to meet.  Someone will keep you updated about the progress of the surgery during the morning.
  • After surgery, your child will be taken to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).  You will be able to see him or her approximately one hour after he or she arrives.
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