I had a bad dream last week. Or maybe I was half-awake in the middle of the night, thinking about what lay ahead. All I know is that at two in the morning, for the first time, I was worried about Penny’s upcoming surgery.
I shouldn’t have been. It was the fifth time she would be “put under,” and the least frightening of the five. And the previous four–ear tubes when she was five-months old, a heart procedure when she was fourteen-months old, ear tubes and stints in her eyes when she was three, ear tubes and eye surgery last February–all went off without a hitch. Her typical experience was to wake up with some degree of nausea from the anesthesia and then sleep for seventeen hours. Even with last year’s eye surgery, when we were warned that she would need five to seven days out of school, she woke up the following day and asked, immediately, “When can we go to the playground?” By that afternoon, she was swinging from the monkey bars.
So my worry last week wasn’t about whether or not she would survive the ten-minute process of inserting a new tube in her left ear. And I looked forward to the results. Penny’s been having trouble hearing out of that ear for a few months now, and the tube should allow her to hear clearly, rather than as though she lives under water when the rest of the world talks.
My worry was simply for her. I know from years of experience that the older kids receive surgery times later in the day, so I knew Penny would go through a day without food or drink other than water. And I know that hospitals make her nervous. She remembers “that thing in my arm” (the IV). She remembers feeling scared. And I wish I could take away the hunger and the fear, but I can’t. I knew she would need to endure them on her own.
The surgery was scheduled for 2:30 Monday afternoon. She had woken up eight hours earlier, and I had told her she couldn’t eat or drink anything other than water because it might make her sick in her surgery. “Okay, Mom,” she said.
Even though her surgery didn’t happen until 4:30 (two hours later than planned), and she grew weaker and weaker as the day wore on, she never complained. We sat in an exam room with two books, some broken toys, and plenty of medical equipment, and we talked. We played the spelling game, where Penny gives me “hard” words to spell and then I give her “easy” ones. We talked about other visits to the hospital in years past. We talked about going out for breakfast the next day and eating an egg and cheese sandwich. She asked if she would need the thing in her arm again, and when I said yes, she nodded. “Okay.”
And when the doctors finally came to get her, she walked herself into the Operating Room, climbed up onto the table, and said thank you to the woman who helped her get settled. I held her hand and talked to her as the mask went over her face and she drifted to sleep.
She woke up a little while later, and soon we were playing Candy Land. She was back at school the next day.
She was patient and brave and kind. And I am grateful to have a daughter just like her.