What It’s Really Like When Your Kid Needs Surgery

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Deep breath, because writing about my daughter’s surgery is about to be the hardest thing I have ever written.

Why am I writing it? Because there are other mamas out there going through this right now, and maybe, just maybe I can be there for one of them. Because that’s all we can really hope to do, hope our story can help someone else.

Health Care teddy bear Heart stethoscope with filter effect retro vintage style

This all started because my daughter was in pain. For a couple of weeks she complained of a stomachache, and I told her to try to poop. Go sit in there, actually spend some time, etc. All the usual stuff you do when your sometimes-constipated kid needs to poop.

I will never forgive myself for ignoring that pain.

For thinking she was just a pre-teen trying to get out of school like some of her friends did. For not listening to her right then and there. For saying things to her like, “Cramps don’t get you out of school. you have to learn how to function and get through the day with them, because, in the real world, bosses don’t give you the day off for Shark week.”

A grey shark jaws ready to attack underwater close up portrait

But they didn’t go away after a week, and they didn’t go away when she pooped. The pain was still there after two weeks, and it was really really starting to get to her.

We don’t go to the doctor for every little thing in my house, but this had gone on long enough I gave her pediatrician a call. When she laid down on the bed, the doctor was chipper and chatty, until she felt her stomach.

Woman heaving belly ache, isolated on white background

And that’s when it got quiet. That’s when she called in the other doctors in the office. Each of them chirpy and happy, until they pushed down on my daughter’s stomach.

Then silent.

I texted her dad, I texted her stepdad.

“Something weird is going on at the doctor’s office. Get here.”

They both came back with a string of texts, I didn’t have any answers, and I didn’t really have time to read their texts.

“Just get here.”

And when they both arrived, my doctor pulled me out of the room. I walked into the brightly colored exam room, they were both already in there, knowing slightly less than I did.

The doctor turned to all three of us, “This is serious. We are about to send her for a lot more tests that will need to happen RIGHT NOW, and you need to get bags packed because you’re headed to the hospital. Surgery is on the table.”

I almost fell over. But I didn’t. Because we still had to go tell my twelve year old.

The three of us said nothing, because there was no time. The next words out of the doctor’s mouth were, “Game faces because we are walking back in there and she has no idea what’s going on. We can’t scare her yet, she’s in too much pain, and we have to figure out what’s going on without her freaking out.”

So I took a deep breath, grabbed onto both dads and we went into the room.

“Why are they here?” Of course my daughter wanted to know why the guys had shown up.

“We are headed to the hospital for tests. We all want you to stop hurting.”

That was enough for her. I don’t know if it was because she was hurting so bad, or because he wasn’t really ready to get into everything yet.

And so we all hopped into a car together. Headed to the Children’s hospital an hour away (we need more Children’s hospitals, by the way.) and my daughter was laying in a MRI machine before I even realized what was happening.

She was in so much pain as she laid there, unable to move, we had to sing our way through it. She and I, whatever songs I could think of off the top of my head. It was all I had.

And I can’t write that without crying. Just know that if I was telling you this story out loud, right now is when I’d have to take a minute.

Results were pretty instant. Doctors and specialists were all standing by to read them. We were lucky. Nobody gave us the runaround there. But it was still after hours, so we were sent over to the emergency room side.

She was in too much pain to send home, but they didn’t know enough yet to get anything started. They filled her full of drugs, doctors discussed her case, and it was decided she needed a specialist. It was now the weekend, because of course it was, and he wouldn’t be in until Monday.

They let her go home, pain meds in hand, the doctors didn’t see any immediate danger other than pain, and we were left to get through the weekend that way.

Sunday night was the hardest night of my life. My child was in so much pain. More pain than I ever could have imagined. We called doctors. They said we could bring her in, she just wanted to sleep. There was no immediate danger. It just hurt.

I laid next to her. Her stepdad slept on the floor that night next to us. I didn’t even know he hadn’t left the room to go to bed. I was too focused on her and her pain. She finally fell asleep in my arms.

Monday morning. We met the surgeon. He was nice, and busy. He explained what needed to be done to all of us. Her included. She knew she needed the surgery, but she still hadn’t come to terms with it.

None of us had. This was all happening so fast. Why didn’t I take her to the doctor right when she told me her stomach was hurting?

And then we were in a surgical room. We didn’t know surgery was happening that day, we thought she’d spend a day in the hospital or something. We had no idea. She was changing into a hospital gown, I was putting her stuff into a plastic bag. Talking to her, smiling the whole time.

Dying on the inside. Ready to scream.

Pre-surgery prep happened. My kid in the room, stressed out. I was there too, just as stressed, trying to answer questions like “birthday” that I knew the answer to but couldn’t seem to remember.

We met nurses, we meet anesthesiologists (that I keep calling an esthetician. I am so sorry, I don’t know why I was doing that), the surgeon poped in one more time to make sure everything was ready.

And then before I realized what was happening, we were waving bye as they wheeled her off in a bed way too big for her little body.

And, as she rolled down that hall, the weight of what was happening hit me. It hit me so hard, my knees buckled. Tears welled up in my eyes. And I didn’t think I could keep standing.

But I did, because my girl was going to need me when she got out. A nurse walked us to a waiting room full of other parents, all waiting for their children to come out.

Walked us through how they’d call each hour with an update, said a couple of other things that I will never ever be able to recall for as long as I live, and we were invited to have a seat.

So, then we sat, and we waited. Her total time back there was just under two hours.

It felt like two years.

My husband and her dad couldn’t sit. They couldn’t wait. I don’t think either of them sat longer than three seconds during the entire procedure. They couldn’t even be in the room.

They kept appearing, one after the other with snacks, drinks, things they found in the gift shop.

Not me. You couldn’t have moved me out of that chair if you tried. Sure, I couldn’t do anything to help her through the surgery, but what I could do was sit right there and wait for updates.

And so I did. I had one of those little stress balls someone had handed me. I squeezed.

And squeezed.

My phone was of no use to me, I couldn’t watch anything, I couldn’t read random Facebook posts.

All I could do was squeeze.

The nurse called with an update. Things were going well.

Then they called for us to go back and see her. Surgery was a complete success. I could breathe.

We waited with her through the “wake up” process. She says she remembers how dark it was. I was surprised she remembered anything in that room.

And then we walked alongside her as they wheeled her to the hospital room. Where I stayed for the next two days while she recovered.

Leaving that room wasn’t an option for me. It wasn’t an option for her.

And when she was “recovered” and we got to go home, after she was all nestled into her bed. After we knew she was going to be okay. After it was all done.

That’s when I lost it.

I cried in the tub for an hour. I cried until I couldn’t breathe. Now that she was okay, it was my chance not to be.

But when that tub time was over, I wiped my tears, put on my smile and went to take care of my girl.

Because she was recovering for surgery, and she needed her mom.

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