Monday, April 16, 2012

Operation Tonsils

Hospitals still give me the creeps, the kind that raise goosebumps on your arms, and that, like many things, can be traced to my childhood.
Every year for a number of years, since I was small, I had to have tubes put in my ears so they would drain properly. It was a 10-minute procedure. I had this done five times. I always got sick from the anesthetic.
But the reason I think I'm still afraid of hospitals isn't because of the tubes. Not one of those operations traumatized me nearly as much as the time I got my tonsils out.
I was 5, and I think the gas mask was the worst of it. They strapped me down to the bed, which was really a cage with sheets, and held the mask over my face as they wheeled me into a room filled with stern faces, alien-bright lights and a lot of cold steel. Now, remember, I was 5, and as far as I knew, they were going to do all kinds of horrible experiments on me, the kind I did to one of my teddy bears a couple months ago, because no one had told me any different. No one explained anything to me, in fact. That book I got explaining the surgery and how I was going to get to eat dump trucks full of ice cream after it was over? LIES. So I fought. Nurses, back then, were all sized to be NFL linebackers, and they were about as mean, and they sat on me and held me down, scowling at my tears. Then they put the mask over my face, again, and a thorny python wrapped a dizzy body around me. 
"I feel funny!" I screamed, and one of the doctors laughed, which sounded evil at the time, and this horrible blackness swept over my eyes, as if I was being thrown into a pit.
When I woke up, kicking and hollering, because, remember, I was being tortured when I fell asleep, I cried for Mommy, and one of the linebackers came over, grabbed my legs and strapped my arms to the bars on the side of the bed. Then I noticed my throat felt as if it had been torn out. 
Then I threw up blood that night.
Needless to say, when we learned Jayden's tonsils looked to doctors like the size of beach balls - some of the biggest ones he's ever seen, one told us later - I was dreading the day they would have to come out.
That day was last week.
Jayden was in tears as I pulled in the garage from an eight-mile run with our new dog. I told him I would meet him there. I needed to shower. I also didn't need him to see me. I would pull it together in the shower, I told myself, and put on a brave face for him. But now wasn't a good time.
• • • 
When I walked into his waiting room a half-hour later, he was dressed in blue spaceman scrubs, which looked cozy, and watching Elmo on a TV that came with the bed, which looked like a bed, not a cage with sheets.
And yet his emotions were the same as mine 35 years ago.
"Daddy," he said. "I'm scared."
Well, I'm glad you can tell them that, I said. It's OK to be scared.
Three times, a nurse, a doctor and the guy putting Jayden to sleep came in and explained what was going to happen. Apparently medical people have figured out that most kids, just like most adults, do better when they know what's going to happen to them.
They've also figured out Elmo helps as well.
Sleepytime Doc came in later, heard that Jayden was nervous, as he told everyone, and said he could give Jayden something for that. Jayden said sure. Doc brought back a cherry-flavored liquid. Jayden gulped it down because, hey, it looked good, and it WAS good, and five minutes later, he was loopy, like he'd had a few too many shots. Jayden, apparently, is a happy drunk.
The doc wouldn't tell me what it was. I don't blame him. I could make a killing on the street. Give me that before a marathon, and I'm qualifying for Boston.
Then a nurse came in two minutes later and had Jayden try on the mask. Ah, the dreaded mask, I thought to myself. There's no sugarcoating this. 
Jayden took a sniff.
"Yum," he said.
"Yeah," the nurse said. "The gas smells like Skittles."
Are you kidding me?
I turned to Jayden and used a cliche. I rarely use them. But this time it was appropriate.
"Jayden," I said, as I hopped off the bed, right before they wheeled him away, "this is not your father's tonsil operation."
• • •
They called me in a half-hour later, one of the very few times that Jayden's wanted me over Mommy, and Jayden was in bed with an orange popsicle in his mouth. It was his second one already. He was not strapped down. His nurse didn't look like an NFL linebacker. She looked a little plump, a little cute and very sweet.
"You'll see some blood on his hands or face. Don't let that worry you," a nurse said.
"Cool," I said.
I'm big on battle scars. I always liked to bring home a small gash after climbing a mountain. We called them souvenirs. Besides, there had to be something from this operation that made me squirm.
After his third popsicle, the nurse told Jayden she could move him to another room. There was a TV in there. He could watch a movie. They had "The Incredibles." She offered him a slushy. Blue.
"I have a secret recipe," she said.
Of course she did.
• • • 
Lest you think I was hoping my son would suffer, of course I didn't want that. But HOLY COW I couldn't help but feel a little, well, jealous of how much better the experience was. It made me feel proud that our country actually has evolved in some areas. We CAN make improvements on procedures and things other than cell phones. Technology does have a purpose beyond Angry Birds. But it also made me feel old. My operation seemed like from another time, like it was back during World War II or something.
That was, until we brought him home.
We've been up every night at least a couple times since that night. The third night, when we moved him back to his room from our bed, he woke up screaming and shaking the pain was so bad. We haven't been up this consistently in the middle of the night since the girls had their first birthday.
Just the last couple of nights have been better. When he does get up, it's briefly, and after some medicine, he goes back to sleep. He doesn't demand slushees around the clock now. His scabs appear to be healing a bit. But if I ever did get tired of his whining and was tempted to tell him to suck it up a bit, all I had to do was look at the gaping holes in the back of his throat.
• • •
Technology has helped us as well as Jayden. We have a ice treats machine that I relentlessly teased my wife for buying a year ago — it seemed to me to be like a salad shooter, an appliance invented just because our basic needs were so met that we think we need something that can fire a radish across the kitchen — that's now, I think, the best thing we've ever bought. It makes one of those slushys in two minutes, and when it's 2:30 a.m. and your boy is hollering from the pain upstairs, it's a lifesaver. I wish they had one for breast milk about five years ago. It would have saved us a lot of sleep.
He's spent a lot of time on his Nintendo DS. Super Mario, like Coedine, tends to numb the pain.
I don't remember much beyond the hospital after my tonsil operation, but I do remember that first night. Dad stayed up with me most of the night as I tried to cry my pain and sickness away.
Despite the cushy parts, this hasn't been easy. We've made about a billion of those slushees now. Jayden is so sensitive that he wants one of us to sit next to him at night at all times, especially when it's time for him to go to bed. He's been nasty and sad and sometimes he's still been our first baby despite the fact that he's 6.
He needs us now.
Technology will never replace parenting. At least I hope not. If Jayden doesn't have to go through these rough patches with his own kids I'll be jealous again. Only I'll also be a little sad for him.


SirFWALGMan said...

hope the little guys feeling better!

KenP said...

yin and yang
push and pull

no flow charts available for parenting it appears.

You seem to be surviving well in the worst of times and enjoying the others.

Now, don't make us all hope for more surgery so we can get another post or two out of you.