We ended up with some adenoid wrestling this summer as I imagined we might. Saint James had his surgery this morning and it went great, although he’s sleeping the deep blue-green sleep of fairy tales right now. I have brought my laptop to Saint James’ quiet, dimly lit room because this is where I want to be. As he snores softly beside me, I can scarcely keep my eyes off him. His lips are still stained purple from the popsicle he had in post-op. But here he is. On the other side of the surgery, the anesthesia. Tanned, relaxed, sleeping soundly under his plaid sheets. The moment I’ve been longing for all summer.
There is nothing more humbling, more perspective focusing, than taking your child in for a minor surgery. When Saint James was two he had to have a small dermoid cyst removed from the delicate pillow of flesh between his eyebrow and the outside corner of his eye. We knew it was benign, but it was the type of cyst that could get messy if it ever got hit and burst. (Incidentally, he’s gotten bonked in that exact spot at least three times since the surgery, and every time, I thank my lucky stars we had it removed). I was mere weeks from giving birth to Supergirl and a basket case about sending my baby off to surgery. I was boohooing in the waiting room with Dash, indulging my fears and worries, wallowing in the drama, when I noticed a big family camped out in the corner. They had a cooler with a bunch of food and the grandma was doling out sandwiches while a few of them played cards. It was clear they’d come from far away and that this wasn’t their first visit Minneapolis Children’s Hospital. They had the look of veterans – comfortable, patient, resigned. They were upbeat and gracious when the doctor came out to give them a progress report. It sounded like the child in surgery had some sort of invasive growth in his face and neck and the surgery was so extensive, they had to keep him in a coma over night. At that point the doctor was pleased with how the surgery was going. They thanked the doctor, gave each other relieved hugs and pats on the back and resumed their cards, their lunches, their very long wait. You can imagine how quickly I got my shit together after seeing that. Within ten minutes, Saint James’ surgeon came to get us and as we left, I glanced over my shoulder at the family, silently wishing them well.
Today, six years later, I found myself in the same waiting room only this time Doctor Dash had stayed home with the girls. I kept myself in check and read my book, but couldn’t help overhearing the people behind me telling some other people about their eleven year old daughter who was diagnosed with leukemia last Wednesday. “We’ve been here a week!” the dad chortled as a conversation starter. When asked how they were doing with the news, he said “Oh, you know, better . . . better. Hey, when she does better, we do better. She plays soccer. She’s a fighter!” The words on the pages before me blurred and I held my breath.
How many stories have been shared in the hush of that waiting room? How much suffering? How much hope? I closed my book and thought about that sporty eleven year old girl whose life changed a week and a day ago and how her parents’ lives had been reduced to one simple equation, both beautiful and frightening: when she does better, we do better.
And I thought about the lessons of the waiting room: hear the stories, count your blessings, and don’t forget to look over your shoulder and send out a silent prayer for the others if you’re lucky enough to be walking out of there first.