Sunday, November 4, 2012

On Being The Mom

"Okay, Mom," chirps the nurse, "here are your scrubs; you can go change there, with Greta, and meet us in the prep room shortly".

We're up early (5:45am) for Greta's tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, which is taking place back at the very same hospital where I had my cancer related surgeries over the past year.  It's one of the best hospitals in the world, and for this I am grateful, but the flashbacks are still startling.  

I help Greta into a cute hospital johnny with 'tired little tiger' written all over it.  She is quiet, contemplative, but doesn't seem nervous. 

I pull on my blue scrubs and she giggles. "Doctor Mom," she says.

Trying to keep the atmosphere light, but realistic, I prattle on about what she should expect. The "rolling bed" (stretcher) and the bright lights of the Operating Room.   How the scariest part is lying on the operating table waiting for the anesthesia to kick in.  How it feels like you just blink your eyes and it's over.  

"Okay, Mom," she whispers. I can tell the nerves are building, but she's handling them like a champ.

"Are you ready, Mom?" the nurse chirps again.  "Let's get her onto this comfy rolling bed and head on down to the OR."

Only one parent is allowed to scrub up and go into the operating room. Steve waits in the same waiting room he sat and waited for me, three times.  We picked me to accompany her because I know the drill so well, but I have to work hard to keep my poker face. 

There is a slight delay before they can wheel her down the hall, so we stand there for about five minutes - Greta on the stretcher and me silently holding her hand.  I hear a sniff and look down to see silent tears running down her face.

"It's okay to be scared," I say, leaning close.  

She nods.  

"I was scared at this point, too, so I remembered that I was in the best hospital in the whole world for operations on ears, noses and throats.  People come from all around just to have surgery here."

She wipes her eyes. "Even Egypt?"

"Yes, even Egypt," I reply.

"What about Transylvania?" she quips, and I look down to see a sly grin on her face.  My heart swells at her bravery, and how she uses humor to deflect fear, just like her Momma.

Eventually we roll on down the hall, and I can feel her shaking a little.  Doubts creep into my mind; is this surgery really necessary?  I know in my heart it is, but now that we're here I want to say never mind.  Having had my tonsils out so recently, I know what recovery is like (albeit easier for kids) and voluntarily putting my kid through pain feels a bit barbaric to me at the moment.

"Okay, Mom," says the anesthesiologist.  "I need to speak to you over here for a sec."   

It occurs to me that I've been addressed exclusively as 'Mom' for the past hour.

I'm the Mom.

When did I become the Mom?  Suddenly it seems impossible that I'm in charge. Of anything, letting alone electing to let my kid have surgery.  

"She'll roll her eyes back and convulse a bit when the anesthesia kicks in," she explains. "That's totally normal."

My stomach does flip-flops. I want to run from the room.  I don't know that I can do this. I know I will, but I don't want to.  

"Once she's under you can take her stuffed animal and go to the waiting room," she explains.  "Don't worry, Mom. You're doing great."

I step over and hold Greta's hand as they slip the mask over her face and start the flow of cherry-flavored anesthesia.  She's awake longer than I thought she'd be -- first looking uncertainly at me, then blinking slowly, and then her eyes roll back and she gives a shudder.  

And she's out. 

Logically, I know she's going to be okay.  But witnessing that makes it seem like she just died right in front of me.  

"She's just fine, Mom," says the nurse.  "We'll be out to let you know how it went shortly."

I grab Bushy the Dog and head out to the waiting room.  On my way back down the hall I think of the parents with chronically ill kids who have to do this all the time. I think of how much better Greta will feel when this is all over and she's healed, how much better she will sleep.  I grope for gratitude, because I can feel myself slipping into a selfish kind of fear.  

Everywhere I look are memories of my own ordeal, and I have to remind myself that was my ordeal, not Greta's, and today is about her, not me.

Fifty minutes later I'm next to her in the recovery area as her eyes flutter open.  

"When will the operation happen?" she asks, and I smile and tell her I said the same thing when I came out of anesthesia.  

"It's all over, and you did great," I tell her.  "All the nurses said so."

She clutches Bushy in one hand and my hand in the other as she drifts in and out of sleep. 

"Good job, Mom," says the nurse.

I'm the Mom. I'm her Mom.  I get to be her Mom.  

I am so lucky.


  1. Oh, that last picture slays me - she is so radiant, so trusting, so liminal. My son had to go under a couple of years ago and I was entirely unprepared for the eye-rolling and seizure-like behavior as he did. It remains one of the most startling and upsetting experiences I've had as a mom, and I am a one-woman evangelist for telling everyone I know who has a kid going under what to expect.
    So glad Greta is through it, and hope her recovery is very smooth. Lucky BOTH of you to have each other. xox

  2. I was leaning forward more and more as I read this post. When Greta grabbed Bushy after the operation, I involuntarily sobbed. Just one inward breath-catching sound - it surprised me, like the unbidden grunt right when it's "time to push," you know? It touched something primal (the "mom-ness"?) in me, took me back to when my little girl was in the hospital with strep, about 9 years ago... and the tonsillectomy she had a few months later.

    Thank you for sharing those vulnerable moments... for getting under the facade and talking about real things, important things.

    You nailed it, girlfriend. And so will Greta; she's got you.

  3. Glad everything went so well. I had almost forgotten how strange it is to see your child go under anesthetic. Very eerie.
    Definitely harder on mom than it is on the kid!

  4. Her use of humor to deflect fear just slayed me emotionally. She'll be great at life, won't she ?~!

  5. She is so lucky to have you, Mom. :)

  6. Hugs to you both. And good thoughts for a speedy recovery.

  7. Yes, I agree - she's so lucky to have you and you did a wonderful job. I can truly imagine how challenging it was to stay in the moment and not flashback - but you did it, and it sounds like you were her rock.

    Way to go, Dr Mom.


  8. Thank you so much for posting. I have been thinking about you both and wondering how it had all gone, hoping you were all well.

    Well done, Mom. And well done Greta, too, on being scared and doing it anyway - that is what being brave is all about.

  9. Strong and beautiful. True for Greta, true for Mom. :)

  10. Way to go MOM!! Proud of you, and of Greta!!