I am no doctor.
But I am a mama and I have experienced childhood surgery first hand. I can’t tell you how to parent, and I won’t give you medical advice, but I will tell you what I would have done differently after my son had his first surgery at 4 years old. He had his tonsils removed, along with his adenoids. He had obstructive sleep apnea, so we were limited on options to help him with his sleeping disturbances. The airflow through his nose was limited 60% and he was, for lack of better words, a mouth breather. His tonsils were ‘kissing’, which sounds adorable, but they were causing him major troubles like :: frequent night waking, teeth grinding, snoring, apnea, cranky daytimes, and frequent moodiness. As parents, we have been the least invasive with him and his body as humanly possible, without risking his health, so hearing that he’d need a surgery was kind of a sucker punch. But we wanted the quality of his life to improve, so we signed up for the ‘no big deal’ tonsillectomy. We went into it slightly uninformed and that brings me to my very first recommendation:
Get Informed. Ask a thousand questions and then some. If you have a question the day of surgery, ask it. Call after hours and in the middle of the night, weekends and holidays included. Know everything you can about the surgery your child is having and ALL of the risks involved. Do not rely on Google alone, or just one neighbor. Ask around. It’s always nice to hear the awesomeness success stories, but it’s really helpful to hear about when things go wrong. I know it’s a little daunting, but don’t write those stories off as ‘bad parenting’, hear those mamas too. Even with the least risky procedures, things can go awry. Know what to look for and have a plan. That doesn’t mean plan for the worst, but have an emergency plan.
Stay With Your Child. Before my son’s surgery, I explained to him in age appropriate detail what would be happening. I stayed with him when he was afraid. I answered his questions honestly when he had them. During his surgery and immediately after, I stayed with him to comfort him and hold him. I didn’t know it at the time, but he needed me to stay with him even longer. We let him sleep alone, as he seemed to be healing better than expected even. This is truly my one regret with my son, that we left him alone. Children should be monitored for two weeks after a tonsillectomy, or any vascular surgery. This means 24/7. The doctors assured me that he wouldn’t hemorrhage in his sleep without waking the whole house with his choking. They were almost fatally wrong. He hemorrhaged and swallowed most of it, vomited it up, did it again, and tried to go back to sleep. When I found him in a puddle of blood, he was sucking his thumb. My biggest advice to other moms during/after surgery :: do not leave your children alone at all until they are fully healed and no longer at risk for bleeding/infection/complications.
Trust Your Intuition. Call your doctor each and every time you have a question. If you don’t feel right about something, call them back. I actually insisted my son be seen after hours the day before he hemorrhaged. I knew that something was wrong. He was having several ‘small bleeds’ and was swallowing a lot and not eating. I called my doctor numerous times and alerted them to this behavior change. I was told ‘he’s fine, it’s fine, this is normal, don’t bring him in, he’s fine’. I pained optimism, but I knew they were wrong, and they were very, very wrong. Once he hemorrhaged so severely that he required surgery to stop the bleeding, and suddenly my mommy intuition didn’t seem so dramatic. Trust your gut – you know your child better than anyone in the world – and don’t get bullied by know it all’s. You know what’s best. Find someone who believes you because worst case scenario, you prove yourself wrong, which beats the alternative on a bad day.
There is a huge misconception that a tonsillectomy is ‘no big deal’, which pains me because it’s highly vascular. It’s either no big deal or a life threatening emergency. There’s really no gray area and really no way to tell who will bleed and who won’t. But honestly, all childhood surgery is a big deal. Children are essentially unable to care for themselves, and like my son, don’t fully grasp the seriousness of the situation. He was comforting himself by sucking his thumb, rather than screaming for mom. He didn’t know his life was in danger. You can over do anything, and I’m honestly not even a helicopter mom, but there are times when over-care is a good idea. Two weeks seems like forever when you’re in it, but it’s well worth the safety net. At the end of the day, you can never really be too cautious after childhood surgery. We learned the hard way that a medical situation involving a small child can go from absolutely normal to an absolute emergency in 15 minutes.