When he was a baby, a bottle of milk and Mama snuggles greeted him as he woke.
When he was a preschooler, a sippy cup of juice on the same maternal lap was the preferred recovery spot.
Then he became a teenager. Sippy cups left my cupboards long ago and he would crush me if he sat on my lap, even if he wanted to which, I can assure you, he does not.
Thanks to a reoccurring sports injury, my 18-year-old son, Luke, had to have knee surgery recently. Like any mean parent, we scheduled it at the beginning of his spring break.
While this was (probably) not intentional retribution for neglecting to wear his knee brace and re-injuring it over and over, the timing made sense. He could recover and not miss any days of school.
Poor kid: sit on the couch for days, watch WWII documentaries and basketball, have Mom provide an endless supply of drinks, snacks and narcotic pain relievers…sounds like a perfect vacation to me.
“You can’t have anything to eat or drink after midnight,” I reminded him the night before his surgery.
“I know, Mom.”
“And don’t forget to take a shower in the morning with antibacterial soap.”
“Mom, I know.”
“And you might want to change your sheets so…”
Luke’s been a pretty healthy kid, but even healthy kids sometimes have to be knocked-out for medical procedures and Luke had his share:
▪ A sedated newborn on a ventilator at Children’s Mercy.
▪ A hernia repair when he was 1.
▪ Several esophageal scopes and exploratory tests as a toddler with digestive issues.
▪ A tonsillectomy and his first set of ear tubes as a preschooler.
▪ His second set of ear tubes in grade school.
▪ His third set in middle school.
▪ Wisdom teeth removal just last winter.
All common procedures, and maybe there are common emotions, but I do know what it felt like for me the first time I told toddler Luke goodbye before he was wheeled away toward an operating room.
I know what getting to the goodbye part felt like. The long list of pre-surgical rules. The fit when he couldn’t have breakfast or even a glass of water in the morning. The weariness of entertaining a hungry, confused kid in a curtained and cold waiting stall when all he wanted to do was go home and watch Bob the Builder.
I know what holding that same kid groggy and uncomfortable, felt like at the other end. How the heat of his breath mixed with my whispers. “You’ve been so brave.”
I know what it feels like to have the experience change as he got older. The wake-up whispers to a toddler became jokes with a preschooler then an internal debate: was it cool to hold up a phone and record a teenager whose mouth is packed with gauze and thinks the nurse caring for him is his bride? (It was…until the nurse shot me a glare that scared me into putting it away.)
And while my husband and I waited for the knee surgeon to tell us it went well, just like other surgeons had over the years, I remembered it all. A mental, medical memory book complete with emotions, flipped through my brain.
When we finally met up with man-sized Luke, still wrapped in blankets to keep him warm, he was groggy…and looked nothing like he had as a tot.
“Can we get 300 McChickens for Leonidas and all the Spartans?” he asked. His coming-out-of-anesthesia monolog continued, he wondered when Lil’ Wayne had time to go into the graham cracker business, then he entertained us with a sleepy rendition of B.o.B “Airplanes.”
I laughed at him and felt the one constant thing at this point in every surgery: gratitude.