Friday, 5:30 am
Brooke and I have checked into the Day Surgery unit at Children’s Hospital for a 7:30 procedure. She needs a total of four baby teeth pulled and there’s no possibility of doing it without anesthesia. I’m terrified, but holding it together miraculously well, if I don’t say so myself. Luau will be along after getting Katie ready and over to a friend’s house for school.
We’ve moved ever so slowly from the reception area to the first waiting room to the second waiting room and now to the official inside holding area. We’ve already educated the first nurse who came over and read quickly through her chart, scanning her finger quickly over PDD-NOS, skipping it and only reading aloud ADHD.
She looked shocked when she asked if there was anything else she should know and I said, “No, the autism really is the biggest issue.” She went back and read it again, still confused.
“PDD-NOS stands for Pervasive Development Disorder,” I explained. “It’s a form of autism.”
“Oh, yes, she said,” attempting to assert her familiarity by inadvertently doing precisely the opposite, “Not Origin Specific.”
I didn’t correct her, but instead explained that anxiety and sensory issues would be our biggest challenges that morning. We talked a little bit about what that meant – mostly just put us in the quietest place possible and don’t pick her up or touch her without warning.
As the morning wears on, we find that Luau’s long preparatory conversation with the hospital was largely useless. I make mental notes for next time: Don’t say PDD, say Autism. Forget about ADHD, they need to know about Pervasive Anxiety. Know that they’re full of crap – and it’s for the best – when they say that The Child Life Specialist will ‘meet you at the door and guide you through the process’. When she shows up more than an hour after our arrival to find Brooke in her hospital jammies calmly watching her favorite Teletubbies DVD, her response is to sing-song a loud hello and ask if Brooke would like to make Thanksgiving crafts with her. Um, no.
As the holding area begins to fill up with children, it gets tougher. A toddler cries and Brooke shouts in response. I join her on the gurney and turn up the volume on the DVD player. Together, we watch Laa-Laa and Po, Tinky Winky and Dipsy. I usually can’t stand those guys, but I might just be coming around.
The anesthesiologist comes over to talk about what he has planned. He is patient and kind. He ensures that I understand everything that he says; he asks my opinion; listens to my responses and is extremely receptive to my questions and concerns.
Together, we decide that it will be necessary to give Brooke a sedative before beginning anything else. I ask him to bring a detached mask that we can play with while we wait so that I can at least attempt to desensitize her to the idea of putting it on her face. I express my fears about her waking up agitated or panicked. I tell him that come Hell or high water, I do not want her waking up without me. He promises they will come get me as soon as it is safe to do so and assures me that he’ll have an anti-anxiety ready to administer at the first sign of distress.
The rest of the team begins to assemble. The doctor comes over to check in with us. A second anesthesiologist brings the mask and asks Brooke if she’d like it filled with a yummy smell. Brooke half-heartedly chooses strawberry. She just wants to watch her show.
Her tension level is rising. Too many people. Too many questions. Danger Will Robinson.
I begin to interject. “I don’t mean to answer for her,” I say, “but she’s calm right now. Engaging her is causing her more stress than not.”
The second anesthesiologist smiles at me. “Don’t apologize,” she says, “That’s perfect. Exactly what we need to know.” She backs off and Brooke happily rejoins the Teletubbies.
I’m not convinced that the sedative is working. As the time draws nearer, she looks as wide awake as she did before. She wants no part of the mask. She’ll hold it, but putting it on her face is a different story. I am braced for disaster.
It is the head nurse who speaks up. “Mom,” she says, “we’re going to do things a little differently here. You stay right where you are, OK? You’re going to come in with us just like this.”
Luau points out that I have yet to put on the scrubs that she’d given me twenty minutes earlier. She makes it abundantly clear that she couldn’t care less. She’s not going to upset the apple cart just to get me into different pants. I put the lovely paper hat thingy over my hair and we’re off.
We’re rolling through the hallways, Brooke in my arms, watching her beloved Tubbies. I am holding my girl, smiling up at doctors and panicked looking parents as we go, doing my best to pretend that this is all normal – just another day. I want desperately to take my girl and run.
When we get into the operating room, Brooke is startled by the stark white light. “I know, baby,” I say. “that’s a really bright light.” A nurse immediately flips it on the opposite direction and then switches it off. The head nurse looks at me. “This isn’t the way we typically do things around here, Mom, but we’re going to do whatever’s best for our girl, OK?”
If I weren’t on a gurney, I would hug her.
The next thing I know, I am holding the mask on my baby girl’s face. She tries to swipe it away, but I hold firm and tell her that she needs to keep it on her face for just another minute. I talk about the movie, still playing. “Look, baby,” I say, “It’s time for Tubby Bye Byes.” Oh God. There’s no way that she’ll be out in time. “Brooke,” I explain, “when the Tubbies all say goodbye, we’ll start the show again, OK?”
As the freaky baby sun guy begins to giggle, Brooke is out. I’m shocked. It happened so fast. The team asks me to lie back on the gurney so that they can pick her up and over me and transfer her onto the gurney set up for the procedure. Her body is limp and her eyes half-open. It’s wrong. It’s all I can do not to throw myself on her. Mama bear is struggling.
I kiss her on the cheek and a nurse I haven’t seen until now whisks me out into the hallway. She walks me all the way back to Luau, pushing me hard through the blur of hallway. I don’t resist. I never would have found my way back on my own.
Luau and I move back out into the reception room where we will wait for word that she is out of the OR.
I can’t breathe.
It’s 2003 and I have just given birth. My girl is being held back because her temperature is too low. I need my baby. Please, for the love of all things holy, just bring me my baby. She needs me. Please. Please bring me my baby. I can feel the itch of the morphine wearing off. Why aren’t they bringing my baby?
I walk out into the hallway and push my back against the wall. Tears stream down my face. I kept it together as long as I could.
Luau goes to talk to the nurses again. They need to know. Do not let her wake up without her Mama. She won’t have the foggiest idea what’s going on. I have to be there when she wakes up.
Luau brings me back into the waiting room. He reminds me that anesthesiologists have said that no one remembers that time when they first emerge, so we don’t have to worry – that even if it’s hard, she won’t remember a thing. He tells me again that when he had his wisdom teeth out he did Kung Fu in the waiting room.
I try to keep my voice even, but I know it sounds harsh. “They have no idea what people remember or don’t, Luau. They barely even understand how this stuff works. And what you remember or don’t is totally irrelevant. Brooke’s brain works differently that yours or mine or anyone else’s and heaven knows we have no idea what she is recording or how she will or won’t process it later.”
He leaves it alone. “Fair enough,” he says. He offers a cup of coffee. I just can’t. He heads down to the lobby shop to make sure we have something for Brooke to eat when she wakes up.
The nurse calls me. “She’s emerged from the anesthesia but she’s still sound asleep. Do you want to wait for your husband to come back up?”
I nearly drag her down the hall. “NO. Please bring him to us as soon as he comes back,” I say. “I’ll text him as we walk so he knows. But if my girl is waking up, I’m not waiting for anything.”
… to be continued