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We do our best to make surgical recovery as easy as possible for your child, and for you. But no matter what we do, it can be scary for kids to wake up from anesthesia alone. To give parents and caregivers the opportunity to play an active part in their child’s recovery, we offer a Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU).
It is important for your child to have you to comfort him or her at the bedside, and your knowledge about your child's unique needs can help the PACU nurse better care for your child.
What does the PACU look like?
The PACU is a large open room with curtains separating each bedside. Parents help maintain the privacy of all patients and families by remaining at their child's beside.
How long will my child stay in the PACU?
That depends upon the type of procedure and anesthetic he or she had. Some children stay for as little as 20 minutes, and other remain in the PACU for several hours.
What should I expect in the PACU?
A nurse will be at your child's bedside during recovery in the PACU to make sure that he or she is comfortable and safe. Sometimes other children in the PACU cry and this may affect your child. Please know that we are doing our best to comfort each child and family.
As your child wakes up from surgery, we will watch him or her closely. When your child arrives in the PACU from the operating room, he or she may have an intravenous line or other tubes or drains, and may be connected to monitoring devices.
It is normal for some children to look pale, puffy or swollen after surgery. Children who have had intravenous medicine may have a very itchy nose. Don’t worry if this happens to your child. It will go away.
How will my child feel after surgery?
Children react differently to anesthesia. Your child may feel sick or vomit. We give medicine to many children to try to stop this from happening. If your child had a breathing tube during surgery, he or she may also complain of a sore throat. This is all normal.
Sometimes children wake up shivering even though they are not cold. This is from the anesthesia. Encouraging your child to take deep breaths will help.
Young children sometimes wake up irritable and restless. This is called "emergence delirium." They may cry, thrash, arch their backs, reach out and seem inconsolable, even when held by their parents. This usually is not related to pain, and children usually do not remember it. Young children who have brief procedures are more likely to experience this, but it can happen at any age. Emergence delirium may be upsetting to see, but take comfort in the fact that it will go away. Sometimes it lasts 10 minutes, other times it lasts an hour or more. You can comfort your child by staying calm and speaking softly. Your child's nurse will be at the bedside with you to offer support and reassurance.
How can I help my child in the PACU?
Children wake up differently from anesthesia. Sometimes they wake up quickly and will already be awake before you arrive in the PACU. Other children sleep longer. If your child still is asleep when you arrive, please don't wake him or her up. Children often do better when they are allowed to wake up on their own.
Your presence at the bedside can be comforting. Once your child wakes up, you can hold his or her hand and talk to him or her.
Visiting your child in the PACU
We understand that it may be difficult for you to see your child at this point in his or her recovery after surgery. If you feel that you are unable to stay in the PACU or visit your child, please know we will provide the best possible care for your child. We will give you updates on your child's condition, and we will reunite you with your child as soon as possible. We will contact you in the waiting room when you can visit your child.
Occasionally, due to medical needs or safety concerns, the PACU staff may be unable to accommodate your visit. Please know that your child will be cared for and comforted during these times. We will keep you updated and informed.
Please note, we do not allow food, drinks, cameras and cell phones in the PACU.
Proud to be a Level I Children’s Surgery Center
The highest-rated pediatric surgical center in Wisconsin
Recognized by the American College of Surgeons, our Level I verification represents the highest level of recognition for hospitals that perform complex surgical procedures in newborns and children. Learn more about this recognition.
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