Guide for Teens and Young Adults

Preparing for a surgery or procedure can be stressful. While it may seem strange to be getting surgery at a “children’s hospital,” it is important to know that at CHOC, we’ve been treating teens and young adults since 1964. We have special tools and surgical methods developed just for teens, which makes the care we provide unique.

Preparing for Surgery

As you prepare for surgery, you will probably experience a wide range of emotions, fears and concerns. You may be concerned about losing control and being away from school and friends. You may be afraid of the risks of surgery, a change in your appearance or what others may think of you after surgery. These feelings are very common and are to be expected.

There are a variety of things you can do to make the surgery experience less stressful:

Be a member of your own team.

When you were younger, your parents or guardians made a majority of the decisions regarding your healthcare. As a teen, you are a part of the decision-making process. Making a good decision about your health and surgery isn’t as easy as “yes” or “no.” Good healthcare consumers learn as much as possible to understand their health condition and needed treatments. You should ask the doctors and nurses as many questions as possible. There are no “dumb” questions—all questions are good questions even if you think they may be obvious, silly or embarrassing.

To make it easier, make a list of questions before your visits to your doctor. If you are uncomfortable asking questions in front of your parents or guardians, request private time with your doctor or nurse. It is important to know that your doctors and nurses are not judging you; their top priority is helping you and being there for you. You can feel free to ask anything.

Prepare yourself

Knowing what to expect is a big step forward in making the surgery experience less stressful. By educating yourself, you will become more confident in your surgery or procedure and its outcome. There are many other ways you can prepare yourself:

  • Take a tour of CHOC from one of our child life specialists. Don’t let their name fool you, our specialists work with children and adolescents of all ages and conduct special pre-surgery tours geared specifically for each patient’s age and procedure. These tours allow patients to see where they will be at CHOC and what they can expect before, during and after surgery.
  • Don’t be surprised if before, during or after surgery you feel a little different. We all handle stress and uncertainty in different ways. You may feel like crying, yelling or just want to be alone. You may also feel afraid, sad or angry. All of these feelings and emotions are very normal. You don’t have to go through these feelings alone and can always talk about these feelings with a trusted adult—like family, friends, doctors, nurses or even your teachers. You have a team on your side and you are never alone.
  • You may be considering asking a friend, boyfriend or girlfriend to meet you in your room once you are finished resting in the recovery unit. While friends and your boyfriend or girlfriend can provide a lot of comfort, it is important to keep in mind that surgery can take a toll on your body and you may not look or feel your best after leaving the operating room. Some patients have the urge to vomit and feel confused. As a result of the anesthesia, some patients experience temporary mood swings and may find themselves crying for no reason. With these things in mind, some patients prefer to only have close family members with them after their surgery or procedure. If you do invite friends or family members to be with you in the preoperative unit before or after surgery, and at any time would like to be alone, simply tell your nurse and she or he will kindly ask your visitors to leave so you don’t have to. Please also note that we allow a maximum of four visitors in your preoperative room before and after surgery. While you are in the recovery unit, you may only be visited by your parents or legal guardians—no friends, siblings or extended family members. Read more about our visitor guidelines.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Unlike little kids, teens and young adults have other important life issues to think about, like high school and college, not to mention relationships with friends. This is the time in life when it can really help to reach out and ask for help from those around you.

  • Talk to your teachers or professors about your absence from school. Along with the school’s counselors or administrators, they can help you come up with a plan to keep your education going and modify your assignments as needed.
  • Ask friends to lend a hand. Friends can also keep you up-to-date on what is going on at school—both academically (by taking notes or recording classes) and socially (by writing about special events and sending you pictures). Just knowing what’s going on back on campus can ease a lot of stress.
  • Ask friends to write you letters that you can read while at the hospital.
  • While preparing for and recovering from surgery, it is important to simplify your life as much as possible. Talk to coaches or advisors from extra-curricular activities about your absence and efforts to try and reduce your stress. Those activities will be waiting for you when you are ready.
  • If you are feeling sad, depressed, angry or confused you should never be afraid to ask for help or talk to someone you trust—this can include any member of your healthcare team, your family members, teachers or school counselors.

Help yourself

As you prepare for surgery, there are some things you can do, in addition to educating yourself on your condition and surgery, to stay calm and focused:

  • Write down thoughts and feelings in a special notebook or journal. Writing is a great way to deal with your feelings and express yourself—even if you don’t share it with anyone else.
  • While packing for surgery, bring things from home that bring you comfort or joy like books, pads of paper and pencils for drawing or hand-held video games or MP3 players with headphones. Also consider packing comfortable clothing that you enjoy wearing, like your favorite sweats or most cozy socks. Feeling good about what you are wearing can be a big boost. (All patients must wear a hospital-provided gown for their surgery or procedure. Not all patients will be able to wear their own clothing immediately after their surgery.)
  • Look into support groups for teens and young adults.

Surgery Checklist for Teens and Young Adults

  • If you would like more information about the hospital or your surgery or procedure ahead of time, please contact the Child Life office seven to ten days before your surgery to schedule a tour at 714-509-8473.
  • You or your parent (guardian) will speak with a “pre-op” nurse the day before your surgery to discuss any last-minute information or instructions. This is a very important phone call and an opportunity for both you and the hospital to finalize details about the surgery.
  • Arrive at the hospital on time.
  • Pack comfortable clothing and be prepared to change into the hospital-provided gown once in our preoperative unit.
  • Pack a few small comfort items from home.
  • Remove all jewelry and piercings (even plastic), cosmetics and nail polish.
  • Be certain to bathe the night before and use any special soaps as prescribed by your doctor. Do not shave the surgical area prior to your procedure. Shaving can cause tiny cuts you cannot see and can increase the risk of surgical infection.
  • You must fast (not eat or drink) according to the NPO schedule provided by your doctor’s office. Not following these guidelines will result in your surgery being postponed or cancelled. Learn more about CHOC’s NPO guidelines.
  • Before your procedure, remind your friends and family that it is very important for you to get your rest after surgery. Let them know not to wake you while you are recovering, as sleep allows your body time to heal and the pain medication to take effect.