Sometimes life happens and children end up needing to have surgery or procedure at an urgent care center, emergency room or hospital. It can be frightening to a child. If your child was involved in an accident or has gotten ill quickly, sometimes you have no choice but to head into these situations without much notice. Thank goodness for child life specialists and care team providers who work with children day in and day out because they have experience helping children (& their parents) stay calm.

If you find you have the time to schedule a procedure or surgery, taking time to talk to your child ahead of time of what to expect can make a huge difference…not just emotionally during the days leading up to it but also on the day of the surgery. Children who are highly anxious before and during surgery may experience more pain and have more behavioral issues after the surgery, as well as have a longer stay in the hospital.

Parents can help manage their child’s anxiety about an upcoming surgery or procedure by talking with them about what to expect.

But what if you have never had surgery or are a non-medical type yourself?

Surgery Day is a children’s book written by two nurses and moms who work at Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California, and comes from their years of experience helping children during these stressful times. In the book, children meet Tollie McStretch, a giraffe who must have his arm fixed. The story starts on the day of surgery when he awakes up and wanders down to the kitchen where his sister was eating but his plate was empty. He wonders where his breakfast is and his dad tells him he cannot eat because “your tummy has to be empty to help keep you safe when you go to sleep.”

Tollie worries about “going to sleep” but his dad reassures him that he will be asleep while Dr. Fixall fixes his arm. The story continues as Tollie gets ready to go to the hospital and meets a whole cast of characters with witty names that include Miss Welcome who staffs the hospital admissions area (“I ask a lot, I ask a lot, I ask a lot”) and Nurse Getchaready whose job is to help get Tollie ready for surgery. Mother is by Tollie the entire time providing reassurance and clarifying or restating any information that needs repeating.

Tollie also meets Dr. Slumber, the anesthesiologist sheep who gives “you medicines so you fall asleep and stay asleep during your surgery.” She explains how she will help Tollie sleep by giving her “funny smelling sleepy medicine” through a mask and how she will make sure she doesn’t wake up until the surgery is done.

Sneak peek inside!

Related: What is a Pediatric Anesthesiologist? (Healthychildren.org)

And finally Tollie sees Dr. Fixall, the lion surgeon, who talks to Tollie and his mother right before the surgery.

Related: What is a Pediatric Surgeon? (Healthychildren.org)

The book does a nice job showing how Tollie feels when he gets the mask with sleep medicine, making sure to point out some funny feelings of the anesthesia as the team takes him from induction room into surgery.

But the story doesn’t end there, Tollie wakes up in the recovery room amazed that the surgery is done while Nurse Wakeup, a rooster, makes sure Tollie is able to wake up completely before sending Tollie home.

For children who are worried about shots, the book does point out that there will be no shots. Dr. Slumber does explain that he will put a small straw in his arm while Tollie is asleep so he can give him the sleep medicine during the surgery; Nurse Wakeup uses it to give him some pain medicine to help his arm not hurt afterwards. Included in the story is an example of the Wong-Baker FACES Pain Rating Scale so that children reading the book will know how to tell the nurse how much pain they are having.

I always like using children’s books as a way to provide mental preparation for big events, whether it be surgery or a visit to the doctor or dentist. Books are also a great way to show children how to act in certain social situations.

At the end of the book, the authors include some common questions either the parent or child can or should ask including:

  • will my child have to spend the night in the hospital?
  • when will my child be able to drink/eat after surgery?
  • how long is the surgery?

A surgery day checklist is included to help families plan for what to bring on the day of the surgery, a glossary of important words is included (children have a knack for asking what the meaning of words are!) and a couple pages of activities for the children to complete related to the storyline and characters.

I especially enjoyed the unique characters and the simple explanations included in the context of the surgery day from start to finish. It helps children “see” what to expect. The illustrations are done by Alycia Pace. Keep this book in mind should you ever find your child needing surgery so that you can provide reassurance and decrease anxiety. Hospitals are often busy places with many people in and out of rooms with beeping monitors and strict rules to keep things germ-free and safe for patients. Even if your child doesn’t outwardly show anxiety, they may wonder and have questions about what the day will be like and who the various people are they will meet. This book can help you get through this time and help you and your child prepare for the big day.

Get a copy of your own by visiting the 2RN.org website or check your local library.

Related: What is a Pediatric Heart Surgeon? (Healthychildren.org)

Written by

Nerissa Bauer

I am a behavioral pediatrician, consultant, child advocate and blogger. I am a wife, mommy to 2 amazing children and a golden retriever. Love cooking, travel, reading, tap and creating.