Disabilities Health

Preparing a Physically Disabled Child for Surgery

Despite the best preemptive care, many physically disabled children often require, at least, one invasive surgery. Here are some tips to make it easier...

by Tina Matsunaga

Despite the best preemptive care, many physically disabled individuals often require, at least, one invasive surgery. Especially during the growing years, surgery may be necessary to avoid additional mobility problems in the future. For example, spastic muscles have the power to dislocate hips and distort the directional functioning of joints. Knees may eventually knock together, making ambulation virtually impossible. Sometimes, other internal systems have need of surgery to repair a problem. Naturally, the prospect of surgery is scary. However, parents can help a child prepare for surgery in three important ways: explain why, how, and when the surgery is necessary. Here are a few tips:

First, explain to a child, in terms he/she can understand, why going to the doctor is necessary in the first place. Chances are, if the child is mentally capable of understanding the situation, he/she is already aware of the physical problem. For instance, a child needing a tonsillectomy will usually have an abnormally high number of colds and sore throats. Likewise, a child may have difficulty walking because the knees are constantly bumping into each other. Personally speaking, trying to pretend a problem is non-existent, until the last minute, can be more detrimental to a child than facing the situation together. Understanding is better than confusion.

Second, helping a child comprehend the process will help alleviate some of the fear associated with surgery. Not knowing can fuel unnecessary worries and nightmares. Most cognizant children have vivid imaginations. Given life in dreams, scary thoughts can conjure up many unnecessary worries. For example, a common concern is not seeing Mom or Dad again. Kids are afraid doctors will take them away and never bring them back. Parents can alleviate the worries by reassuring children; when they awaken, Mom and Dad will be right by their side. Although some parents may feel ignorance is bliss, from personal experience, letting a disabled child know how the surgical process works relieves many unnecessary concerns.

Third, if surgery is inevitable, children usually want to know when the procedure will take place. Unlike able-bodied children, physically challenged children do not always have the pleasure of looking forward to summer vacation. If possible, the surgery is postponed until summer vacation, so disable children do not have to miss school and be held back educational. If the surgery cannot wait, many children’s hospitals have makeshift schools on site. Although the grades are usually combined in one large room, a teacher is available to answer questions and present new concepts. Although the situation is not perfect, the temporary solution helps many students keep up with classmates at home. Therefore, knowing when the surgery will be done can help children, and their parents, plan ahead for future needs during, and after, the hospital stay.

In conclusion, surgery is often an inevitable part of a physically disabled child’s life. Although physical therapy may delay invasive procedures, or prevent reoccurrences of a similar problem, surgery is frequently necessary, especially during the growth process. Personally speaking, shielding a child from an impending operation can actually be emotionally detrimental. Knowing why, how, and when a surgery will take place alleviates unnecessary speculation and worry. In terms a child can understand, honesty is the best policy when preparing a child for surgery.

Biography

Born with Cerebral Palsy 46 years ago, I can identify with the struggles and triumphs of disabled children. When asked to submit articles concerning children with disabilities, I eagerly accepted. Maybe my insight and experiences can encourage others living with a disability. I can empathize with the handicapped and understand the special challenges facing friends and family. 

Here is my story: I have suffered lack of oxygen at birth. By the time the doctors forced my first breath the damage was done. I have spastic paraplagia cerebral palsy. When first diagnosed, the doctors told my Mom I would never be able to walk, and I would be mentally challenged as well. For approximately six weeks my Mom cried whenever she picked me up. She finally realized the doctors were wrong because I was already talking and I had a twinkle in my eyes. She knew I could learn to live without the use of my legs, if I had my mind. With a positive outlook, her goal became the same as for my siblings: to become as independent as possible and be the best person I could become.

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