Special blog – Sylvia’s operation

Sylvia had her inguinal hernia repaired successfully at Great Ormond Street Hospital on Friday 8th December. We thought that you might like to read more about it.

We first noticed a small lump at the top of Sylvia’s left thigh when she was about seven weeks old. A visit to the doctor a few days later confirmed our suspicions – that she had an inguinal hernia. These are actually common in boys where the testes push through the wall of the inguinal canal during pregnancy. However, they can occur in girls too and are more likely to occur in premature babies. Unlike umbilical hernias, which are usually left to resolve themselves, inguinal hernias require surgery to repair them. This is because if they are not mended they can become strangulated and cause severe pain as well as bowel problems.

Our doctor referred us to Great Ormond Street and towards the end of November we saw Mr Drake, the consultant. He again confirmed that there was no other option except surgery but reassured us that it was a minor operation and very routine. At Great Ormond Street they like to operate on these hernias as quickly as possible before they get worse. In Sylvia’s case he told us that her ovary was pushing through the intestinal wall. There are two ways that the hernia can be repaired – either via open surgery or via keyhole surgery. Open surgery is slightly quicker and usually the hernia does not come back but this type of surgery means that the other side cannot be checked for weaknesses. Keyhole surgery takes a little bit longer but enables both sides to be checked. At Great Ormond Street they are currently running research into which form of surgery is best. We decided to be part of the study as it meant that the method of hernia repair in Sylvia’s case would be decided randomly by computer and she would be monitored for two years afterwards.

At the visit to the consultant we set the date for the operation as Friday 8th. It was not clear whether we would have to stay in overnight, as Sylvia was premature it seemed likely so we had to pack an overnight bag just in case – for both me and Sylvia. The day before we were called by hospital staff to confirm if Sylvia had any allergies and to tell us about fasting arrangements. As she would have to have a general anaesthetic and we were due at the hospital at 7.30am we could not feed her after 2.30am. Eeek!

We duly woke Sylvia for a big feed at 2.00am. She was not happy! Such a role reversal for Sylvia to be woken by us at night. She did have a good feed though and fortunately went back to sleep until 7am when we carried her in her grobag sleeping bag into her pram. We walked to the hospital with Sylvia smiling all the way – not knowing what was in store obviously. On arrival it dawned on Sylvia that she wasn’t getting any food and then the crying started. Not being able to feed her was one of the most upsetting and distressing parts of the whole thing for me. I had to leave the room at one point as it was so hard to see her so upset and know I could not help her.

We were booked into Dinosaur ward and quickly saw the Registrar running the research project, he was pleased that we would be part of the research and explained the procedure again. Amusingly (or worringly depending on your perspective!), he drew a large black arrow on Sylvia’s leg pointing to the hernia! Next, we saw the nurse who put Sylvia into her little hospital gown – didn’t go down particularly well with a hungry baby. We had just managed to get her to sleep when the surgeon arrived again to give us more information about the procedure – to a background of now awake and screaming baby. Lastly we saw the anaesthetist. By this time Sylvia had been crying for over two hours and we were extremely disheartened when the anaesthetist told us we were third on the list for surgery and that it could take another two hours. She said we may be able to give Sylvia sugar solution but that she would try to change the surgery list as Sylvia was the youngest patient that morning. Mike and I were both pretty jaded at this time and also very hungry – we couldn’t eat or drink on the ward as it was a fasting ward. Fortunately about ten minutes later the nurse called us and we were rushed down to the operating theatre.

Mike and I were able to go right into the anaethetists room next to theatre with Sylvia. We both held her whilst they put the little gas mask over her face and could see her tasting the gas, then struggling a bit, then finally relaxing. Both of us found that an emotional moment. As soon as she was asleep we were taken out of theatre and to the post-operative ward – Rabbit Ward. We then spent the next 45 minutes trying not to think about what was happening to Sylvia and when we were told that she was in recovery we both ran down the stairs back to the operating theatres. As we went in we could hear Sylvia’s cries which was a major relief to both of us. I was then able to feed her in the recovery area before we carried her back to the ward. Sylvia had a general anaesthetic with a local injection in her thigh near the incision and some paracetamol.

After an initial feed she fell asleep and we both expected her to be groggy and grizzly for the rest of the day. We chatted to another mother whose son had also had an inguinal hernia but the local hospital would not operate until he was over six months and it had ended up strangulated with the baby being rushed into Great Ormond Street in the middle of the night. Horrible. We felt very lucky. She had internal stitches and the external incision has been glued (!) back together. Unfortunately, she can’t have her bath for a week but we don’t need to change the dressing, just leave it alone and keep an eye on it.

Amazingly after a couple of hours sleep Sylvia woke up and was completely back to normal. She lay in her hospital bed smiling and cooing as if nothing had happened! I kept expecting the pain to kick in but she was fine. In fact, she even seemed happier than before.

As she was recovering so well, we were allowed home early on Friday evening. We gave her a half dose of calpol to help her sleep and although I feared a rough night she slept right through. On Saturday Mike and I both commented that she seems to strain less than usual. Although we were told that the hernia was not causing any pain, we both think that it may have been causing some discomfort. She certainly seems calmer and we are both relieved the operation is out of the way. Whilst we were in Great Ormond Street we saw many children and babies with severe illnesses and undergoing intensive treatment. We both felt very fortunate that Sylvia’s operation was so minor and had immense admiration for parents dealing with such situations. All the staff at Great Ormond Street were fantastic and made the experience as stress-free as they could.

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