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Recovery from Anesthesia: PACU Guidelines

Anesthesia is the use of medicines to prevent pain and discomfort during some medical tests, procedures, surgery, and other treatments. General anesthesia causes a complete loss of consciousness. It is often described as a “deep sleep.” But unlike normal sleep, your child will not feel sensations such as pain. The time your child spends waking up after anesthesia is called recovery. 

Do not leave the hospital while your child is under anesthesia. At least one family caregiver should stay in the waiting room during your child's procedure.

Photo of hospital room with patient and partition

Your child will stay in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) while they recover from anesthesia.

Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU)

After a surgery, procedure, or treatment with anesthesia, the care team will take your child to the recovery area. The recovery area is also called the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU). Hospital staff will watch your child until the effects of anesthesia are over.

St. Jude has 5 recovery rooms in the PACU. Your nurse will tell you which room your child will be placed in. No more than 2 caregivers are allowed into the recovery room. If siblings come with you, please keep them by your side and quiet out of respect for other patients.

No filming, photography, video call, or similar activity is allowed in the PACU.

What to expect during recovery

  • After the procedure, the care team will give you an update on your child's condition and recovery. They will also answer any questions you may have.
  • The care team will monitor your child’s vital signs. Vital signs may include temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen level, breathing rate, and pain and nausea levels. Vital sign monitoring may change based on your child’s needs.
  • Please do not touch or try to wake your child unless told to do so. Children are calmer if they sleep and wake up on their own after anesthesia. Each child wakes from anesthesia in their own way. Some children are alert and smiling. Some are upset and crying.
  • The care team may give your child a light snack and drink. If you choose to bring a snack for your child, please do not bring hot foods or meals.
  • Your child’s IV or subcutaneous port will stay in place until your child can be discharged.
  • Recovery time will vary depending on your child’s condition. Your child will be discharged from the PACU once the care team decides they are ready.

Possible side effects after anesthesia

Your child may have side effects after getting anesthesia. Possible anesthesia side effects include:

  • Feeling cold: It is normal to feel cold while recovering from anesthesia. The care team can provide warm blankets to help keep your child comfortable.
  • Nausea: Your child may have nausea (feel sick to their stomach) or vomiting after anesthesia. The care team will give your child medicine for nausea or vomiting if needed.
  • Pain: It is normal for your child to have pain after certain procedures such as surgery. The care team will give your child medicine for pain if needed.
  • Feeling weak or dizzy: Your child might feel dizzy after anesthesia. This puts them at higher risk for falls. Infants and toddlers may need more support than usual after a procedure with anesthesia.
  • Feeling sleepy: Your child might sleep off and on for the rest of the day. This is normal after anesthesia.

Watch your child closely during the first 24 hours after anesthesia. Your child should respond easily. Breathing should be normal.

The care team will give you important instructions to follow when your child is released from the recovery area. Ask your care team if you have any questions about your child’s procedure or recovery.

Key points about anesthesia recovery

  • After a test or procedure with anesthesia, the care team will take your child to a recovery area called the Post Anesthesia Care Unit, or PACU.
  • Do not leave the hospital while your child is under anesthesia. Give your nurse a cell phone number to contact you in the rare case of an emergency.
  • PACU staff will watch your child closely during recovery from anesthesia. The nurse will invite up to 2 caregivers into the recovery room.
  • Recovery times will vary depending on your child's procedure or condition.
  • No photography or video of any kind is allowed in the PACU.

Reviewed: January 2024