The Stress of a Child’s Surgery: A Mother’s Experience

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Watching my sweet 7-year-old boy being wheeled away to the hospital’s surgery room was something I knew for weeks that I would need to be prepared for but wasn’t quite fully equipped to handle because that’s just how life goes, right? We can never fully know what it will truly be like or feel like until it actually happens.

“Don’t worry, he will be in good hands,” the smiling pediatric nurse said to me in a gentle tone, her brown, concerned eyes looking at me and searching for a way to provide reassurance.

I nodded at her, somehow managed a small smile, and let out a sincere but quiet “thank you,” fighting hard not to let the tears start rolling. But oh mama, once they turned the corner with him and I could no longer see my baby, those tears started streaming down my face—a lot of them.

At least I waited until I was in a private room to unleash the flood gate of tears, I thought to myself, trying to make myself laugh and muster up the courage to reframe my thinking and stay positive.

A little over a month before my child’s surgery, a golf ball-sized thyroglossal duct cyst had unexpectedly developed on my son’s neck. Apparently, these cysts are rare and an uncommon anomaly, afflicting less than 7% of the population. Even upon inspection at the very first visit, the specialist remarked, “Wow, that is wild!” So yeah, hello, stress and anxiety for this mama.

My son had been calling the cyst his “Adam’s apple” when it first appeared, but it was definitely no Adam’s apple. According to specialists, it was an unsightly invader, an unwelcome visitor, and something that needed to be removed. Even though most likely it would be benign, they said surgery was necessary so it would not grow any bigger and cause pain and so that they could send it off for a pathology report to rule out malignancy.

But they have to cut open his neck! He has to be put under anesthesia! They have to remove part of the bone and cartilage that the cyst has attached itself to! I was trying to fight off these terrifying thoughts, these harsh realities, and instead aimed to focus on the future result: That he would be ok. That he would be healthy.

On my child’s surgery day, we were up at 3:30 a.m., got ready, and headed off to the hospital to check in by 5 a.m. My son slept on the 20-minute drive, but before he dozed off, he asked me if it was ok if he could sleep because he didn’t want me to be lonely. As I drove in silence, I looked at him in the rearview mirror several times. He looked so peaceful. He always tugs at my heartstrings, but especially on this day. So, there I was, still sleepy, still scared, still nervous, and yet, still reminding myself that everything was going to be ok, over and over.

I reflected on why being a mommy is so special, so rewarding, and yet so stressful, because of how deeply and infinitely we love. We have these amazing little people who we brought into this world, who need us, who look up to us, and who model after us. I was sporting a brave face for my son because there was no way I would instill fear in him through the inner turmoil I was experiencing. He was braver than me that morning.

The three hours I spent alone in the private waiting room while my son was undergoing surgery were difficult but made more comfortable by those who stayed in touch with me via text and e-mail. It is amazing how your family, and friends can surround you and genuinely lift you during these challenging times. I stayed busy and distracted with texting, with work from my laptop, and doing many air squats and lunges to release stress.

I will never forget the relief I experienced when the surgeon came in and said everything went smoothly and that I could see my baby soon. I thanked him profusely, and he said, “You have quite some boy there. He is a lot of fun, and he sure LOVES to talk!”

Filled with the giddiness of sheer relief, my son was ok; I giggled and said, “I have NO clue where he gets that chattiness from!” 

The first part of the recovery day was a little rough, as my son was feeling the pain of the incision and the drain guard they placed on his neck, as well as the after-effects of the anesthesia. He was very disappointed nobody had taken a picture of the cyst. He was also making sure to tell any doctor or nurse who visited us in the hospital room that he was starving because I did not feed him breakfast that day, which spurred a lot of laughter. Thankfully, they all had my back and reminded him he could not eat or drink before the surgery, so his mommy had followed the rules correctly.

child's surgery

The second part of the day was as good as it could get considering what he had been through. We were safe, we were together in the Christmas-themed room at the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital just a few days before Christmas, and they even delivered thoughtful presents from Peyton and Ashley Manning. We watched several movies together, which was great to sit, relax, and release emotional exhaustion. He told the nurses, “I love snuggling with my mama,” which made me feel redeemed from him throwing me under the bus about not eating breakfast. We got very little sleep since the fantastic nurses were coming in regularly to give him medication, but that’s a small price to pay for the wonderful result: He was ok. YES! He was ok!

When released the next afternoon, we were both excited to head home, the heavy thoughts of surgery no longer looming above us. This experience of my child’s surgery was indeed an emotional roller coaster from the start: Fear, stress, angst, anxiety, oh my! Yet, it made us more resilient. In fact, my son’s resilience is astonishing. Just the other day, he said, “Mama, I want another cyst to grow so we can go back to that awesome hospital room and have food delivered to us and watch six movies in a row again! Don’t you want that?! Don’t you?!”

NO. I love you more than anything, but the answer is NO, my sweet, silly boy.

child's surgery

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