When Your Child Has Surgery

I have a friend who recently underwent a long and complex orthopedic surgery–not her own, but her child’s. The whole thing played out on social media, as do lots of things these days, and it brought me right back to when my daughter had knee surgery in 2013 at the age of ten. Here are all the emotions parents go through after hearing the news that their child needs surgery:

Dread — We know how our kid reacts to a splinter and that the level of pain they are going to experience with surgery is going to rock their world, not to mention that they will likely be out for the entire winter/spring/summer/fall basketball/soccer/baseball/lacrosse season and are going to be pissed.

Intimidation — After scouring planet Earth for a surgeon with just the right mix of skill, experience and compassion, we grill him with questions so detailed it sounds like we, too, are orthopedic (or maxillofacial or urological or whatever) surgeons and would do the surgery ourselves if not for the conflict of interest. We want to make sure the doctor knows that we are more informed than the average parent and therefore should perhaps be taken a little more seriously.

Confidence — The day of the surgery, we appear unusually brave and calm. We get up early, have a healthy breakfast, and wear a great outfit. We smile, crack jokes with the surgeon, and spew forth a number of positive affirmations that are intended to inspire our child but instead expose us for the massive geek that we are. At this stage, we are surrounded by friends and family, either physically or via social media, and although we are nervous we know in our heart that everything is going to be just fine.

Shock — This occurs anywhere from 12 to 24 hours after surgery and coincides with the wearing off of anesthesia and/or spinal blocks as well as any fantasies we had about this going smoothly. This is when we realize that someone has physically cut into our child’s body WITH A SHARP KNIFE and now she is screaming like an infant with unmedicated reflux. We can’t believe how much pain she is in, and what the hell are we supposed to do when she has to go to the bathroom?

Confusion — This is when complications arise. Everything is a mess, and we can’t process anything anyone is saying to us, let alone a Harvard educated doctor with all of his big words and medical terminology. We haven’t showered in days, can’t find our makeup bag, feel nauseous, have a headache, hit a parked car, and only want yoga pants.

Doubt — At this stage, we become irrational and begin to suspect that all the diplomas hanging in our surgeon’s office are fake and he is really just a quack who has messed up our child for life. Also, our family members have all gone home and everyone on social media is now talking about Barbara Walters’ asinine choice for Most Fascinating Person of the Year.

Rage — We hit our breaking point and start demanding answers from any medical professional within a mile radius. We channel Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction and refuse to be ignored. If our child is still in the hospital, we start getting loud and obnoxious. Sometimes we go the other way and feign friendship with one of the nurses in an effort to find out what is really going on with our kid. If our kid is recovering at home, we relentlessly call the doctor’s office, informing the receptionist that if she puts us through to voicemail one more time things are going to get really ugly.

Fear — Shit is getting real now. We stand by helpless as our child undergoes more tests and faces the possibility of another surgery. We ask friends and family to start praying for the fever to go down, the pain to subside, or the complications to stop. We start carrying around religious artifacts and silently make deals with the man upstairs. We finally know what it’s like to suffer and vow never to take anything for granted ever again.

Relief — Finally, our child turns the corner. We weep with relief and allow ourselves the pleasure of eating once again. Our kindness returns and we feel nothing but gratitude toward the amazing doctor who operated on our child, and maybe we should get him a nice gift?

Boredom — Yes, our child has turned the corner but this block sucks too. And it’s soooooooooo loooooooooooong.

Joy — Tests are clear, the x-rays look great and our child’s doctor is very pleased with her progress. The nightmare is over, and we are stronger for having survived. This is when we allow ourselves the pleasure of alcohol–and lots of it.

Horror — The final stage is physical therapy–a special kind of hell.


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