Saturday, February 20, 2010

In The Eyes of a Stranger

I'm really not used to hospitals. And frankly, I really don't want to get used to them.

My 2-yr-old son Noah had surgery recently to remove a nevus sebaceus (medical term for really weird mole on his scalp). The event itself is enough to make one uneasy, but now add an environment you just don't comprehend. It's unsettling.

After registering, we were sent up to the 6th floor to get settled into a room and dress him in hospital pajamas. (I must say he can even make those things look cute!) The pediatric nurse introduced herself and said, "I will be Noah's nurse today."

She failed to mention only for the few minutes he was on that floor! We never even saw her again until we returned for a half hour post-surgery.

But whatever, lady.

Sure. You're his nurse for the day.

Anyway...soon we're ushered down to surgery - actually the pre-op room - where we anxiously await the anesthesiologist's arrival.

And meet more medical staff.

I really don't even know what their jobs were. And you would never recognize them again if you passed them in the grocery store or sat by them at a ballgame because they're so garbed with scrubs, booties and hats that they could be anybody.

I completely understand now why in TV shows the actors trying to sneak into a hospital can just slip on some scrubs or a white jacket and parade right by without any suspicion.

More staff pop in and out. Someone hands me a snap-up shirt, booties and the ever-fashionable blue shower cap thing. I now feel like strutting into surgery myself and uttering a few lines stolen from an ER episode.

And I probably could have. The swarms of people in blue get-ups racing here and there were nothing short of nuts. Who knew it took so many people to get us in and out of surgery?

Another staff person comes in to keep us company. Or so I thought. Actually, he was comic relief. He was great with Noah and did a good job of calming my nerves.

What I'd soon discover... he was the person I needed to trust most that day. Because eventually he was the one to send my son into an unconscious state.

Some might think, "Well, Maxine, you should have been more nervous about the surgeon, or the anesthesiologist!" Perhaps.

But this is the man who had his hands on my son at the moment I had to leave him behind.

And there was something special about him. Between his scrub cap and mask were incredibly bright - yet comforting - eyes.

I was told Noah would very likely fight the mask a lot - start screaming, pulling it away, reaching for me.

That I would have to stay strong.

It would only be 5 breaths...and he'd be in dreamland...that's what this stranger in blue told me.

But Noah didn't fight the mask at all. He went to sleep without an ounce of struggle. I couldn't help but notice Noah was looking into that man's eyes.

Then it was waiting room time.

I was in a daze. I couldn't read a magazine or pick up a newspaper. I even saw someone I knew but couldn't utter a simple "Hello." My only focus was on that big TV screen in the room that told what "stage" he was at in surgery.

"Procedure" it said.

30 seconds pass.

"Procedure" it read again.

5, 10, 20, 30 minutes passed.

It still said, "Procedure."

Ugh. The surgeon said this would take 15 minutes tops.

Finally. The surgeon approaches me.

Everything went fine, but basically my child is full of holes.

"It took just as long to get an IV in as it did to do the surgery itself," he tells me.

All that toddler chub makes it hard to find a vein, apparently.

I wouldn't realize just HOW MANY places they attempted to get a vein until I was at home, putting him in pajamas later that evening. They obviously had quite a struggle and turned him into swiss cheese! Thank goodness the poor kid was out cold for all of that!

So it was off to the recovery room. This is where I determined I made a wise career move to not pursue the medical field.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of "regular" staff are the med students. Like deer in headlights, they are bombarded with techniques and medical jargon that made me dizzy.

How do they remember all that stuff?! I'd inadvertently kill someone for sure.

One guy sitting at the computer and monitoring my son's vital signs, gives me a brief run-down of the surgery. And encourages me to touch my son and help him come out of his deep sleep.

Noah is sawing logs. And I'm so grateful.

Before I left Noah in surgery, I asked if I would be able to be there when he woke up. They told me they would have him in recovery cleaning him up, so it would be a couple minutes before he'd see me.

Truth be told, that bothered me. But I realize they're just doing their job.

So I was secretly very grateful God kept Noah snoring away until I arrived. Because when he opened his eyes, my face was the first one he saw.

Thank you, Jesus!!

Noah immediately put his arms out for me to pick him up. I held him snuggled against me, so grateful for this moment. And feeling so blessed to have the opportunity to be there.

Not just in that recovery room. But in every step of this process. Because it opened my eyes.

Here's an example:

As we waited in the pediatric unit prior to surgery, Noah went to explore the large play area on that floor. I sat down to watch him and as I scanned the area, it hit me. I had been there before.

You see, over 10 years ago, we lived in Bismarck and I worked as a reporter at a local TV station. One day I did a story about a man who would come to the pediatric floor and sing songs for the children to encourage them. He had some tear-jerking stories to tell about his experience with children fighting for their lives. That particular day the play area was buzzing with several pint-size patients.

He sang "Puff, The Magic Dragon." You know, the one where the dragon can't be brave without his life-long friend.

I'm with you, Puff. I'm not so good at this bravery thing, either.

At the end of my report, the video concluded with a little girl driving a child-size car, waving at the camera, and the music fades...

Touching, yes. But this was before I had any children.

Before I knew what it felt like to be a parent of a child in the pediatric unit.

And I just never know what the future will bring.

Had you told me 12 years ago I would be sitting in that play area with my own child as a patient one day, I could not have comprehended it.

Here was my son puttering around the room in the same car that little girl was in all those years ago.

And there I was. A young, inexperienced reporter, attempting to describe the meaningfulness of a man singing songs of hope for sick children and their parents.

Believe me, it had meaning now.

My mind darted back to the present as I heard the nurse say, "We're ready now. I'll take you down."

One week later, I walk into the doctor's office to learn results of the biopsy. And I had to ask myself, Am I okay with whatever God does here? If the news is not good, will I crumble? Or will I trust?

Fortunately, we were blessed with good news. No cancer. Nothing to worry about.

And honestly, I was grateful that I wouldn't have to be brave anymore.

I know it was a gift, regardless of the outcome. Because I know the Giver.

I saw Him in the eyes of the man holding my son when I had to walk away. I'm convinced Noah saw Him too.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Confessions of a Wounded Mom

When I could have used encouragement, I received criticism.

When I could have used prayer, I received judgment.

When I could have used understanding, I received accusations.

Late this afternoon, my daughter Rachel came to me asking if we could 'go somewhere.' She was a little tired of being cooped up at home. I had a couple things I have been wanting to find, so we headed to the store.

I had Noah with me as well, and in recent weeks he has developed a dislike for shopping carts. He's two, after all, and would rather wander aimlessly discovering all the treasures on store shelves than to be strapped into a cart. I have found that letting him sit in the bigger part of the cart versus the traditional seating spot has helped.

Except for today.

We didn't get very far into the store and he was screaming to get out of the cart. I calmly, yet sternly, looked him in the eye and told him he needed to stop screaming. He stopped briefly, then resumed his wailing. I was going to round the corner, accept this toddler tantrum as defeat and head out of the store to go home.

But that's when I heard it.

The voice of an older woman on the other side of the aisle spouting, "Some people shouldn't be parents."

I was startled. I was dumbfounded. And I was hurt.

I approached her and said, "Excuse me, did you have something you wanted to say to me?"

The woman, obviously shocked by the confrontation, attempted to walk away while telling me I should take my child home for a nap. As I began to respond to her judgmental statement, she continued to reprimand me as she rushed off, blurting something about raising four children herself and the voice of criticism drifted through the stale retail air.

Normally, I would probably just let those statements roll off my back and tell myself the woman has no basis for her accusations.

But instead, I buckled my kids in the van and sobbed all the way home.

Because frankly, this week has been a tough one to be a parent.

To sit in a surgeon's office and plan a surgery for your two-year-old that will follow with a biopsy is no picnic.

To have your son's kindergarten teacher approach you about behavior issues for the third time in two weeks is not a walk in the park.

To comfort a daughter who is heartbroken to be left off the 'guest list' of a classmate's birthday party is humbling.

So to be honest, yeah, there were times this week I didn't know if I should be a parent. Sometimes it's just plain hard. And you wonder if you're doing things right. You second-guess yourself constantly. You debate whether you can even handle it.

And the one thing you hope beyond hope is that you're not screwing it all up.

So when someone comes along and implies that you are, it is almost too much to take.

So please. Think twice before passing judgment on a mother having a 'moment' with her kids. You don't know what her week was like. You just can't know what she's been facing. Instead of a roll of your eyes, why not give her a word of encouragement.

Perhaps what's even more sad about the entire encounter is that the woman was at the store with what appeared to be her own grown daughter. Someone who may already, or someday, be a mother.

It's very likely she'll have a child throw a tantrum in public sometime, too. Will she remember the words she heard her own mother say to a complete stranger?

Maybe it won't matter. Maybe it won't come to mind at all.

But what if it does?

That woman's words ring in my head and I feel hurt. But her words may scream failure to her own child one day.

So I prayed for her. It's what I do for my children. Perhaps today God needed me to pray for someone else's too.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

I'm No Cinderella

Good judgment flew out the window this week. I decided to shop for jeans.

A friend of mine recently strutted by me in a super cute pair of jeans so I had to find out where she got them. She proceeded to excitedly tell me all about her amazing shopping excursion at a local store where she was treated like a queen by the sales clerk and jeans were hand-picked off the racks just for her...and poof! The perfect pair of jeans found a new home.

Intrigued by her find, I decided to check it out myself.

Let's just say, if my friend was Cinderella, I apparently was one of the evil stepsisters. Because just as there was no chance that little shoe was fitting their feet, I would not get those jeans beyond my knees.

The mystery to me is that the jeans can be the size of all my other pants, and yet you'd think I was trying to slip into a pair 3 sizes too small.

The other great mystery? After peeling the denim off my calves and holding them up to inspect the size, immediate depression kicks in. Seriously? My thigh is BIGGER than that?!?!

Someone. Please. Tell me! Why are jeans so deceptive? How can something that looks large enough to wrap around a circus elephant not get over my hips?

Now I'm not going to attempt to say that I'm the thinnest person in the world. Believe me - I steered clear of the rack of 'skinny jeans.' I'm not that foolish! I can honestly say there is no part of my body I would deem "skinny" except maybe my toes. They are freakishly skinny, actually.

So I don't expect to slide into a size 1 and trot out of the store giddy about my purchase - that would only happen if I had spent the past two years eating a strict diet of celery and water.

And since I certainly have not limited my diet in such a way, I am forced to pour through the racks of jeans of a significantly larger digit. And yet when I step into the dressing room and realize even those will not accommodate my newly discovered bulges, I panic. How huge have I become?? When did this happen??

So I hang the jeans back on their plastic hangers and reach for the pants I wore into the store. Pants of the same size I was just attempting to fit into, mind you. Huh?! How is this possible?

I am disgusted with myself, vowing never to eat again.

As I turn away from the horrifying mirror and exit the dressing room, I'm aghast at the sight in front of me.

It's a woman. Putting a pair of jeans on the counter as she pulls out her credit card.

She found a pair that fit.

So I do what every woman does. I compare myself to her. I pretend to continue scanning the racks when I'm really scanning her thighs.

How come she found a pair that fit? She isn't skinny! She's pretty average, actually. She has curves, too!

It's taking every ounce of strength within me to hold myself back from charging the counter in order to grab those jeans and check the label for a size.

And then reality strikes me - I may very well be living in a land of Cinderellas. Maybe jeans fit every other woman but me!

So I accept defeat and walk out of the store.

Next time I'll just go to Target and see what Polly Pocket might have in the way of jeans. I guess my freakishly skinny toes are the only body part jeans-worthy.