When Your Child Needs Minor Surgery

In the summer of 2011, I had my second daughter. It was hot in Texas that summer—recording-breaking hot. We lived at the pool. It was one of our many afternoons at the pool that I noticed something odd. When my two-year-old looked into the sun or across the glare of the pool, one of her eyes turned outward. I kind of blew it off, not knowing what to make of it so the observation was stored in my little mom file in the back of my brain. But as the summer progressed, I noticed it happening more often, including indoors, out of bright-light situations, when she was tired.

When Your Child Needs Minor Surgery

One of the clues–closing one eye in bright light situations.

Finally, another child at the pool asked me what was wrong with my daughter’s eye, and I knew at that point it wasn’t just me obsessing. I called the pediatrician. We were referred to a pediatric eye specialist, who recommended eye patching for an hour a day for six months. When that didn’t help, he recommended surgery.

Outpatient surgery is now increasingly used for kids for minor procedures such as tonsillectomy, long dental procedures, and what we had done, which was double-strabismus eye surgery.

The risks for our surgery were minimal: at best, it would correct the lazy-eye problem, and at worst it would do nothing and we would have another go at it when she was older.

When Your Child Needs Minor Surgery

We already know our youngest will have to have the same procedure for her eyes.

The day we went in, we were instructed to bring her in her pajamas and she wasn’t allowed to have any food from midnight on. We were taken back to the waiting area, and they gave her “giggle juice,” which was a syrup that would help her relax and not remember anything while they put her under anesthesia. Our surgeon came over and talked to us about the surgery and what they were going to do. He happened to go to our church, so we prayed together and then they took her back.

The procedure only took about 20 minutes. We met her in the recovery room, where she woke up confused and crying inconsolably. Her eyes were bloodshot at the corners, but other than that you couldn’t tell anything had been done. She wept until a nurse arrived with a popsicle, which she greedily consumed and asked for another. After two popsicles, she was much better and ready to go home. The nurses let her pick out a stuffed animal, and my husband pulled the car around to pick her up. As soon as we buckled her in and began driving, she promptly threw up all over the backseat. After that, she was back to her old self.

For me, this sort of thing was hard because I was making decisions about another person without their input. My daughter didn’t have a say in what happened–she was a toddler and not able to have any part in the decision making. It wasn’t a life-threatening condition, and it didn’t affect her health.

I had an amazing doula through two of my births who gave me the BRAIN acronym to use in making medical decisions, and I love this approach for any medical situation.

B – Benefits. What are the benefits of this procedure?

R – Risks. What are the risks?

A – Alternatives. What are all my options?

I – Intuition. What is my gut feeling? What does my intuition say?

N – Nothing. What happens if we do nothing, either now or in the long term?

Although I was extremely nervous about having such a young child have a surgical procedure, I felt like we made an educated decision and in the end it was the right one for us. Since then, I have observed the same eye problems in my youngest daughter, so I anticipate having to go through the same process again.

The most important thing I learned was to pay attention to your children and observations. If something doesn’t look right to you, take a photo or video and ask your pediatrician, and then research all your options—including what happens if you do nothing—before making a decision. Only you can make the right choice for your family.

Erin Hayes Burt is a freelance writer and mother of three girls who lives and writes in Queensbury, New York.

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One Response to “When Your Child Needs Minor Surgery”

  1. jenn mcclearn says:

    THank you for this, my son has a lazy eye and surgery is a possibility, he is only 2 so we are leery of surgery, we have tried patching but he pulls them off.