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Preparing for theatre

Hospitals can be scary places, especially if you are coming in for an operation. To help reassure you and let you know what to expect, take a look at our video podcast from teen Ryan, who has come to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) for an operation on his leg.


What is a general anaesthetic?

When you have a general anaesthetic you are effectively asleep. You aren't aware of what's going on around you, you won't feel any pain during the test or operation and you won’t remember anything about it afterwards.

It’s natural to feel nervous about having an anaesthetic and waking up afterwards - knowing what will happen can help you feel more in control and put your mind at ease.

General anaesthetic can either be given as a gas or as an injection. With anaesthetic gas, the anaesthetic will cup a hand over your mouth and nose, or use a face mask; it takes a few minutes to work. If you have an injection, a nurse will put some 'magic cream' on your arm to numb the skin so that a small plastic tube (cannula) and needle can be put into the vein.

Why do I need to see an anaesthetist beforehand?

An anaesthetist is a specialist doctor whose role is to make sure you are asleep during the test and that you are comfortable when you wake up.

You will meet an anaesthetist before your test or operation. They will explain what will happen and be able to answer any questions you might have.

If you are very anxious, you may be given the option of premedication, known as premed, to help you relax. This is usually given to you as a liquid or can be a tablet if you prefer. It is important to discuss this with the anaesthetist on the day.

Before the operation

You won't be able to eat or drink anything before having an anaesthetic. This is to reduce the risk of vomiting during your test or operation.

Usually, you shouldn't have any food or milk less than six hours beforehand, nor any water or clear drinks three hours beforehand.  The nurses on your ward will talk to you about this so you can plan when to eat and drink before the test or operation.  

Your parents will be able to come into the anaesthetic room with you and stay with until you are asleep. They will then go back to your ward while you have your procedure.

While you are in theatre, the anaesthetist will closely monitor your blood pressure, pulse, temperature and breathing. When the test or operation is finished, you will be transferred to the recovery room. Your parents will also be able to visit the recovery area so they are there when you wake up.

What happens next?

You may feel a bit groggy when you wake up, and you might also have a headache, sore throat, feel dizzy, feel sick and/or vomit. These symptoms shouldn’t last very long - a nurse will be with you to give you medicine to help and make sure you are comfortable before you are taken back to your ward.

If you have any worries or concerns about the medical procedures, please talk to the nurses or doctors – they are there to help reassure you.