Handing over your 4-year-old daughter for surgery is not easy.
You must suppress parental fears about potential complications. You must deal with the logistics of a crack-of-dawn hospital check-in. You must keep the tiny patient calm, distracted and entertained while also courageously holding your own emotions in check.
Or, you can simply let your wife handle everything.
On the morning of Celia’s recent tonsillectomy, I awoke with a brutal cold. My throat was raw (a “sympathetic tonsillectomy,” perhaps?). Every few minutes, I coughed up nastiness. My nose was a fountain.
The plan all along had been that my wife would deliver Celia to the hospital at 6 a.m. I would join them after getting siblings Sam and Sophie to school.
But my own condition deteriorated throughout the morning. Hacking and coughing in the presence of patients with more serious issues didn’t seem like a good idea. So, after school drop-off, I stocked up on cold medicine and lozenges and went home.
As it turned out, I wasn’t needed. My wife’s pal, Stephanie, met her at the hospital to offer support.
And Celia? She was fine.
As my wife later described, en route Celia marveled at the moon, huge and hung low in the pre-dawn darkness. She literally skipped into the hospital, blissfully unaware of what was to come.
A horrid-tasting anesthetic drink — the doctors and nurses applauded as she took it — rendered her loopy and relaxed. As she was wheeled to the operating room, she turned back to her mother, smiled and arched a mischievous eyebrow.
As the anesthesiologist explained the gruesome particulars of the procedure, my wife started weeping. I, too, teetered on the brink of tears when a photo popped up on my phone of Celia in a hospital gown, surrounded by strangers in medical scrubs.
Barely an hour later, she was in the recovery room, sans tonsils and adenoids.
They had apparently contributed to the periodic fever syndrome that has bedeviled her for more than a year. Every four weeks, like clockwork, Celia gets sick. High fever and vomiting render our little spitfire limp on the sofa for days. It’s no fun for anybody, least of all her. She pleads to go back to school.
A tonsillectomy, according to various doctors, would likely help. And so we subjected our cheery, happy and otherwise healthy daughter to a surgery we knew would make her miserable in the short term.
She was none too happy upon awakening in the recovery room. “I want my tonsils back,” she announced.
Decades ago, that might have been possible. My tonsils, removed when I was about Celia’s age, spent years in a kitchen drawer at my parents’ house, preserved in a plastic jar filled with who knows what.
Hospitals seem less inclined these days to send patients home with freshly liberated body parts. And so, 90 minutes after surgery, Celia left the hospital without hers.
On the way out, a nurse asked if Celia had tubes put in her ears — a relatively minor procedure compared to a tonsillectomy. The nurse was impressed that Celia was so animated following a “T&A,” medical slang for tonsil and adenoid removal.
A steady intake of liquids and pain medicine is key to a happy recovery. Celia, as strong-willed as ever, was not particularly inclined to ingest either.
Convincing her to take the first dose of medicine at home required 20 minutes of negotiation and tears. “Talk on your shoe like a phone,” she demanded. So I did.
We had promised her some iPad time. Unfortunately, big sister Sophie had secretly changed the iPad’s password. A meltdown was averted by calling Sophie’s school and having her pulled out of class to reveal the new code.
Celia was also bribed with presents. She negotiated the total number of "recovery gifts" up to six, a medical expense that, unfortunately, is not covered by insurance.
Later that afternoon, she and I treated our respective ailments on the porch steps, sucking on bright blue popsicles beneath a bright blue sky.
Much to my relief, she seemed like her old self, sassy and smart, not missing her tonsils at all.
Staff writer Keith Spera chronicles his parenting adventures in the occasional 'Parental Advisory' column.