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What Happens in the Operating Room?

Medically reviewed by: KidsHealth Medical Experts

Maybe you've seen an operating room on TV or you know someone who's had an operation in one. It sounds mysterious and interesting — but what's it really all about?

What Is the Operating Room?

The operating room, sometimes called the OR or surgery center, is where surgery (say: SUR-juh-ree) takes place in a hospital. Having surgery is also called having an operation. When someone has surgery, a special doctor called a surgeon (say: SUR-jun) works on or inside the body to fix something that is wrong.

Why Would a Kid Need to Go to the OR?

There are lots of common surgeries for kids. One is having special tubes put in the eardrums to help prevent ear infections and improve hearing. Or someone who gets tonsillitis again and again might need a tonsillectomy, which is when the tonsils are taken out to prevent more infections.

Some kids need surgery to repair something they've been born with, such as a cleft palate, which is a gap or opening in the roof of the mouth. These kind of surgeries are scheduled ahead of time, so you know when you're going into the hospital.

Less often, a kid might need surgery in a hurry. Surgery might need to be done right away if a kid has appendicitis or broke a bone that couldn't be fixed with just a cast.

Before the Operation

If you know in advance that you'll be having an operation, try to visit the hospital beforehand. Also be sure to ask your parents, doctors, and nurses if you have any questions about what will happen before, during, or after the surgery.

When you're preparing to go to the hospital, you might want to bring along a little bit of home. Many hospitals have waiting rooms with TVs and toys, but you can also bring things from home that make you feel good, like a favorite stuffed animal, book, blanket, or game.

Who Will You See at the Hospital?

If it's not an emergency, you'll have an appointment when you need to come to the hospital and get ready for the surgery. You'll see someone at the reception desk, who will take lots of information like your name, address, phone number, your parents' names, and more. Sometimes, you'll check into the hospital to stay a while after your surgery. Other times, a kid can have minor surgery and go home the same day.

As it gets closer to the time of the operation, you'll probably see a nurse who will help you get ready. The nurse may ask you and your parents some questions about your health and if you're allergic to anything. You also might get a physical exam to check your temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure and make sure you are feeling fine. If you didn't get your questions answered before the operation, it's OK to ask the nurse now.

One good thing about surgery is that you usually get to sleep through it. The doctor or nurse who helps you fall into a deep sleep is called an anesthesiologist (say: an-es-thee-zee-AHL-uh-jist) or nurse anesthetist (ah-NES-theh-tist). He or she is specially trained to give you medicine that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep until the operation is over. The medicine also prevents you from feeling any pain while the operation is happening.

Before you drift off to sleep, you'll probably see the surgeon, too. That's the person who will do your operation.

Who Are All Those Masked People?

To keep the OR germ free, the people who work there wear caps over their hair and masks over their mouths and noses to avoid spreading germs. They even wear booties over their shoes! They might all look alike, but everyone in the OR has a different job.

What Happens on the Day of Surgery?

If you will be going to sleep for the surgery, you probably won't be able to eat breakfast. That's because having food — or even water — in your stomach can make it dangerous to give you anesthesia. You'll be told ahead of time what you can and can't eat or drink. After the operation, your doctor will give you the green light to eat and drink again.

You may be given some special medicine to drink just before you go into the operating room and go off to sleep. This medicine is to help make you feel very relaxed.

Your mom or dad will wait in a waiting room until it's finished. Your doctor will probably talk to them as soon as the surgery's done to tell them that it's over and you're now in the PACU.

What's the PACU?

PACU stands for post-anesthesia care unit. "Post" means "after," so you can probably guess that the PACU is where you go after your operation is done. This is the "wake-up" room, and that's exactly what you'll be doing there — waking up!

A nurse will be there to see how you're doing as you wake up. Often, your parents are able to see you in post-op, so when you wake up, they'll be there. Other times, they may have to wait a while, but you'll be able to see them soon.

Once you're fully awake, you'll either be moved to a hospital room (if you're staying overnight) or to another PACU, where you can wait with your parents while the doctors or nurses see how you're doing.

Even if you feel great right after surgery, the nurses and doctors will tell you to take it easy. Rest is an important part of getting better. So rest up and feel better soon!

Medically reviewed by: KidsHealth Medical Experts