Post by Karen Charlton
Tomorrow my middle son, Hamish, will have his tonsils removed, and his third round of grommets inserted into his right ear, and possibly the left.
Of all things parenting, I find making choices on behalf of someone else the hardest thing of all. Our dilemma this year was do we take the tonsils out, or do we wait and see? His Ear Nose and Throat Surgeon, who we see every 2 or 3 months, put his ongoing health problems – hearing, mood, tiredness – into perspective for me.
“Look, if we were in Africa, Hamish would continue to go on and live a pretty normal life. But we have a choice here to give him a greater quality of life.” And so here we are going to great lengths to alleviate what has been several months, if not years, of ear, nose and throat problems for our boy, issues which some have suggested go back to his traumatic birth. This latest procedure will be his fourth general anaesthetic, and he’s only 4 years old. He’s practically a frequent flyer.
The last time Hamish had surgery, just after he came to, the recovery nurse called the room to have me come and sit by his bed. By the time I reached the recovery area downstairs, he was already cross and snipey, like a grumpy old man. Whatever promises I had made in the delicate window of pre-surgery, Hamish now expected me to deliver, even before he was fully awake. Where is my JUICE?! When I did finally provide the juice, it was thrown to the floor in a rage. This lead to further anger that the juice was now on the floor. All the while I couldn’t help but think that the anger was directed at me, in the vein of “WHY have you done this to ME?!”
I remember vividly the sight of the anaesthetist’s big, sausage shaped Welsh fingers as he placed the plastic mask over Hamish’s face. We were to sing Bananas in Pyjamas to Hamish to lull him into the anaesthesia, but I was so frozen by worry that I forgot to sing along. I just listened and held Hamish to me while he kicked and fought against the drugs with every ounce of strength he had. After what seemed like an eternity but was actually only one verse, Hamish suddenly went limp, as though all the strings holding him up were suddenly dropped. I imagined that’s what it might feel like to hold his dead body and the thought drained all the colour in my skin down to the linoleum floor.
Nursing staff appeared from nowhere and rushed to take Hamish from me and lift him onto the operating table. That’s when they invited me to leave the room and go get a coffee.
As I turned to head out the theatre doors, the anaesthetist said “It’s OK, all the mums cry on the way out.” I didn’t cry, I just kept walking, trying to reassure myself that I’d just seen how strong my boy was and there was nothing to worry about.
It’s very hard to drink coffee while you’re holding your breath.
It was in that very same recovery room 3 years earlier where I awoke from my own anaesthesia (my first) after having Hamish delivered via emergency caesarian. High on morphine, I had no idea just how small Hamish was, only that he wasn’t with me and because of that it hadn’t felt like a birth, more like I’d just had some troublesome organ removed.
Through the drug fog, it did register as odd that all these strange nurses were preoccupied with his size, telling stories of tiny babies that had grown into men who were 6 foot tall.
“Hamish. That sounds like a big, stubborn Scottish rugby player, not a name for a tiny baby,” one Scottish nurse remarked as she fussed over my blankets and checked my chart.
None of us knew in that moment what kind of person he would grow into, this skinned rabbit with his paper thin skin. After seeing him fight his way into anaesthesia and out of it again, I can say with certainty his name fits him well.
Wish us luck.