Written at 10:00 am from a hospital waiting room. Then again, late at night from home.
When you’re a mother, they let you come into the operating room. I held my 3-year-old’s daughter’s hand, as we walked through the double doors. Up until now, I had convinced Drama Queen that we were on an exploratory mission, with our special “travel wear” (code for hospital gowns, hair nets, and paper slippers). She knew that she was seeing a doctor for a “boo-boo” in her throat, but I had helped her forget about that part – at least until we walked into the operating room. Standing at the threshold and gazing upon a bunch of mask-wearing, rubber glove draped grown-ups, she wasn’t buying my bullshit anymore. “I want to get out,” she said in a voice between a scream and a wimper, “I don’t like this.” Yeah baby girl, neither does mommy, I thought. But I can’t say that out loud. I am the mother – and as much as being in this sterile, steel-plated lounge gives me the creeps, I have to play brave. Because children are just like animals in that way. Once they smell fear, that’s it. Game over.
I can tell from their squared off shoulders and sympathetic eyes peeking behind their surgical masks that this wasn’t their first rodeo either. While they would be as caring and patient as possible, they were prepared to play bad cop, in order to get my kid on the table and under general anesthesia as quickly as possible. This was a tightly-run ship. Surgery was scheduled to start at 9:00 am and they were going to do their damnest to stick to the schedule. Trouble was, I knew Drama Queen’s emotional rollercoaster was already amping up – and I knew she was going to skid from 0 to 60 if I didn’t think of something fast.
“Remember I told you we were going on an adventure?” I said, without trying to sound fake or patronizing.
“Yeah,” she said hesistantly, not looking at me, but staring directly at the crew by the slab.
“Well, you get to go on a ride to outerspace, and this is your space team.”
Her face brightened. I knew I had found my hook. I looked over at the doctors and nurses with a fiercely determined look in my eyes that said, “You’re gonna work with me on this one, right boys and girls?”
They all acknowledged our unspoken deal with quick nods and winks. Now I needed to seal the deal and get her on the operating table.
“And you see that bed? It’s going to be part of the ride.” On cue, one of the nurses pushes on the foot level and the gurney slides down, up, then down again.
“O.k!” she squeals with delight. “Let’s go!”
At this point, to answer the question you probably have in your head – yes, I feel terrible for tricking my daughter. I am a manipulative freak of nature, whom doesn’t even get the full repercussions of my chicanery. The only way I get through it is knowing that she’s too young to fully understand what’s happening to her, and if I gave her the real story, she’d freak out and thrash around, making the medical team have no choice but to strap her down and handle her in ways no mother wants her child to endure. I think of the film, “Life is Beautiful,” where a father lovingly fools his young son into thinking that the unbearable life in a Nazis concentration camp is actually part of a long-winded game, with the prize being a ride on a real army tank.
Besides, the doctor, nurses – especially the anestesia team – seem to revel in my “trip to the moon” story, thinking I must have played on the same 1970s or 80s burn-out drug culture scene they obviously did. They can barely hold in their chuckles, saying, “Yep kid, you’re taking a ride into outer space – and it’s going to be great.” Almost made me wonder how many of them in that room would have switched places with my daughter in a nano-second, if they had the chance. Anything for an FDA-approved high, I suppose….
So now my daughter’s on the operating table, has taking a couple of rides up and down, when the anesteciologist says, “O.k. kid, now it’s time for your space mask.”
This is the part I’ve been dreading the most. Seeing a kid – your kid – go under can be traumatic for a parent. When my eldest daughter, Sweet Pea, was 3 years old, she also needed surgery, only hers was for a trigger finger. The nurse had graciously warned me of what would occur, but as Sweet Pea breathed in and out of her mask, her eyes rolled back, her body twitched involuntarily, and she kept struggling away, gasping for breath. I had left that OR barely holding it together; the minute I saw my husband and mother in the waiting room, I broke down in tears. I was a wreck for hours.
So here I was again, bracing myself for a similar scene. Mr. Mix & Bitch had offered to come in this time, instead of me, but I wouldn’t hear of it. So what if it’s tough on me.? I’m not the one going under the knife. No, I am going to the last person my baby sees before going off to sleep. This wasn’t martydom – it’s being a parent. It’s suppose to suck for you sometimes. I’ve been thrown up on, cleaned up out-of-control diarrhea off of her and everything in her bed at 3am, all the while trying to keep her from freaking out. I’ve sat for hours with their caked on blood on my clothes when they’ve had a rare accident. I’ve rubbed their tummies when needed, inspected their poop in the potties when asked, and held their hair back when they hurled their guts out into the toilet. It hurts. It stinks. It lingers. And that’s the deal.
But God decides to give me a break today, and Drama Queen quietly closes her eyes and goes to sleep, without any struggle. In no time at all, the team brings me to the recovery room, where they lay her in my lap, cover her in a blanket, while I hold her for about two hours. She sleeps almost the entire time, occassionally jolting up – only to see my face for a brief moment – then relaxes and drifts back off. I really can’t describe the boundless joy I feel in getting to hold her so close for so long. And as I look around at the other little ones around us, I quietly thank the Universe in making this a basically minor problem in the scheme of all that could go wrong. I don’t know how these families do it – handle the hearbreak of a chronic or potentially terminal malady. It’s the depths of hell for all parents – and frankly, this little tourist view from the nose-bleed seats is as close as I ever hope to get.
She is home sleeping now – occassionally crying over the pain until the Tylenol with codeine kicks in. We’ve gotten off easy. We’re very lucky. And still, I’m exhausted.