What to expect on the day of epilepsy surgery

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Read about what a child will experience in the hours leading up to their epilepsy surgery.

Key points

  • On the day of surgery, your child will have their hair washed and will have some of it shaved in the operation room.
  • Your child will receive a general anaesthetic to make them sleep during the surgery. Follow the pre-anaesthetic eating and drinks instructions from the healthcare team.
  • After surgery, your child will receive pain relieving medications in the recovery room and will be monitored by a nurse.

Your child's healthcare team will meet with you and your child in the days or weeks before surgery to discuss the preparations that will be needed before you come to the hospital.

Your child will have their hair washed before the operation. They will probably have some hair shaved in the operating room, but the team will try and shave as little as possible.

Your child will not be allowed to eat for a number of hours before the operation because they will be put to sleep using general anaesthesia. If they eat, they might throw up during the operation and this would harm their lungs.

Your child will have an intravenous line (IV) put in their arm through which the surgical team will give them fluids and some medicines. Some of the medicines they may receive, either by IV or by mouth, are:

  • antibiotics to prevent infection
  • pain medicines
  • ranitidine​ to reduce acid in the stomach.

You will come to the waiting room with your child before the operation. Along with the neurosurgeon, another doctor called an anaesthetist and the operating room nurse will come out and talk to you.

Anaesthetic before surgery

Before the operation, a doctor called an anaesthetist (sometimes called an anaesthesiologist) will give your child a general anaesthetic. This is a mix of medicines that puts your child into a deep sleep. While in this deep sleep your child will not feel any pain. You may also hear general anaesthetic called "sleep medicine."

During your child's epilepsy surgery, the anaesthetist will check your child's breathing, heartbeat, temperature and blood pressure. Other doctors may help the anaesthetist.

How will my child be given the anaesthetic?

Your child will be given the anaesthetic in one of two ways:

  • through a small tube in a vein called an intravenous (IV) line
  • through a face mask.

Older children will be given an anaesthetic or sleeping medicine in the operating room. Younger children may be given anaesthesia through a face mask while still sitting on their parents' lap and carried into the operating room once they are asleep.

What can I feed my child before the anaesthetic?

Your child's anaesthetist will give you instructions regarding what your child can eat before surgery. You must follow these feeding instructions to lessen your child's chance of throwing up, which could hurt their lungs. If you do not follow these instructions, your child's operation will be delayed or cancelled. General guidelines are given here; your child's hospital may follow slightly different policies. If you have any questions, speak to the treatment team.

Eight hours before the anaesthetic

Make sure your child stops eating solid food. For example, if your child will be getting the anaesthetic at 8 a.m., do not give him or her anything to eat after 12 midnight.

Up to three hours before the anaesthetic

Give your child clear liquids only. Examples of clear liquids are apple juice, water, jell-o, popsicles, and ginger ale. Do not give your child milk or orange juice. For example, if your child is getting the anaesthetic at 12 noon, stop giving clear liquids at 9 am.

From three hours before the anaesthetic until after your child wakes up

Your child cannot have anything to eat, not even gum or candy. Your child also cannot have anything to drink, not even a sip of water. For example, if your child is getting the anaesthetic at 3 pm, they cannot have anything to eat or drink after 12 noon. If your child needs to take prescription medicine, please talk to your child's doctor before giving the medicine.

If your child is breastfeeding

Stop giving your child breast milk four hours before the anaesthetic. For example, if your child is getting the anaesthetic at 2 pm, stop breastfeeding at 10 am.

When should I call my child's doctor?

To reduce the chance of any problems, your child needs to be as healthy as possible before getting an anaesthetic.

Call your child's doctor right away if your child has any of these problems the day before or on the day of the operation:

  • a fever
  • wheezing
  • cough
  • very runny nose
  • feeling unwell.

Are there any possible side effects from an anaesthetic?

Yes, your child may have side effects after an anaesthetic. For example, your child may feel dizzy, grumpy, have a sore throat and cough or feel sick to the stomach. These types of side effects are usually minor.

Your child may throw up after the operation. If this happens, your child will get liquids and a medicine through a tube in a vein to help them stop throwing up.

There is a very, very small chance that your child may have a serious problem during or after an anaesthetic. The serious problems may include an allergic reaction to a drug, brain injury, or a cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest means that the heart has stopped beating. The anaesthetist will watch your child very closely and will be ready to deal with these problems. If your child has a serious problem during or after the anaesthetic, they may have to stay at the hospital longer.

How can I help my child be less nervous before epilepsy surgery?

To help your child feel less nervous, explain what will happen in simple words that they will understand. If your child knows what to expect before coming to the hospital, they will be better able to deal with the operation.

If your child will be awake when they first go to the operating room, you can tell them what they can expect to see there. It is a large room with bright lights and lots of equipment. People will be wearing masks, gowns and hats. There will be a bed in the middle of the room. The nurse will help your child get onto the bed and make sure they are comfortable.

If your child is still very nervous before getting the anaesthetic, a doctor or nurse may give them some medicine to swallow to help calm them down.

Where do I stay during my child's surgery?

During the operation, you may stay in the waiting room. The operation can take several hours.

Where will my child go after their operation?

Your child will go to the Post Anaesthetic Care Unit, also called the PACU. You may also hear this unit called the Recovery Room. Specially trained nurses will watch your child. These nurses will check your child's breathing, heartbeat, temperature and blood pressure regularly.

Usually, your child will wake up soon after the operation. You may be with your child as soon as they wake up.

What if my child has pain after epilepsy surgery?

If your child has pain, they will be given medicine. Your child may also get a medicine through a needle to freeze a part of your child's body so they will not feel any pain there. This is done before your child wakes up from the general anaesthetic.

Last updated: February 4th 2010