Preparing your child for open heart surgery is a scary thing. Nurses have to deal with this stuff every single day and seem to become “routine” to them. Routine? I think not. Not only once but having to go through it multiple times and having to relive it all over again is even harder and is far from being routine if you ask me.
The first time Olivia had open heart surgery she was six months old. We didn’t have time to think about what was happening or what could happen. It just happened. And we look back now and wonder how on earth we got through it. But we did get through it with the help of family and friends and Faith in the maker above that it was in His hands the whole time.
But we are preparing for Olivia’s second open heart surgery and she is nine years old this time. So preparing her and us is a little bit different than before when she couldn’t speak or ask questions and understand what would be happening. It has been tough so far. We have already had tears in all of us. So, I sit and wonder. How do I explain to my nine year old what is going to be happening in May? As I sat and thought about this when we found out she would be having more surgery, I realized that first and foremost we have to be honest with her. We have from the very beginning. She has always known that her heart was special and in no way have we ever told her that it would ever be perfect and “fixed”. So, as this journey has begun, we have been honest. Along the way we have had others tell us to wait until about 2 weeks before her surgery to tell her….or tell her just a few days before. But to me that did not seem fair. I know her and I know that she would totally freak out if we waited to tell her just before. So we told her along with her cardiologist. He also felt that it would be best to go ahead and be honest and let her know what was going on. I mean she had to know that something was going on already. We had been to numerous doctor’s appointments as well as seeing specialists upon specialists to figure out that it was her heart causing her issues.
My question now is…how in depth do you answer questions about open heart surgery? A nine year old can be pretty inquisitive. We haven’t had any questions yet but I know they are coming. As I began to research all of this, I came across some info that I thought that someone else who is going through this exact thing as well could benefit from and wanted to share it here.
I found that according to results from studies of developmental psychology show that children are often underestimated in their ability to deal with medical information. These studies show that children can cope with information about their physical state and can deal with stressful events. Additionally, young children of about 2-3 years can be prepared for surgery in a rudimentary way. Giving children, irrespective of their age, only vague or no information about their upcoming surgery seems unjustifiable. Children who are not educated about their surgery have an increased risk of being traumatized after the procedure. They could lose faith in their parents and health-care professionals.
So, bottom line honesty is the key and if you don’t know an answer to a question saying “I don’t know” is okay. You would rather get the answer than answer it incorrectly. Here are some things that I have already talked to Olivia about regarding her surgery.
"Your heart isn't working as it should, but it can be fixed. The doctors and nurses are going to help your heart work better. I love you and I want this heart surgery done because it's the only way for you to feel better."
"During your operation the doctors will give you medicines so that you will be asleep and will not feel anything. After the surgery is over, you might feel sore, but your nurses will give you medicine to make your pain go away."
"Right after the operation you'll stay in a special room and get extra attention from the nurses and doctors. I'll be able to stay with you very often and I'll always be nearby. After you've gotten stronger, you'll move to a regular hospital room. When you're there, I will be able to stay with you almost all the time."
"While you're staying in the hospital, you'll meet other children who are also getting well after their heart surgery. They'll be getting ready to go home. You'll be able to go home, too, as soon as the doctors say you're ready."
This is a learning process for all of us even though she has had open heart surgery before. It doesn’t get any easier and those who have been there know that it is anything but routine no matter how many times you go through it.