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.
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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.