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Having Surgery at Children's

What to Expect After Surgery


Having Surgery at Children's - What to Expect After Surgery 
How will I know when my child’s surgery is complete?
When your child’s surgery is complete, your pager will alert you and you should report to the reception area. The surgeon will update you on the surgery and answer any questions you may have.

When will I be reunited with my child?
Your child will be observed for a period of time in the Recovery Center. The surgical staff will reunite you with your child as soon as possible. While in the Recovery Center, the nursing staff will monitor your child’s vital signs, pain control, and responsiveness (waking-up). The length of stay in the Recovery Center varies; however, you should expect your child to stay at least 1 hour. You can remain with your child through the recovery process and until ready to go home or transferred to the inpatient unit.

What can I expect after surgery?
Children respond differently to anesthesia. Some children wake up quickly and may be awake before their families arrive at the bedside. Other children may still be sleeping from the effects of anesthesia. Please do not wake your child; children often have a gentler and more comfortable wake up when they awaken on their own.

Some children may have an upset stomach; often children are given medications to help decrease the possibility of nausea and vomiting. Some children may have dizziness, or a sore throat due to the use of a breathing tube during surgery. Some children wake up shivering though they are not cold. Encouraging your child to take deep breaths will help. Those who have had intravenous (IV) pain medication may have an extremely itchy nose. This itch will go away. All of these reactions are normal.


Some children wake up restless or irritable, in a condition known as “emergence delirium.” Some appear awake but are not aware of what is going on around them. Some cry, thrash, arch their back, reach out and seem inconsolable, even when they are in their parent’s arms. This behavior is not usually related to pain, and children do not usually remember it.

Emergence delirium may be upsetting for you to see, but be assured that it will go away. By staying calm, speaking softly, and remaining at the bedside, you can be a comfort to your child. Your nurse will be at the bedside to reassure and support you in consoling and comforting your child.

As a result of the surgery and the anesthetic, you may see changes in your child’s sleep and behavioral patterns. If changes occur, it may take several days for your child to return to normal. If concerns persist, please contact your surgeon or anesthesiologist.

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Will my child be in pain?
Children’s National is dedicated to keeping your child comfortable after surgery with the least number of side effects possible. Your child may experience some discomfort or even pain following surgery. Managing your child’s pain is very important to us and we try to control pain before your child comes out of the operating room. Sometimes it is necessary to give additional pain medicine. Depending on the severity of your child’s surgical procedure, a special Pain Medicine consultant may be involved in your child’s post-operative care.

Parents and caregivers can help by telling your child’s care team what has worked to help soothe your child’s pain in the past, and by supporting their child by holding their hand, rocking, cradling, or cuddling. Comfort your child by bringing a favorite security object, such as a blanket, stuffed animal, or pacifier.

Please address any other questions or concerns you have with your child’s nurse, anesthesiologist, or surgeon.

Will my child have to stay in the hospital after surgery?
The majority of surgeries at Children’s National are performed on an outpatient basis, meaning children will not need to be admitted for overnight stay at the hospital. Parents are reunited with their children soon after surgery so they can be with them while they wake up and recover.

Your child’s surgical team will assess your child’s recovery and discuss the best option with you.

If your child is admitted to the hospital to stay overnight in the Recovery Center for extended observation, one parent or caregiver is required to stay overnight with their child. While in the Recovery Center, the staff will make your stay as comfortable as possible.

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