About a month ago my 9-year-old son had major reconstructive surgery of his palate and gum. This was the third and hopefully final procedure of a series of surgeries to correct his unilateral cleft palate and lip. It is always frightening when a child has to have any type of surgery. As nurses, it is especially frightening for us because we know so much. Sometimes I think ignorance is bliss.
Our experience started at 9:00am on a Friday. Joey was scheduled for an 11:30am surgery. I kept him up late the night before and made sure he had plenty to eat and drink before midnight. The preop nurse greeted us with a smile and escorted us to the pediatric area to give us a tour of Joey’s hospital room and floor. There were two nurses to a comfortable 2:1 ratio of patients to nurse. Joey was thrilled to see that he had a big television and there was a Nintendo game at his disposal. The nurse told him that he would have all the Popsicles and ice cream he could handle and a variety of videos for his entertainment.
We then proceeded to the recovery room where Joey was prepared for surgery. Fortunately, it was quiet, with the occasional sound of a monitor going off, the recovery room was all Joey’s. He loved the attention he got from the nurses who came by to hear his jokes. My son, like his mother, finds solace in making people laugh when nervous.
His primary care nurse in the recovery room was very kind and gentle. She explained everything she was doing and showed Joey all the equipment and explained their various functions. She put the cardiac and pulse-oximetry monitors on him, and then proceeded to take a set of vitals. She said, "I am going to take your blood pressure with this machine." Joey’s eyes widen and I realized that he thought she meant she was going to take blood from him. I quickly intervened by explaining she was going to put that squeezing cuff on his arm just like his pediatrician does.
The doctor had ordered some Versed to help relax Joey. Unfortunately, the doctor arrived almost 1 hour late due to traffic and the Versed was now fully absorbed and causing Joey to experience a variety of emotional swings as well as hallucinations. At one point Joey thought he was playing Nintendo and had his fingers up in the air maneuvering an imaginary joystick. He was now quite fidgety and uncomfortable in the confines of his stretcher and tried to climb out. Just as I was about to start crying from the stress of observing my son’s discomfort, the physician came in and quickly made preparations to move Joey to the O.R.
I escorted Joey to the O.R. and gently spoke to him as the anesthesiologist gave Joey his "strawberry-sleeping-medicine." As Joey was going under he began to tell a series of pirate jokes that had the entire O.R. staff in stitches.
Joey’s surgery took over 3 hours and his recovery will take place during most of the summer. He is quite the trooper, my little boy. He can’t blow his nose for several weeks, has intermittent hip pain (the site where the bone graft was harvested) and his face was so swollen and bruised for days, that he could barely speak. He has to be on a soft diet for 8 weeks and is taking it all in stride. He is a very special child and I am so fortunate to have been blessed with him.
Joey reminds me everyday how under adversity we can find optimism, hope, and a positive lesson. When I feel sorry for myself it helps to think about what this small child has had to endure in his young life, and how happy and well adjusted he is. I have memories of incident after incident when Joey would turn a negative situation into a positive one: At the age of six a child starting laughing at Joey’s nose, and Joey went up to him and just hugged the boy. I asked Joey, "Why did you hug the boy?" Joey replied, "Because how could someone be mean to you if you hug them?" When he was seven another child made fun of Joey’s nose and cleft lip, instead of running away feeling crushed, Joey opened his mouth and made it a learning experience for the frightened child.
The next time you feel overwhelmed or sad think about my son or someone who has had to overcome great adversity, and gain strength from their amazing power of optimism and positiveness.