Children's Health and Wellness

The Operating Room

What is the operating room like?

The operating room can be a scary place, with unfamiliar equipment and people dressed in strange outfits. If your child visits the hospital prior to surgery, some of the equipment may be shown to him or her by a child life specialist. A child life specialist is a person that is specially trained in the growth and developmental needs of children.

One thing your child will need to know is that people in the operating room will be wearing surgical clothes to help prevent germs from infecting the surgical incision.

Surgeon looking at an x-ray

The surgical clothing includes the following:

  • A protective cap covering their hair

  • Masks over their lower face, covering their mouths and noses

  • Shades or glasses over their eyes

  • Vinyl gloves on their hands

  • Long gowns

  • Protective covers on their shoes

The surgeon may also wear special glasses that help him or her to see more clearly.

Children need to be aware that the people in the operating room will be wearing this attire, because they can become frightened if not aware that the staff will be wearing strange clothes. If your child is able to visit the hospital before surgery, ask if he or she can play with the gloves, mask, and cap so they are not so scary.

Learning about the operating room equipment

The following is a brief list of equipment your child may see in the operating room. However, each operating room varies depending on the type of surgery being done. Also, many children are given medication to help them sleep before going to surgery, and may not be awake enough to notice the equipment.

  • The operating table in the center of the room can be raised, lowered, and tilted in any direction.

  • The operating room lights are over the table to provide bright light, without shadows, during surgery.

  • The anesthesia machine is at the head of the operating table. This machine has tubes that connect to the patient to assist him or her in breathing during surgery, and built-in monitors that help control the mixture of gases in the breathing circuit.

  • The anesthesia cart is next to the anesthesia machine. It contains the medications, equipment, and other supplies that the anesthesiologist may need.

  • Sterile instruments to be used during surgery are arranged on a stainless steel table.

  • An electronic monitor (which records the heart rate and respiratory rate of your child by adhesive patches) are placed on his or her chest.

  • The pulse oximeter machine attaches to the patient's finger with an elastic band aid. It measures the amount of oxygen contained in the blood.

  • There will be an automated blood pressure measuring machine that automatically inflates the blood pressure cuff on your child's arm.

  • An electrocautery machine uses high-frequency electrical signals to cauterize or seal off blood vessels and may also be used to cut through tissue with a minimal amount of bleeding.

  • If surgery requires, a heart-lung machine or other specialized equipment may be brought into the room.

If your child is awake and still has questions about the equipment once he or she goes into surgery, the surgical staff can answer his or her questions in the operating room. To determine what words to use to explain and describe the operating room equipment to your child, consult a child life specialist for recommendations.

Print Source: Textbook of Pediatric Care. Geiger, T. 2009, Part 6;Section 1;107.
Online Source: Preparing for Surgery, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Online Source: What to Expect in the Operating Room, American Society of PeriAnesthesia Nurses
Online Source: Who Will Hold My Hand? A Guide for Parents Whose Child Needs an Operation, American College of Surgeons
Online Source: Questions to Ask Before Your Child’s Surgery, American Society of Anesthesiologists
Online Source: Preparation for Pediatric Procedural Sedation Outside of the Operating Room, UpToDate
Online Editor: Metzger, Geri K.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/3/2014
© 2000-2016 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.