When my eight year old daughter Sammi went into the operating room to have an operation to unkink her oddly bent esophagus, the surgeon’s intention was to make two long incisions across from each other on her back: one to access and gently move her aorta to one side, and the other to move her esophagus itself away from its current position and sew it to her chest wall, securing its shape with stitches we would never see.
This delicate set of plans was expected to take nearly six hours to execute.
As we sat in the waiting room that day, surrounded by the useless things we’d brought with us, I couldn’t help but think about what was happening each minute Sammi was away from us. At the three hour mark, however, we were surprised to receive a report that the surgeon was closing the incision. He’d been able to complete the entire repair through one incision instead of two.
Although we were relieved — one scar instead of two! — it wasn’t until late the second night after surgery that we understood what kind of blessing that was.
About two hours after the surgeon began closing his single incision, we were allowed to join Sammi in her hospital room in the cardiac ward. We found her with her eyes half-closed, lying with her bed slightly inclined, her right finger and thumb encircling a small tube with a button on it.
I pressed my lips to her forehead, which was warm and sticky. “You did great, Sunshine,” I whispered into her hair. “Do you need anything I can get you?”
She moved her lips, and a scratchy breath came out.
Water, she mouthed. Water, please.
“Can she have water?” I asked.
The nurse said she could, and I held a cup with a straw to her lips. She swallowed, then winced and twisted her neck away. She had been intubated in surgery for hours, and her throat was raw and dry.
We sat quietly at her bedside. I ran my fingers over the bare spots on her arms while she drifted, the button-wand in her hand delivering more morphine every time she pressed it. She asked for movies which she watched for only a few moments at a time.
Somehow a day passed, and the pain seemed manageable, and then the silos of pediatric medicine began to show themselves. Continue Reading…