When God handed me two beautiful blondes to mother, life didn’t really go as I’d originally planned. Things went a little off track…and then they went off track again. Eventually, we just made our own road. It was best.
I find you can be isolated by your circumstances or become a resource for people that find themselves on Bensten Blvd. I guess it’s really not so much of a decision as a natural transition from being on it by yourself to helping the people driving beside you. It’s ever-evolving, too, because I’ve got my own resources that help me when I hit another speed bump. They’re just usually a few exits ahead of me.
I’ve gotten countless emails and messages over the years about doctor recommendations, research, tips for surviving hospital stays, where to buy preemie clothes, why did we go to Boston and NY and much more. One of the most common questions I get is about what to expect for an upcoming test/scan.
So this post is about those new to the road. (Welcome. I hope it’s a short commute.)
Between Jackson and Abby, they’ve had ultrasounds, Xrays, MRIs, MIBG scans, Bone scans and CT scans. We’ve done them with and without sedation. Your first question is probably the same as mine: Why do they use sedation on children for scans?
It boils down to getting the best picture possible. Little ones have a hard time not moving and you have to be completely still to get a good scan that the radiologist can read. Honestly, can you blame kids for not wanting to participate? They’re someplace unfamiliar with people messing with them and they have to go into rooms with huge machines. It’s totally weird. So until they’re old enough to do so (for Jackson, it was 3, but he’s not typical), most kids will need to be sedated.
Here’s a list of the most common types of scans/tests we’ve had and specialized tips for each one:
Ultrasounds don’t usually require sedation. We’ve had tons of them. Remember the ultrasounds during pregnancy? (Not that first one. You know what I’m talking about. Hello!) It’s pretty much just warm jelly and a wand on the body part you’re scanning. There is lots of moving of the wand, more jelly, clicking on the machine (tech taking snapshots) and you’re done. At CHKD they have TVs in the ultrasound rooms, so it’s pretty much just a great time to watch a cartoon or movie.
Tip: As a parent, you can lay with your child on the table. Totally acceptable. I’ve done it with both Jackson and with Abby at multiple hospitals. The key is keeping them still and distracted. Sometimes the wand can be uncomfortable if they have to press hard to get a different angle. I find this is a good time for bribery.
MRIs typically take longer – Abby’s full brain MRI lasts 45 minutes or so. They are loud and a mix of sounds. Because of the length, and the fact that an MRI is a tunnel, there’s only been one time that Abby’s done it without sedation and that was when she was an infant. I did what they call a “Feed and Wrap.” Basically, you feed the baby a full meal right at a naptime, swaddle and hope for the best. I was able to ride along with her in the MRI tunnel, hold her pacifier in, sing to her if she woke up…as long as I laid flat. (There is no radiation in MRIs.) Every other time, her MRIs required a visit from the anesthesiologist.
Tip: An empty stomach is necessary for pediatric sedation. If you’re child has to be NPO (nothing by mouth), schedule appointments for early in the day if possible. They usually take the younger patients first. A scheduler calls you before the scan to tell you when to stop your child’s eating/drinking. Take detailed notes. There’s nothing like feeding your child when you weren’t supposed to and having to reschedule. I’ve done that and it sucks. I find before and after MRIs as a good time for bribery.
CT Scans are short. Jackson’s chest, abdomen and pelvis CT scan takes less than 2 minutes. In and out of the donut. Besides the fact that Jackson has to get an IV for the contrast, it’s the easiest, quickest scan we do.
Tip: Unless it’s part of a bigger progression of scans that will take several hours (cancer checkups during treatment), I have always been allowed to stay with my child during a CT scan. You will be required to wear a special vests that blocks radiation, but you can hold their hand and hang out by their head on the other side of the machine. Having someone familiar makes it less scary. Not surprisingly, I find CT scans provide an excellent opportunity for bribery.
Xrays are relatively quick and painless as well. No sedation was required for these either. They are more rudimentary pictures, but they can be portable, which is nice for patients on the floor. Abby used to gets these in the NICU and Jackson had a few on the HemOnc floor.
Tip: You can stay with your kiddo, too, but there’s that great vest to wear again. (Look at you! So stylish!) Also, please see previous notes on bribery.
That’s it for tonight. Stayed tuned for Part II: What to Expect When Your Child’s Having a Scan. I’ll walk you through the sedation process.