Childhood Cancer

Your Child in the Hospital

Educating yourself

In an emergency, you might not have time to ask questions or to meet the surgeon. But, for nonemergency surgeries, you will usually have time to identify the surgeon and hospital that can best help your child.

You can learn about the proposed surgery from your child’s pediatrician and by reading any information she provides. During this discussion, you can also ask which hospital and pediatric surgeon she recommends. Children are often sent to large children’s hospitals for surgery because community hospitals sometimes do not have surgeons and staff members who specialize in treating children.

After talking with your pediatrician and reading about the surgery, you will probably have some questions. It helps to make a list of your questions so you do not forget any. When you first meet the surgeon, don’t hesitate to ask all of your questions so you understand what is being proposed. Many parents tape record or write down the surgeon’s answers so they can review them later. The surgeon may provide a video or pamphlet that describes the surgery or you can get this information from a nurse or child life specialist.

My son had a cavernous angioma, which is an abnormal collection of blood vessels in the brain. Unfortunately, the location of the angioma was quite poor, deep in the frontal lobe, so very near the speech center. This is a rare thing in children, so I did some investigation. I asked my local neurosurgeon who he recommended for a second opinion, and I did a literature search to see who had published articles on this condition. There was one vascular neurosurgeon’s name that came up more often than others, and I contacted him by email. He was very responsive and kind to me immediately. When we travelled 1,000 miles to meet with him at a large children’s hospital, he told us that he could perform this surgery without any danger of our son losing his ability to talk. He told us to be prepared for a week in the hospital, but my son was up talking immediately, and he was walking within 6 hours of surgery. He ate a breakfast burrito 8 hours after surgery and we were discharged less than 24 hours after surgery. He had just a small bandage, otherwise you would not know that he had undergone a major operation.

Some parents recommend checking to make sure that the surgeon and anesthesiologist are board certified. This means that the doctor has passed rigorous written and oral tests given by a board of examiners in his or her specialty. You can call the American Board of Medical Specialties at (866) ASK-ABMS (275-2267) or visit aspx to find out if your child’s surgeon and anesthesiologist are board certified.

We had a bad experience with an anesthesiologist and decided that from then on, we would choose our own, rather than be assigned one. I wanted someone competent and compassionate, who would talk to my teenage daughter and answer her questions. She has frequent surgeries, and I do everything I can to make it bearable. I asked staff at the hospital, our primary doctor, and several nurse friends for recommendations. We went to meet the anesthesiologist who received the most endorsements, and she’s fabulous. We make sure the office always schedules us with Dr. V. and we call the operating room the day before to confirm it was done.