Beren gravely added that their hospital did not have a laser knife. Instead, they used a snake to remove the glass from the monkeys' bellies. "What hospital has a laser knife? One nearby?" I inquired later, curious to discover where he'd learned about laser knives. He didn't know, he admitted slowly and uncertainly.
Our agitated child was barely interested in the stickers and coloring supplies we brought. Sullen kids went through the doors to be seen. Squalling kids came out. My resolve cracked when another patient came a out from being seen - a thirty-ish woman was pushed out the door in a wheel chair. She held her head up with one hand as tears of grief rolled down her checks. She'd just gotten bad news.
After I scheduled the surgery, I called the hospital and the insurance company to confirm that the appropriate paperwork had been generated on our behalf. Yes, they assured me.
In the meantime, Beren's surgeon changed office locations. I called again a couple weeks before the date and some paperwork was lost, confused, or misplaced. I spoke with the surgeon's receptionist, "I'll have a nurse call you back."
I kept my phone in my pocket, waiting for the call. The nurse called and asked for my information. She opened our file, "Ok, Mommy, I don't see the referral." I carefully listened to the nurse's words, noting her insurance lingo. Referral. A referral was needed. Referral not on file.
I called the insurance company. I begged for clarification. I'm a dummy. I don't understand the lingo, I told her, hoping for sympathy. Please help. "What do I need?" I asked. A very friendly, forgiving, and jovial woman with a Southern accent told me nothing. Nothing, it seemed. I needed nothing. Sometimes the doctors office get confused, too. I carefully noted that.
I opted to need something over nothing. If I had a referral, we wouldn't be turned away on the day of the surgery. This was my Greatest Fear Number 2. I called our general practitioner's office again. I was apologetic. I had called them numerous times during the insurance switch. I was certain they had a photograph of my face on a dartboard. Or, perhaps they had a picture of my guts on the wall. My guts felt like they were filled with darts.
I repeated what the surgeon's nurse had requested. A referral. The irritable receptionist at the general practitioner's office bristled. It seemed that she'd set everyone straight. As it turns out, we needed a 'script' not a referral.
I called several numbers at the hospital again days before the surgery. I went deep into the belly of the hospital - the accounting department, the surgeon's office, and then some deeper layer. I felt as thought I was talking to a woman far inside some castle-like tower. Being close to Christmas, the people on the other line seemed kinder.
All seemed well. Then, as scheduled, a nurse called from the hospital the day before the surgery with instructions. "You'll need to be at the hospital by 6:00 AM. No food or drink after 9:00 PM tonight." I balked slightly at the time. "It's ok. We're used to cranky kids," the nurse answered.
I knew Jared would blow his top. He did. "What time?! They want us to arrive at WHAT time?!" By this time, I felt like a pincushion, covered in darts.
"The surgery is likely to be early. They take the kids from youngest to oldest," I said. "They don't even know what time?!" Jared exclaimed. "No, but I'm thinking we're likely to be early," I said, being optimist, and possibly lying.
"And, he doesn't need to do anything to be discharged. Doesn't have to pee," I'd been afraid of everything, imagining things that I heard about in hospital dramas might come true. Mothers who just gave birth have to go pee before being discharged, right? Or was it anyone who had surgery? Anyway, our stubborn child had a steely will and bladder. He'd never pee on request and luckily he didn't have to.
Meanwhile, I just wanted Jared to help me steer the ship towards tomorrow morning. I was too tired to discuss medical protocol. "Not even water?!" he went on. "No, they don't want him to vomit and aspirate," I said quickly. I hardly wanted to mention anything going wrong, but I wanted Jared off my back. "I'm not making the rules. Let's just follow the rules," I said.
I had been steering the ship for some months, making appointments and calls. He listened when I stressed out about the logistics behind the surgery. The surgery itself - we sought other options but surgery was the only answer.
Our care provider was encouraging. He's young and healthy, she told us. The Mayo Clinic online pointed towards surgery. A friend studying herbal healthcare asked her teacher - surgery was the answer. All our inquiries pointed towards surgery.
Ultimately, I had convinced Jared to move ahead with the help of his mother. We double teamed him in the kitchen one afternoon while Beren played on the other side of the house. Dealing with the insurance was a nuisance compared to the moral responsibility I felt I had taken on. Though Jared and I agreed, I pushed. If our ship crashed, I was the one who pushed. If all went well, we could forget the whole thing.
"BAD GUY! BAD GUY!" Beren's screams were guttural, possessed. Who was the bad guy? Me? I wondered.
A groggy kid in a hospital bed was wheeled past and loaded into the elevator. His parents stared at their phones as an orderly pushed the bed. "Get off the phone," I thought. And then again, a children's hospital is the last place I'll pass judgment against a parent. I shifted in my seat.
I glanced quickly at a couple to our right. I wondered why they were here. I wondered if they wondered about us.
Hours later, the surgeon arrived with her team. "The surgery went well," I heard. I missed the rest and asked Jared about the other details later. Did they do this and did they do that? Did they do what they said they would (as if they might have forgotten)? I asked him. Yes, yes, he assured me.
The night before the surgery, I dreamed that the surgeon was driving a bus and we were waiting for her along a gravelly sand road. I told her the dream. I later hoped I hadn't offended her.
A nurse led us to the recovery area and to Beren's side. He'd wake in a hour or so. Don't try to wake him she told us. Curtains separated beds with knocked out kids. He looked so small under the white cotton blanket. I checked his breathing. I felt his chest. I felt something but felt under his nose, too. "He's breathing, right?" Jared asked. We sat by his side, relieved, slightly giddy at times, watery at others.
The nurse showed us his incision. It was more red, ragged and larger than I thought it would be. I hoped Beren's fury would not reignite at its sight.
We talked about gardening with the nurse. Beren blinked, rolled his eyes, and closed them again for some time. When he finally woke, he was groggy and sluggish but wanted to sit up immediately. He was still shirtless. He sucked down three blue ice pops.
He wanted to walk not long after but couldn't. The nurse was not surprised at his is feeble legs. Jared and I were startled. After several hours in recovery, he was ready to go, and the doctors agreed.
Back at home, he insisted on walking but still couldn't. His legs crumpled under him. Jared caught my eye. I called the hospital. The nurse reassured me, and said to call back in one or two hours. When he still has stumbling after a couple hours, I called again. The nurse explained that it was not likely to be affects of general anesthesia but of local anesthesia to prevent muscle movement during surgery.
He never took a painkiller, not that I was proud of that. I was relieved that his body handled it well. Within a day, he was walking and sooner than we wanted, he was running.
Nevertheless, Beren angrily complained that the doctors had broken his leg. For months he bitterly decried the hospital. Why would someone go into a place perfectly fine and come out unable to walk? he wanted to know.
I tried to explain. It wasn't easy. Our conversations often happened after Jared finished reading bedtime stories. I'd pad upstairs to kiss him goodnight. Suddenly, he tell me he'd knock the hospital down with dozers and rescue the children. He'd destroy the city. I listened to his fury. I stood by his bed holding his hand as he cried.
Some nights, I laid next to him, listening. I once added that we could build a wall around the hospital. Yes, and keep all the doctors inside, he agreed.
Sometimes, I quietly re-explained why he had surgery. Other times, I explained why doctors are helpful. I agreed that going into a hospital with working legs and coming out with non-functioning legs made no sense. Many times, I simply held the space, listening, reassuring him that we'd not return to the hospital.
I sometimes told him that Jared and I had listened to the doctors and carefully decided that going to the hospital was important. I talked too long and no matter what I said, I made no sense to Beren. He always blamed the doctors, never me, never Jared.
After Beren drifted to sleep yet another night, I stumbled downstairs in the dark, reeling emotionally. I had hoped for and expected a successful surgery. Unexpectedly, I had a furious and insulted five year old. Jared and I talked it over, again and again, reassuring each other that we made the right choice and that our child was well and feisty, too.
When Beren asked to play hospital with Jared today, I knew this story was ready to be written, t least my side of it. Beren owns the rest, always did.