Scanning the surgical waiting room, I know that every parent here has just done the same heart-wrenching thing I did….turned and walked away from one of the most precious things in their life….their child strapped to a narrow Operating Room bed.
I had my hand on his arm as his eyes closed from the “magic air” flowing through the mask on his face. “Sometimes they do just drift off so quietly like that,” the anesthesiologist offers. “Now kiss his hand good-bye.” “No wait!” I wanted to scream ….from that tiny voice in the back of your heart that always wants to scream and warn “this may be the very last time you see your child. This may be the image forever burned into your soul. This could be it. Cherish the moment.” But the moment is fast. When you need just a few more seconds, they usher you out of the cold, efficient, sterile room as the surgeon, nurses and techs stand poised ready to spring into action – willing you to leave their domain.
The tech makes pleasant conversation as you join her to “follow the green squares on the floor” that lead to the waiting room. Her rattling tries to push your fears aside. You walk alongside, numb to her words. You check in with the waiting room attendant but can’t remember her instructions; you’re too busy memorizing your child’s “number” so you can jump up every few minutes to check the “board.” It doesn’t change. “11788: OR in.” You wait. “11788: OR in.” Wait.
A couple sits side by side, absorbed in their respective iPads. A pinkified two-year old skips circles around the man playing solitaire and another couple hiding in their magazines. Parents pop up and down to check the board. Phone calls beckon families back to the recovery rooms. Surgeons gather families to talk in the “consult” rooms. A constant hum, constant motion, constant and welcome distracting dance of people’s lives. I put my book down. I can’t read anyway. I wait.
On this day, there’s no greater joy than in seeing your baby’s face again – even if he is 4-foot-7 and 87 pounds. He’s still my baby. But the alligator tears that spill from his eyes at the sight of me pierce my heart. His bravado, his cool, his composure melts at my touch, at the warmth of my arms around him, and the gentle kiss. This is when the tongue really hurts and the tears flow. I search briefly for a tissue, but wipe the wetness away with his blanket. I ache to soothe him, but my words and touch are of little comfort. Within minutes, another bit of medication through the IV site sends him back into sleep. My baby snores. I stroke his face.
Knowing that he’s safe again, I sit back and cuddle into the warmed blanket offered by the gentle nurse. I pause to be thankful that my touches of the “health care system” have all fallen within “the normal kid stuff” – the tonsils, the stitches, the corneal abrasion, rashes, sprains. I can cope with this normal. Yet my heart aches for the families who sit in the waiting room for the ninth or tenth time for their child. For the parents who never hear the surgeons say, “It was all routine. No problems. He’ll be just fine.” For the ones who walk away from their “sleeping” child on that cold table and never hold them again.
There are deep dark fears in loving and parenting. There are deep dark moments that remind us to cherish each breath and each smile and even each time the boys hit each other. As my heart swirls and thunders and catches itself today, I look upon my baby and lift up a prayer for him….and for all the other families.
Let the images be burned into my soul forever.
I shall cherish the love.