Sophie hadn’t been hearing us for several months now, her ears perpetually filled with fluid. I try to be patient, but it is wearing to constantly have to repeat yourself. To constantly be shouting. I get frustrated.
I wonder if other parents of hard-of-hearing children feel this way.
The ENT was reluctant to place tubes in her ears again. He wanted to see if the fluid would clear on it’s own. This Fall, she had two ear infections, but he told us the magic number was three. “Let’s just go ahead and schedule the operation, anyhow,” the nurse told us, surreptitiously, after the doctor had left the room. “I’d hate for you to wait and then not be able to get in.”
Sophie never had the third infection, but when we went in for the final ear check, she was still clogged up.
“It makes sense to do it,” the doctor conceded. He told us it was standard to take out her adenoids as well, the second time around. “They can block the ears from draining,” he explained. So I signed the paperwork, and we waited for the appointed day.
The night before her operation, I had a silly, irrational fear:
I love her so much; is this the moment in time when I will no longer be allowed to have her?
There is still a part of me that feels like she is on loan. I have the sense that it’s a leftover from my miscarriages. An insidious little seed of fear that I am unworthy of having a child. That I got lucky. That my luck will run out.
My very pragmatic husband, who does not believe in things like luck, who never believed we would not have a child in the first place, reassured me that it would be fine.
The fear gnawed at me a bit, the night before, but I managed to fall asleep.
The day of the procedure, there was fourteen inches of snow on the ground. All the world was still, except for the sound of a shovel scraping against the driveway—my husband shoveling a path from our Subaru to our icy street.
“Can I please have something to eat?” Sophie asked, knowing that she couldn’t. Probably asking because she couldn’t. On most days, she’d much rather read or play than eat breakfast.
“Soph, you know you can’t. When your operation is over, I’ll make whatever you want.”
“Even chocolate chip pancakes?” she asked slyly.
“Even chocolate chip pancakes,” I assented, ushering her into the shower. Though she fussed as I washed her hair, I reminded myself to be patient. I had the thought that I didn’t want a single harsh word out of my mouth that day. Just in case.
The roads were quiet. Even the hospital was silent. It felt as though everyone in the world had gone underground, with the exception of our family and the receptionist checking us in.
Once inside there was considerably more activity—nurses bustling about, machines beeping. A child wailed continuously in one room, with a sing-songy video tape playing in the background. Sophie was weighed, measured, and given blue pajamas to change into. She looked excited and happy as she hugged Snakey Pie to her body. Snakey Pie looked filthy and I wondered if a dirty stuffed snake would compromise the sterility of the operating room. The only thing Sophie remembered about her procedure from last year was the Icee machine in the recovery room. She asked the nurse what flavors they had. She made a face as she sipped her giggle juice. Before the Valium was flowing through her veins, I began to feel woozy, as if it were me, not her, who had taken the medicine.
Before long, three nurses converged to wheel her away. They asked her questions about Snakey Pie and which grade she was in as they lifted the rails of her bed. “Kindergarten,” Sophie mumbled, her eyelids falling to half mast.
“You’ll see your mom and dad again in a few minutes,” one nurse told her. Sophie’s eyes flew open, fear trumping the sedative effects of the giggle juice. She started to cry.
I was fine until she started to cry.
I managed to hold back my own tears until I had said a few words of reassurance, that I loved her and I would see her in no time.
One of the nurses reminded me that the Valium creates some amnesia for this moment. And then she was gone. Kevin and I were ushered into the waiting room. It was suggested that I eat something, “We don’t want you winding up on a stretcher next to your daughter.”
“More times than you’d think.” I wasn’t going to pass out, but I was hungry. I decided to get a cup of coffee. The Kerig machine wanted 75 cents for a cup.
I raged against the coffee machine. Didn’t pay, and left my punctured pod of decaf inside.
The forty minutes passed more quickly than I had expected. Suddenly, the surgeon was in the room telling us in his hurried way that the operation went fine, she was packed with fluid—“underwater”—her adenoids were “moderately swollen” and it had been the right thing to do.
Finally, I could exhale.
There is nothing like seeing your child in pain. I can recall my own mother saying to me, when I was in pain as a child, “I wish that it was me, not you.” Like my mom, I would have gladly switched places with Sophie in the recovery room, just so that I would not have to see her face screwed up, her eyes full of tears.
Sophie refused the Icee that the nurse offered to her, moaned, “Mom,” and reached her small hand up towards me.
“I can give her more medication,” the nurse said, injecting acetaminophen and codeine into her IV. Within a few minutes, Sophie was back asleep.
“She’s having a very good response to the pain medication,” the nurse reassured me. “You’ll see. If she can get another hour of sleep, she’ll wake up much more comfortable.”
“Why don’t you have a seat,” Kevin said, offering me the chair next to her bed.
“No, thanks, I want her to be able to see me when she wakes up.” I stood, and whispered to the nurse about nursery school, her daughter’s new teaching job, and the instructions for Sophie’s discharged, while the machine hooked up to her offered a steady beep.
After an hour, Sophie stirred again. She shifted in the bed as if she couldn’t get comfortable. The nurse held a continuum of faces in front of Sophie and explained that the 0 face was no pain at all, and the 10 face was pain so bad it made you cry. She asked Sophie what her pain was.
“An eight,” Sophie squeaked out. This surprised me. She isn’t one to exaggerate.
“I could have used a chart like this after Sophie was born,” I joked to Kevin. When I was hemorrhaging internally, complaining of pain the nurse misattributed to hemorrhoids, she had asked me the same question. The pain was so bad, all I could think about was there was no way to be—I was in too much pain to stand, too much pain to lie down. “A six,” I had told her. I thought that a 10 must be what it was like to be in a car accident and lose a limb, or have bones and intestines exposed.
The nurse gave Sophie another dose and again she dozed, this time more briefly. When she awoke, she refused an Icee again.
This was indeed the worse I have ever seen her. I started second guessing our decision to have her go through this.
When she was conscious enough, she slipped on her clothes, allowed Kevin to lower her into the wheelchair, and the nurse pushed her out into the frigid parking lot. On the way home, she fell asleep again, opening her eyes suddenly when we pulled into our driveway.
“Mom, I just want to sleep.”
“Okay. Okay, shhhhh.” I told her. Kevin carried her upstairs and tucked her into bed.
“Mom, would you just sit in the room with me.”
“Sure, sweetheart.” I sat until she was fast asleep, and then I headed downstairs and had some lunch. She woke about an hour later.
“You left my room,” she accused. “Did you tell me?”
“Yes. I whispered, while you were sleeping, that I was going down to get some lunch.”
“Can I have some lunch?”
“Of course. You’re hungry?”
“Very.” All traces of pain seemed to have dissipated.
“What would you like?”
“Mom! You know! Chocolate chip pancakes.”
“Okay. Right. That was what we had talked about. I wasn’t sure you were up to it.”
“I’m up to it. And mom?”
“Could you please stop talking so loud?”
Music to my ears.