Thursday, November 18, 2010


When I enter the recovery room, I know instinctively the hysterical howling from the back corner is his. A nurse attempts to soothe him as I rush over. The first thing I notice is the blood seeping from his right nostril. They tell me to remove my coat, to sit in the rocker. I reach for him and he opens his eyes slightly, tiny slits to check that I'm finally here. His little hand reaches up to the tiny bump of skin just beneath my chin. It's a spot his fingers constantly seek and caress. In the dark of early morning, the bump assures him the person holding him is his mama. I fumble at the clasp of my bra. He is crying so hard, his mouth has trouble focusing on the nipple.  It closes and then opens in complaint again before trying to suck. Another howl interrupts my attempt at nursing. He will not be consoled so easily. Not after this. This betrayal.

The sobs do not let up for a good half hour. 40 minutes. He weeps uncontrollably. "How could I let them take him away?" his sobs shout.  "How could I let them stick him with needles?" they demand. They accuse me in no uncertain terms. "How could I let them put him under? And how could I not be there when he woke up from surgery?"

Daily annoyance.

I rock, rock, rock the damn rocker like I'm riding a bucking bronco. Finally, he begins to calm. This is the day I've been dreading forever. It's not his fault. Entirely my decision that he has undergone surgery. His blocked tear duct was supposed to mend itself by the time he turned a year old. The doctors showed me how to push the creamy goop out of his eye, in the hopes of healing without surgery. But at 18 months, he still awoke with the lid crusted closed, puss weeping out of the duct all day. His little hands perpetually rubbing it such that his eyelid became raw and red. I decided to pursue the alternative option: minor surgery.

Before surgery...

I know it was the right decision, but no one described to me the feeling of watching them walk him away from me to the operating room on his own, oblivious of what lies ahead. Strangers taking him. No one told me how the seconds would feel like hours sitting there in the waiting room. No one told me how fear increases exponentially along with the terrors of one's imagination: what if they give him too much anaesthetic? Would he die? Could they accidentally blind him? Stupid, irrational fears flying through his mama's head while he is unconscious. I almost cannot breathe sitting there alone drinking cold coffee. Not caring that the sandwich I packed is now stale, tasteless. Who can eat? Why did I do this to him? I am a cruel, thoughtless mommy to make him go in there alone so young and have them strap him down. Stick him with needles. Maybe we should have waited...

This moment, I can honestly say, is perhaps the first time since before he was born I have felt so acutely the absence of a spouse. I accept I'm a single parent. I don't think about it much. Generally, I don't have time to dwell on it. I just handle it. There's no self-pity involved or anything. It was my decision to pursue motherhood on my own. I'm a strong person. I'm his rock. But this moment. Sitting here in the waiting room. I am a puddle. Powerless. Vulnerable. How I long for a hand to hold mine at this moment, to reassure me. To comfort me. To share the burden of missing him, worrying over him. I'm a wreck. A total fucking mess, sitting here. What have I done to my poor little boy making such a huge decision on his behalf?

His hysteria when I arrive in recovery only exacerbates my guilt.

After an hour we are transferred to another recovery room and I lie back on the hospital bed as he clings to me, his sobs starting to slow, to quieten. Gradually they become softer, more infrequent, as exhaustion and stress surrender to slumber. He curls his body as close to mine as he possibly can and the catches in breath finally morph to tiny, purring snores. We lie there for another hour before I gently remove the hospital's striped pajamas and dress him for the stroll home.

Post surgery. Finally asleep.

His nose continues to bleed, a normal symptom of this particular surgery. He is drowsy walking around the kitchen. Still unstable, like a drunken sailor, weaving around the legs of the table. But he is smiling and giggling, giddy to be home again.

This is the first time his right eye has been clear since he was born. I note that his eyelashes are shorter on that lid. They have not had the chance to spread and grow as long and lush as those on the left eyelid. Perhaps now they'll have their chance to bloom.

Tonight I let him fall asleep in my bed, intent on assuring him I won't abandon him anytime soon again.

The next morning he wakes. His right nostril is crusted with blood, but his right eye is clear and his little fingers touch it momentarily in surprise. He realizes he does not need to finger the crust from his lashes. He opens both eyes no problem. He can see. All the stress of the previous day is worth it somehow.

I look deep into his irises, smile and say, "hi." He repeats it back to me. This is the first time ever he says "hi" back. It is as though he is acknowledging that this is the first moment he feels fully present. He can see out of both eyes. He is invincible. "Hi," he whispers shyly, smiling up at me. As if to say, "I see you now. You're my mama. Hi!"

My throat catches. "Gimme a kiss," I say. He throws his arms round my neck and touches his forehead to my lips. The blood from his nostril marks my breast. It's territorial.

"You are mine," it says.
"Don't leave me again, Mama," it says.
It says, "I forgive you."
"You made the right decision."
"Thank you," it says.

My lips form those two words, too, as they kiss the top of his pate.

"Thank you," they whisper.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Clean pair of eyes.

Music: David Gray, A Clean Pair of Eyes


3GirlKnight said...

He is one cute kid. Glad the surgery went well.

Ellen said...

I wish you had had someone with you...what a tough, emotional day you had.
Your lovely sonshine to have this surgery but you were there. You were always in his thoughts. You were there to give him the support he needed with your loving arms afterwords. I wish I could give you a hug mother to mother and let you cry..let it out just like he did.
He is such a loved and lucky little boy. And now he doesn't have to rub his beautiful eye!

Brian Miller said...

whew...tough read...anything happening to our kids...ugh...glad he came through it ok...and all will be well...

Anonymous said...

I think my heart is flopping on the floor like a beta fish that jumped its tank. The poor, wee little fella. I think I held my breath through this entire read, wincing at the thought of Sonshine's tears.

So glad that he came through the surgery with flying colors and that you survived the aftermath. It's so very, very hard to make the tough decisions. Especially alone. I didn't have a partner to share parenthood with until my baby was four years old; I haven't forgotten the second-guessing, either.

I'm sorry I couldn't have been there for you. You know? I woulda. Totally. Sight unseen. Jumped right into the middle of it to tell you that you are a wonderful, intuitive, amazing Mother. No one could have carried your wee lad through this like you did. No one.

the b in subtle said...

wow. i am so touched at your words and your love and support. thank you, all. xo

Me said...

Oh my gosh, my heart was in my throat, reading this.

So happy that you've both made it through to the other side of this.

the b in subtle said...

At the end of the day, this was VERY minor surgery. He was in there less than an hour. People go through much more harrowing experiences with their children than I had with this one. I just don't know how they handle it. It felt bad enough being away from him for an hour while he went through this and not knowing the outcome since there is always a risk, they tell you, with anaesthetic (especially when so young).

I know a couple people who had to basically almost LIVE a the hospital to do with their child or children. My heart goes out to them and anyone who has to or has had to deal with that kind of thing.

And you put things into perspective - when you look around the globe. Thankfully he has access to this surgery to help improve his situation. He has competent doctors. He has clean medical facilities. The bill is taken care of via the Health Care program. We are very, VERY lucky.

Thanks for your words, everyone.

Land of shimp said...

Hello, hello, hello! So good to see you again, B.

This made me tear up, though. I'm so glad it went well and that he's on the way to recovery, but it's so difficult to watch our children in distress...even when it is necessary distress.

This really was very difficult to read because it evokes empathy galore from ...I don't think it's just parents. We all love and feel responsible for someone, thank goodness, so I think it's pretty universal.

I know your little man will be all right, and that you made the right decision. Mostly I wanted to be able to give you a hug at the end of this, tell you it would be all right. Hand you a cup of Ovaltine (that is not chocolate) and maybe pour a slug of rum into it (wait, no, you're still nursing).

So will just have to settle for an e-hug, thought towards you with great concentration.

Kerry O'Gorman said...

I know the feeling of single parent-hood well, having raised my girl since she was 3. It always seems that the worst of times are also the most lonely. Writing it down and sharing it seems thereputic.
Your babe is so beautiful and he is all the more fortunate for your decision. Good on ya!

Ciara said...

Even though I knew it all turned out okay, I still teared up reading this, Nancy.
My own experiences with hospitals and my children have been minor, but it's still horrific, isn't it? And yes, those wayward, wild thoughts just run away, don't they?

So glad the little lamb is all better though. And you!

Hugs to you both. Cx

Kendra said...

I honestly cried... your blog is so honest and beautiful. I think being a mom is a singular job, even when married. Even well intentioned husbands cannot fully relate to the bond. For us, it's different.
Please keep writing. On the long, exhausted nights with my own son I will often check in and draw from your strength and insight. Thank you.

the b in subtle said...

Alane: soooo lovely to see you again, lass. Yep, I'm baaaaack. It's true what you wrote - it's not just parents who feel this kind of concern when a loved one is going through this stuff and you're the one in the waiting room. True.

Kerry: thank you (again). I know a few single moms out here and have always admired them. But when I read these responses, it honestly feels I am so NOT alone here. THanks for making me feel not so alone in this!

Ciara: darlin, thanks for your words. ((hugs))

Kendra: I don't think I've seen you post before. Wow. THANK YOU. You're right - I know had I stayed with my ex-husband, I still would have felt entirely alone in everything I am doing. It's just so much easier to feel alone when I AM on my own versus feeling alone when I'm WITH someone (which is how I felt when I was with him). Sending you one big massive hug for your words and the strength they give ME. (((HUG))) We have sons! Nice to have that in common. :)

Dreamfarm Girl said...

Parenting day to day gets hectic, but it's times like you described that it is so raw and scary and grabs you at the depths of the soul. And doing the right thing doesn't always feel good. But you did do the right thing and such blessings abound from it! Happiness to you both.

Suse said...

What a powerful post. It took me right back to when my middle son, aged 4, had to have surgery. It wasn't major or life threatening surgery but it was serious enough, and watching my tiny child fall back limp and unconscious on that huge sterile table, surrounded by gowned, masked and gloved medicos, shook me to the core.

The things motherhood brings, hmm.