Isaiah came through surgery today with flying colors. God in a very real and powerful way “healed” my son.
This was our first surgery with him that didn’t take place at Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi. For six years that’s all we knew. We knew the doctors, nurses, the floors, the restaurants, vending machines, etc. So when we left the house this morning at 6:30, we didn’t quite know what to expect at the Shriners Hospital in Portland. We were not disappointed by any means. We knew that the facility was excellent. I’ve been to one appointment with Isaiah, and Cristy has handled all of the rest as they have fallen on work days for me. But I know enough to be assured that everyone there is looking out for our son’s best interest. Gifted, highly-skilled and compassionate doctors, nurses and staff do everything they can to make us all feel at ease.
There’s a sequence of emotional experiences on surgery day that, regardless of the location, are common. Here’s a brief overview of each stage:
1. The Night Before: Wrestling – I don’t sleep well the night before any of Isaiah’s surgeries regardless of how tired I might be. A thousand thoughts run through my head, some good, some bad. There’s almost like this running dialogue I enter into with the Lord where I praying to him, sometimes under by breath, sometimes inwardly, while at the same time talking to myself, with a lot of rebuking the devil thrown in. One moment I’m thinking of everything that could go wrong, the next I’m repenting of doubt and asking for help to believe. One moment I’m despising mankind’s fall into sin that brought about such terrible ailments, the next I’m thanking God that he uses such things to bring glory to his name and strengthen my faith. This dialogue goes on through the night. Sleep is fitful.
2. The Trip to the Hospital: One Last Party – One thing that helps calm me the morning of surgery is that Isaiah usually wakes up in a very amiable mood, so he’s cheerful and laughing. This is mainly due to the fact that in order to keep him calm, we let him get up and play with his iPad. He gets to wear his favorite clothes (Buzz Lightyear to be sure), and gets to immediately ride in the van. We’re usually keeping things upbeat with high-fives, Kermit imitations and impromptu silly songs as we ride to the hospital. This morning Cristy and I added to the celebration by treating ourselves to two Grande Dark Roasts from Starbucks.
3. Checkin and Prep: Apprehension – At checkin is where things get a little more serious and I start thinking again about everything that’s about to happen. We’re trying to maintain the peppy upbeat mood which has now delved into a little bit of dancing (when you have children inhibitions go out the door) and face contortions. But checkin and prep take a while and it’s hard to keep the momentum going when we have to stop every few minutes to talk to this person or that person. They’re putting in IVs, taking temps, asking history, looking at his back, putting on wrist bands, consent forms must be signed, and they tell you all kinds of terrifying things that they’re obligated to tell you. It’s at this point that Isaiah tends to get a little frustrated, and usually by this point that he’s starting to get a little hungry, but food is still a no-no. It’s not a fun time.
4. The Last Few Minutes: Sadness – The final 20-30 minutes before he goes back are always the most difficult for me. I thank God for the doctors, but I mourn my son’s condition. I wrestle with thoughts like “I’m about to let other people hurt my child.” or “Why can’t I fix this?” My mind rehearses the scene again and again of them rolling his bed through the double doors to some back room where they’re about to put him to sleep and cut him with knives. This is usually not a good time to talk to me. Isaiah, however, tends to be perfectly fine during this period because they give him valium. So the last half-hour before surgery in his mind he’s floating across a giant field of ice cream in a flying Lightening McQueen with Kermit the Frog singing to him. As a joke I always ask the nurse “Any extra for me?”
5. It’s Time: Courageous Catharsis – When they come and tell us it’s time, it’s usually then that a wave of beefy manliness comes over me, almost as if I’m a solider dreading the battle, but when it comes I want to yell “Charge!” We pray together and they wheel him down the hall and through the double doors. I vividly remember every image of him in my mind from every surgery he’s ever had. I always have a lump in my throat. On several occasions after they’ve taken him back I’ve had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom where I proceed to lose it for about 60 seconds, then regain my composure.
6. In Surgery: Reading, Praying and Walking – I typically do three things when Isaiah’s in surgery. I read, pray and then walk. I typically read my Bible for a bit, all the while praying inwardly. Then after a couple of chapters I walk. I just walk around the hospital still in a sort of open dialogue kind of prayer. It’s also a chance for me to stop and look at all of the random generic artwork on the walls of the hospital. Most people never notice it, and for good reason. The best way I can think to describe it is “fascinatingly dull.”
7. The Call: Release – All throughout the surgery they call us to keep us updated on his progress. Cristy usually takes the calls on her cell then passes along the info to me if I’m out walking. But it’s the “We’re closing him up now, everything went well” call that prompts a massive release all over my body. To continue with the battle analogy, it’s almost like yelling out “Cease fire!”
8. Post-Op: More Stress – In some ways, surgery is the easy part, at least for the parents. Isaiah’s asleep, so he’s not feeling any pain. He’s in a back room being operated on, so I can’t see what’s happening. And in most cases, it only lasts a couple of hours. Recovery is where the the aftermath must be examined. Sure we’re relieved by the fact that the surgery is over and went well, but when we walk into that recovery room and see our poor miserable little guy on the bed, crying, snotting and coughing from the intubation, in a room filled with beeps and oxygen tanks, and buzzes and people talking, my stress level hits the roof again. I immediately see that my little boy is not himself. Where’s the laughter, the smiles, the clapping. “What have they done to him?” I want to ask. “Where’s my boy?”
9. Recovery: Waiting – Depending on the severity of the surgery, recovery can be quick or slow. The last surgery he had prior to this most recent one today was the worst thus far. The poor little guy was in pain for almost a week, and then was uncomfortable for at least a month as he adjusted to his new rods. During this time we closely monitor two things. First, we look at his vitals: Oxygen needs to be between about 94-100, temp needs to be below 101, urine output needs to be consistent, etc. We’re right there with the nurses and doctors 24 hours a day, making sure all of these important numbers are where they need to be. But then there’s the emotional aspect, that I think in some ways is even a more important indicator.
10. Recovered: The Other Side of Providence – There’s a definite moment when we reach the top of the mountain and see the sun rising over the valley we were just in. In my mind this happens on the day during recovery when I look over and see Isaiah smiling again, or hear him laughing. It’s when we ask him if he’s hungry and he actually says “yeah” and requests french fries, then proceeds to eat the entire plate. It’s at this moment I quite literally feel a burden lifted and say “That’s it. We made it to the top.” Sure there are still bandages to be changed, and stitches to be removed and things like that, but my son is smiling and laughing again. It’s done.
This evening Cristy sent me a picture:
We made it. Thank you Lord.