My daughter had spinal fusion surgery last February. It was areal challenge on a number of levels. She's doing great now and sees her surgeon for follow up very soon. She's hoping he will clear her to do two of her favorite things: go rock climbing and ride roller coasters. My fingers are crossed for her as she's been a real trooper through a challenging recovery. She's definitely been my hero.
In reflecting on that as we approach her surgical consultation, I'm revisiting my thoughts the day after her operation. Here's hoping for rock climbing!
Yesterday was a very long day. Actually, it feels very much like I’m still experiencing the same day without interruption. They’ve made some real strides with those hospital fold-out chairs over the years, but there’s little one can do to block out the lights and sounds of a hospital recovery wing, while still keeping one’s ear finely attuned to the sounds of your child.
Dad was proud to serve as the first line of nausea defense. Vomitus is normally my kryptonite, but as I said yesterday, I had my “game face” on and I was on point. Only had to change my shirt once, which was good as I only had one extra.
I won’t spend much time getting into the medical details except to say that she did phenomenally during surgery and was a trooper all day. Sleep was difficult for us both, and as I write this she’s asleep in her new fancy room upstairs, the recovery center now behind us.
The wife and I were together when her surgeon came out and told us that she was in recovery and that it went “pretty straightforward and she did great.” I didn’t, as I thought I might, lose it. I did however feel an immediate relief upon exhale, and it felt like I’d been holding my breath just a little for the past two months. I felt an immense sense of gratitude.
I felt thankful for her doctors and nurses and all the staff here at the hospital that have cared for out family in a variety of ways for years. I thought “Thank God” pretty much right away and I meant just that. I felt grateful to our friends and family who’ve supported us all and my firstborn in particular of late. Honestly, I was just so grateful that the surgery part was done and we could then focus on the “taking care of her” part. The recovery, which won’t likely be a cakewalk began in earnest yesterday, and that, at least, is something we can be a part of. We can hold her hand. We can remind her of how loved she is. We can help her stand up and walk down the hall and feed her ice chips and stroke her hair and show her Hamilton clips when they need to draw blood again. We can be understanding and patient and all of that stuff. But she had to get clear of the surgery first. I felt such a sense of relief when the doctor came out and told us she was ok. It was like I’d been wearing ankle weights for two months and then, upon taking them off discovered that while I still can’t dunk, I can hit the backboard. It was a huge relief.
Overnight was a challenge. It’s bright and noisy and it was too warm in our shared room. There were moments overnight where it felt like morning would never come. They had to reposition her body every two hours, so between that and dealing with the nausea, there was very little time to sleep without interruption, if one could fall asleep at all.
We’ve had two mottos over the last few days that we really tapped into last night. The first one is a line I’ve known for years, and it really fit. It’s attributed to like 5 different sources, so who knows where it came from, except that I’m certain it came from someone who went through some stuff.
“The only way out is through.”
The only way to get her spine situated is through the surgery. The only way to the nice room upstairs is through the recovery room. The only way home is through the PT and recovery. The only way back to activity and school is through healing up and learning to move again. She seemed to connect to this one a lot, especially late last night when all she wanted to do was something other than lay there and try to sleep. We made it though the night and she’s sleeping much more comfortably now that we are through the recovery wing.
The other one was given to me by a good friend earlier this week as we were talking about the impending surgery. She mentioned something that had been told to her before she’d faced her own surgery. She said, “Let her know that while it will hurt, it will only hurt for a little while. And you can do anything when you know it’s only for a little while.” I told this to my daughter on the eve of her operation, and it really seemed to help. We’ve repeated it several times since then. It’s really helped. She’s been a trooper about her pain and a rock star with the nurses, who have the unfortunate responsibility of making her uncomfortable on purpose at times.
Anytime I’m in the hospital, I reflect back on my own visits there over my life. My own back surgery in 2001, the birth of the kids, the wife’s surgeries. Inevitably, I come back to the time I spent in the hospital with my father during the end of his life. I think of the years my eldest sister spent in the hospital. She died when I was a newborn, so I never got to know her, and I can only imagine what that was like for her and my parents and sister. I always think of these things when I’m in the hospital. I wonder if I’m the only one who does that.
I thought of them last night in particular when things got a little extra challenging. I thought of my dad and my sister and thought, if they can get through their challenges with grace and dignity, which they did, I can aspire to the same. I’m not even the patient this time.
The only way out is through. And this is only for a little while. And my kid is a rock star.