I just held my baby while he went under general anesthesia. And that is one of the hardest things I have had to experience.
Let’s set the record straight first. The baby is not such at 4 years of age. But when you hold them in your arms while they are administered anesthesia, they are babies once again, and they feel as tiny and helpless as they were when they were newborns.
Being the fourth time we go through this, he and I are veterans. The first time was very shocking. I had never been put under myself, and it wasn’t as peaceful a process as I would have expected. Rather than falling asleep he lost consciousness, after throwing a huge fit. He was 10 months old back then. I left the OR in tears, dressed in the spacesuit you have to wear before entering the sterile area.
Experience doesn’t make perfect, but it helps. This time had plenty of time to prepare and get him on board. He was excited about getting a second cochlear implant, and especially about the basket of cookies that he received the first time. I have spent weeks playing doctor, showing him pictures of the first cochlear implant surgery, and building up excitement in the hopes that it would make his surgery easier for everyone, especially him. It worked, to an extent.
When we left the house at 6 am, he thought that we were going on a plane. You see, hospitals and airports are alike in more than one way. You leave home to get to them when it is still dark outside. And they are both impersonal places, suspended in time. You are isolated from the outside, in a little bubble for a few hours, where you can be fed and go shopping to calm your nerves during the wait. Because as with many other things, the wait is the worst part.
In this particular case, the wait will be three hours. For those three hours, I entrusted my precious child to a team of strangers, with the exception of his surgeon, whom we have known for a few years. I have confidence in their skills and care, and I am grateful that they were all wonderful, and warm, and extremely mindful of not only my son’s well being, but also mine. That makes the wait a little better.
Still, knowing that your baby will be in an operating table for three hours is hard to swallow. Luckily, most parents will never have to know how this feels. Unfortunately, a few will have to know much worse than this, and my heart goes to them. But for sure, your kid has been sick at some point. A flu, a stomach bug, roseola. You know the usual suspects. This is one hundred times worse. Because when they are sick, you have no control whatsoever. You can make it better, and nurse them back to health. However you had no say, and therefore no responsibility in whatever happens. But we chose this surgery, we signed the consent forms, we made the decision to go ahead with a surgery that is not meant to cure a life threatening situation, but rather make his quality of life better. To help him hear better. To help him speak better. And if something happens during those three hours, it’s on us.
I am positive everything will go as smoothly as it went the first time. Today is a Tuesday 13th, which in Spain is considered bad luck. But his first cochlear implant surgery fell on a Tuesday 13th also, so I will take that as an auspicious sign. He is under the care of a very skilled surgeon, at one of the best children hospitals in the US. And he is a brave and strong little guy. I just can’t wait to have him back in my arms, to kiss him, and hug him, and tell him that everything is OK.
Until then, I will go back to smoke for just one day, I will read a book, I will grade papers, I will pace around, I will cry a bit more, now that he cannot see me, I will drive myself and those around me crazy, I will blog, I will drink coffee to make up for the hours of sleep that I was unable to have last night, and I will get myself together to be there for him when he wakes up. As the child life specialist just told me, “whatever it takes” will do.
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