Leading up to her tonsilectemy my daughter would ask about it every night. I tried to help her feel calm and give her time to ask questions. We would talk about how she would go to sleep and when she woke up her throat would hurt. Everyone told her how many popcicles she would eat and how much ice cream.
As if cold treats would be an equal trade for wading through a groggy anesthesia and then days of pain medication that made her feel like a zombie and tasted disgusting.
And hurt her throat to swallow!
No one told her it would be difficult to drink ice water or that she would get tired of only being able to sip on apple juice because dark coloured juices could be mistaken for blood if she did in fact vomit early on post-surgery.
No one told me that I would flash back to the hall in the hospital where my son barely survived his traumatic birth when walking with my daughter to the pediatric ward. That hall seemed so much longer and wider in my memory than in our recent visit while back in London (UK).
It was the first time returning after the last time we left; finally bringing Sebastian home after 16 days in the NICU. No one told me that I would remember the first time he was put under anesthesia and the look of fear and confusion in his eyes as he went under.
No one told me what it would be like to instead see my daughter put on a blue cap and walk through a door and then imagine her walking down the hall to the OR, holding the nurse’s hand to be put under anesthesia.
Without even turning to look back and later nodding her head when I asked if it was scary to go back there without me.
I’d done this loads of times before. How many times had our son, with cerebral palsy, been put under anesthesia for dental work, g-tube surgery or MRIs for his seizure disorder. How about hip surgery? That one lasted 8 hours. I didn’t even know how long a tonsilectemy would last, though I was fairly certain it would be under an hour. And I was right.
Forty-five minutes later, hardly enough time to drink a large cup of coffee and eat a pastry, the doctor would come looking for us; all went well and Tallula would be in recovery shortly. The waiting room volunteer would take one of us to see her. It felt strange that only one of us could go as we both always went for Sebastian.
Leading up to Sebastian’s hip surgery we watched a video on the hospital website and visited with the anesthesiologist.
We made sure they asked him what flavour anesthesia he would like, and he would respond with a yes by smiling and vocalising and a no with his eyes up. We made it to strawberry and he was happy. Tallula attended a Child Life class in a hospital playroom with a half dozen other children who would have the same or similar surgeries around the same time. They were able to ask questions and look at photos of a puppet waving goodbye to her ‘parent’ at the hallway to the operating room.
I sat in another room with other parents watching a video to explain a process with which I was already too familiar. But this hospital didn’t allow a parent to go back for anesthesia, although it was what we took turns doing for each of Sebastian’s surgeries. Ok, after two I made my husband do the rest. I just couldn’t keep doing it. But I still didn’t want him to feel alone or afraid. I was worried about Tallula feeling the same.
Sebastian does not have the ability to voice his concerns, fears, or ask questions about surgery and hospital stays.
We teach as much as we can about the process so it feels comfortable and not scary, asking a lot of yes and no questions as we go to help gauge how he is feeling. Tallula has all the words but when she woke up groggy and confused from her surgery, she still pointed to her body and said ’Is it done? Where are my tonsils?’ I thought she meant in general and I began to explain that the doctor would have done something with them and she waved her hand and said ‘No, where are they in my body?’ Had I actually failed in telling her that her tonsils were in the back of her throat?
Had we all failed in explaining her basic anatomy for the surgery? Did we just assume she knew from listening to our conversations about strep throat and popcicles? That she would ask the right questions beforehand? Or was she just so disoriented from the anesthesia, she couldn’t remember?
It was a new experience watching my daughter wake up and reach for me to cuddle with her.
She tried to pull me over the bed rail until I flagged down a nurse and convinced her to lower it so I could lean in and cuddle with my six year old daughter; the little girl that still needs me next to her to fall asleep at night. I read to her as she floated in and out of sleep. She swallowed hard and coughed. I held my breath each time, fearing she’d vomit up blood, as I have heard is possible. She did not.
I texted my husband updates and looked around a recovery area that would have been big enough to accommodate him and sighed because it wasn’t allowed. Once she’d kept her first popscicle down we were moved to the next phase of recovery, where her dad could join. There would be no overnight stay.
There would be more reading and popcicles and then a visit from the Child Life volunteer. Tallula would take the tv remote and find the cartoon channels, English or French, it didn’t matter. The remote next to her ear, bringing me back to Sebastian’s hip surgery recovery days that lasted much longer than the four hours we’d be required to stay here.
We returned home to a freezer full of ice cream and popcicles of every flavour and Grandma ready to give Tallula all the extra attention she deserved.
It was her turn to have all the special food and all the cuddles on the couch. Sebastian couldn’t wait to see his sister when he arrived home from school, greeting her with a hand made card with well wishes from school mates and a joke recorded on his step-by-step switch.
It felt good to be home. All of us together.
Let the recovery begin.