I didn’t think Sam would jump.
His first-grade class blew off end-of-the-school-year steam at Sector 6, the “extreme air sports” emporium in Harahan. Sam, to my surprise, joined several classmates on the trapeze platform.
Surely he won’t do it, I thought. He’s not even tall enough to reach the trapeze bar.
But an attendant hoisted him up. Sam, all 42 scrawny pounds of him, stretched his arms, grasped the bar and plunged off the platform, arcing high over a pit of foam bricks. He swung back toward the platform and let go, dropping safely into the foam. At which point I finally exhaled.
To see your wisp of a son hurtle through space suspended from a trapeze is one level of parental fear.
To hand him over to strangers for surgery is another.
His tonsils resembled Ping-Pong balls. Ear, nose and throat, or ENT, specialists rank tonsil size on a scale of one to four. Sam’s rated a solid four, big enough to restrict his airway when he slept, and affect his speech — already a challenge for him, thanks to Down syndrome.
To subject your happy, otherwise healthy child to a procedure that would expose him to risk and, in the short term at least, make him miserable runs counter to every parental instinct. My wife had scheduled, then scuttled, the surgery once before.
But this time, we pressed forward in the hopes of giving him a healthier future. As parents, rational thought must sometimes override emotion. The fear, however, doesn’t go away.
Sam awoke on the designated morning in great spirits: “My tonsils out today!” he gleefully proclaimed, anticipating the post-op ice cream and TV binge we’d promised. Our freezer looked like we looted a Creole Creamery.
On Mardi Gras morning, the first words out of my 7-year-old son Sam’s mouth were, “Mardi Gra…
I felt less super, thanks in part to a sore throat of my own, possibly the ENT equivalent of a sympathetic pregnancy. This was not unprecedented. The day Sam’s little sister Celia had a tonsillectomy late last year, I came down with a miserable head cold. No sense in spreading germs all over the hospital, I argued. So my wife took Celia in alone.
She wouldn’t let me off so easily this time, especially since Celia — who we thought would, like big sister Sophie, be at summer camp — was sick. My wife stayed home with Celia. It would be a boys’ trip to the hospital.
New environments bring out the rascal in Sam; the hospital was no exception. In the pre-op waiting room, he yanked levers on gurneys and turned off the lights as I consulted with the anesthesiologist.
She asked him if his name was Sam. He pointed at me: "You Sam. I'm daddy."
Nice try, dude. But we're not trading places.
A nurse named Ashley volunteered to watch him, not quite realizing what was in store. Moments later, Ashley was frantically running after him as he disappeared down the hallway, laughing like a leprechaun.
The surgeon arrived. “I’ll be playing the role of the worried parent today,” I said by way of introduction.
“I’m sure you’ll do a good job,” she replied.
Before the operating room nurses wheeled away Celia, they had given her “silly juice” to relax her and ease her separation anxiety. Sam refused the silly juice.
Instead, he seat-belted himself into a tricycle dune buggy and steered himself to surgery. Totally happy, and totally oblivious about what came next.
I was neither happy nor oblivious. The waiting, as Tom Petty sings, is the hardest part. Pacing outside the recovery room doors, I heard a young boy bawling. It sounded a lot like Sam. Was that him? Was he terrified by the gas mask someone was trying to put over his face?
Fear welled up. I couldn’t bear the thought of my little buddy in distress. Should I run to the rescue?
As it turned out, it wasn’t Sam crying.
Minutes ticked by. Sooner than expected, I was called into the recovery room. There was Sam, still knocked out, folded over at the waist in his favorite yogi-style sleeping position.
He did fine, the nurses and surgeon assured me. He sat up woozily, looked around and said, “Dream.” He then asked to FaceTime his mother and sister.
Sam was back, intact except for downsized tonsils.
I'll never forget the relief of that moment. There’s absolutely no fear of that.
Staff writer Keith Spera chronicles his parenting adventures in the occasional column 'Parental Advisory.'