Talking About Surgery

For Parents

We know that you will want to provide your chld with honest answers to their questions that are appropriate for their age.  

  • The suggested answers on this page can be adjusted based on your child's age and medical condition
  • You may request that a Child Life Specialist assist you in preparing your child/teen for their surgical experience
  • Contact the Child Life Program for more information

What is a Hospital?

A hospital is a place where boys and girls come to have doctors and nurses help their bodies be stronger and healthier.

What is Surgery?

Surgery is when the doctor is fixing a part of your body. Boys and girls can have many different types of surgeries on their bodies.  

About the Information Desk

At the information desk, everyone is given a special sticker to wear with the room number or area that they are going to visit. 

What is the Admitting Office?

Admitting is a place where parents fill out important papers about their children’s surgery. Children also get a bracelet that will be placed on their arm or leg to tell the doctor who they are. This bracelet will have the child’s name and birthday on it. The child will wear this bracelet until they go home. 

Surgical Admitting

This is a place where boys and girls come when they are going to have surgery. Here children meet many different people who will help them get ready for surgery.

First, parents sign their child’s name in at the desk. They are then called into a room where a nurse will find out how tall they are and how much they weigh. The nurse will say, “I need to take your vitals."  This means the nurse will measure blood pressure, temperature and see how well the child is breathing.

Examination Room

After this, the family will go into another room, called the examination room. Here the child will change into hospital clothes. Everyone who has surgery wears these special clothes. In this room, the family will meet with nurses. The nurse(s) will ask the family many questions and check the child’s ears, nose, mouth and listen to their heart with a stethoscope. 

Child Life Specialist

A Child Life Specialist meets with boys and girls to help explain their surgeries and answer their questions. Boys and girls of all ages have questions, so Child Life Specialists use medical play, photographs and descriptions of what children will see, hear and feel before and after their surgery. Most children feel better knowing what will happen at the hospital.

When families are done in the exam room, they wait in the playroom until their name is called to go to the Pre-Operative Holding Area.   


The playroom is a fun place where you can play with different toys and video games while you wait. Some boys and girls like to bring a favorite toy from home such as a game boy game or book to help keep them busy while they are waiting. Some children bring something from home to help them feel safe, such as their blanket or special stuffed animal. 

Pre-Operative Holding Area

  • The Pre-Operative Holding Area is a large room located on the second floor of the Surgical Admitting area. Two family members are escorted up in an elevator with the child. In the Pre-Operative Holding area, children are placed on a bed with wheels called a gurney, where they may get comfortable and watch television with their family. Here they will meet the doctors and nurses who will be with them in the operating room
  • The doctors and nurses wear special hospital clothes called scrubs. These special clothes, masks, hats, gloves and shoe covers help to keep everything clean and free of germs
  • If ordered by the doctor, a nurse may bring the child some medicine called Versed to drink. The nurse will mix this medicine with either cherry or raspberry flavored syrup to help the medicine taste better. The child may drink this medicine out of a cup or a syringe. This medicine will help the child feel relaxed and comfortable
  • Prior to the surgery, the family will meet the Anesthesiologist, who will ask some questions and explain whether sedation or anesthesia will be used
    • A way to help children understand anesthesia or sedation is to refer to it as the “special sleepy medicine” given the entire time they are having surgery
    • There are different ways a child may be given anesthesia or sedation, such as through a mask or through an intravenous line (IV). The Anesthesiologist will discuss which method is safest for the child depending on their medical history and current condition.
    • When it is time for surgery, the nurse and Anesthesiologist will accompany the child to the Operating Room

Operating Room

The Operating Room is a  room where boys and girls have their surgery. There are large, bright lights in this room above the bed where the child lays. These lights do not touch or hurt the child. Children may also notice monitors next to the bed with numbers and lines that tell the doctors how well the body is doing.

While the child is in the Operating Room they will have three things placed on their body: blood pressure cuff, pulse ox and heart leads.

  • The blood pressure cuff tells the doctor how well the blood is traveling through the body. The blood pressure cuff will give the child’s arm a squeeze
  • The pulse ox is placed on the child’s finger and looks like a band-aid with a red light. It tells the doctors how well the child is breathing
  • Three heart leads are placed on the child’s chest and stomach. These look like small stickers and tell the doctors how the heart is beatin

Once all three monitors are on the child’s body, the Anesthesiologist will give the child “special sleepy medicine” through a soft, plastic mask that fits over the child’s nose and mouth and/or an IV.

  • An IV is a soft, small plastic tube that brings medicine or fluids to the child’s body
  • Most children say they fall asleep before they can count to five. When the surgery is over, the Anesthesiologist will stop giving the special sleepy medicine and the child will slowly wake up

Recovery Room

  • The Recovery Room is the room where children wake up after there surgery is finished. When the child wakes up, they will see their recovery nurse and two family members
  • Sometimes boys and girls waking up from Anesthesia may feel dizzy, sleepy or nauseous. If needed, a nurse can give medicine to help a child feel more comfortable
  • Many children will wake up with an IV placed on their hand. Some children may have additional medical equipment on their bodies. The doctors and nurses will explain what to expect after every child’s surgery. It is important that children understand before their surgery what medical equipment will be on their body when they wake. The doctor will decide when these items will be removed  
  • Sometimes children wake up with a feeling of a scratchy throat from anesthesia. If the doctor allows the child to drink, then the nurse will offer juice or a popsicle
  • Some children go home the same day of their surgery while other children stay in the hospital until their doctor decides they can go home. The child’s doctor and nurse will give the family instructions on how to care for their child at home