Preparing small children for a hospital stay and surgery is similar to explaining sex to them, a county pediatric-care specialist says: Be honest, but don't volunteer unnecessary or unwanted details.
"I would recommend they discuss with the surgeon exactly what they're going to do, plus the anesthesia and what's involved with that," said Gladys Baker, a pediatric nurse at Carroll County General Hospital.
Baker doesn't use words like "cut open" to describe surgery. She will say the surgeon "goes inside" to "take" or "fix" something. If achild asks how, she will say the surgeon "uses special instruments."
Baker teaches a class Sunday afternoons for children who will be coming to the hospital. The class includes a slide presentation and ahospital tour. If your child is going to another hospital, call to see if it offers a similar program, Baker advises. If not, ask for an individual tour.
To attend any Sunday class at CCGH, parents should register their children by the Saturday before by calling the pediatrics department at 857-6911.
Other tips Baker suggests for preparing youngsters:
* Don't tell your child that if he doesn't listen to the nurse, she will give him a shot.
"It makes them fear the nurses," Baker said. "I think older people do that, not thinking. A lotof times we repeat what we were told by our parents without realizing it."
Fewer parents use that tactic now, Baker said. But when they do, the nurses usually explain later, out of the child's earshot, that parents shouldn't equate nurses and needles with punishment but rather with medicine that will help the child.
* When they describeanesthesia as being put to sleep, parents and medical professionals always should stress that the child will wake up again, Baker said. Many children have heard about a pet being put to sleep.
* Look forspecial children's books and videotapes at the library that might explain a hospital stay, surgery or illness to a child.
* The best time to bring up the issue with a child facing an operation depends onthe child.
"If you have a child who worries constantly about something, the day before surgery would be more appropriate than two weeks ahead of time," Baker said. Telling them details too early could mean a lot of nightmares and sleepless nights leading up to the big day, she said.
"They can know they'll be going to the hospital, but they don't need the details that early," she said.
* On the day of surgery or admittance, take along the child's favorite blanket or stuffed animal. The recovery room staff encourages this and will have the cherished item waiting for the child coming out of surgery.
NOTE: SEE ALSO MAIN STORY (CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL STAYS CAN BE TRAUMATIC FOR PARENTS, TOO)