Dear Little Elephant,
This morning you woke up wanting to sing with me “You are my sunshine”. We cuddled in bed, my arms holding you tight, as we sang it 5 times, each time you were able to sing more of the words, by the end, taking the lead. You then bounced up, wanting to find a book about sunshine to read.
If, in your enthusiasm, you had looked back, you would have seen the relief in my heart to no longer be seeing that song. It took all I had, to sing those verses, over and over, knowing you were okay, without crying.
The last time I sang you that song, we were in London, in a hospital, surrounded by doctors and you were resisting general anesthesia and I was failing at holding back my tears.
At 11 am, we had had an appointment with a dermatologist to see this fingernail sized “bad freckle” hiding by your hairline behind your left ear. This doctor was the reason we had flown to London. In 30 seconds, she discarded it as “not yet a problem”. Further discussion led to the conclusion that it needed to be removed and, given your age, you wouldn’t lie still for local anesthesia and a full biopsy plus stitches.
It was 11:32 when I walked out of the office. I had to feed you by noon and from 12:00 to 14:00 you were allowed only white liquids. At 15:00, we were to show up at the hospital for a 18:00 surgery and overnight stay.
The timeline was daunting, not allowing me to really think. Food first. Then call Daddy in Chile and Grandparents in Wisconsin to let them know. 28 minutes to find a restaurant and eat a meal. We ended up at one of those bakery/ sandwich shops. I bought an avacado shrimp salad and a deluxe sushi tray that had both raw salmon sushi and cooked shrimp sushi. Grapes and a berry smoothie to top it off. Little Elephant, you are your Mama’s daughter. You loved the sushi (including the raw fish) and you insisted on learning to use chopsticks during the meal that had a hard end time.
Back we went to the hotel for a nap and a few frantic calls and emails to multiple continents. I packed a bag while you snored.
I hate waking you from naps, but the nurse said I had to. Into the stroller and off we went to a hospital specializing in and well known for children’s cancer. They had 18 beds and we had one.
I can’t even express how privileged I feel to know that I was able to fly to another country to get the best care in Europe, that I was able to be in the private healthcare system where I was given a bed the same day, that the people seeing my daughter (for the most part) dismissed my fears as they see much much sicker children every day. I don’t for a second want to say that I am ungrateful. But, the possibility of what could be, what I couldn’t bare to imagine, was hard to avoid when all the signs and brochures in the hospital were about it being a renowned children’s cancer hospital— the signs didn’t give me a sense of encouragement, more, they made me face my terror. I was checking my 3-year-old into a cancer hospital for immediate surgery.
Meanwhile, Little Elephant, you were crying, telling me you were tired and wanted to go back to the hotel. Begging me to take you back to the hotel.
We had watched a Sesame Street episode about Big Bird being hospitalized and I kept pointing out similarities. I was grateful that you had that as a point of reference; it helped you to understand what was happening. Only, you didn’t really understand. I wouldn’t let myself really understand.
We were led to a solitary room; you refused to put on the hospital gown– they agreed they could dress you after you were asleep. They covered your hands in a numbing cream and covered it with tape. The very sweet nurse drew a happy face on the tape, but you were not fooled.
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We went to the playroom, seeing that I was completely overwhelmed, a “play specialist” brought us into their sensory room, a quiet closet filled with bubbles and colored lights. She could tell it was my first time.
“Has anyone talked to you about the anesthesia?”
“It will likely be a mask. You will be asked to hold her while they put it on. If you can convince the anesthesiologist to hold it up to the face to get her tired before strapping it on, that would be best. Kids hate how tight the mask feels and fight more”
“Right before she goes under, her whole body may feel like it convulsing. This is normal. It is not a seizure.”
“They will bring you up to your room after she is asleep and someone will get you to bring you down again. If you are lucky, you will be there before she wakes.”
“Ask questions of the doctors if you need to.”
I was in shock and had no words. I had no questions. I am so thankful to this woman. She is the only person who really took time to explain things. Luckily, she was the only person who had time— like I said, my daughter ended up being the healthiest kid in the hospital.
When we went down to the operating room, the anesthesiologist tried to get you to breath to fill up a green balloon that was attached to the mask giving you the gas. I was supposed to encourage you to blow the balloon up. You fought. I started singing “You are My Sunshine” and you grabbed at me and looked into my eyes as you feel asleep. I felt your whole body go limp and placed you on the table. You looked so tiny on that table!
I was guided upstairs where I called Nana (my Mom) in Wisconsin. Tears streaming down my face, I wanted to know if she or Dad had done the same for me when I had tubes in my ears. 18 minutes later, I was brought down to the OR to pick you up.
I was not there when you woke, I was stuck no the other side of a door that wouldn’t open. You screamed for me and I called back. When we got in, someone was holding you, having rapped you in a blanket. We lay together on the gurney and you begged to go home, to go back to the hotel.
We spent the night in the hospital; they had to make sure you had no reaction. You ate like a champion: smoked salmon, shrimp salad, baked salmon, and your specially requested “pink ice cream”. More than anything, you wanted to take the port out of your hand. You begged everyone who came in. You tried to pull it out yourself. Luckily, someone finally agreed.
We slept together in a tiny bed. Well, you slept.
It wasn’t until nearly noon that we were allowed to go home. Exhausted, you insisted that I push you in your stroller around London. We walked for 6 hours. Two days later, results came in. The “bad freckle” was benign. We flew home, relieved and exhausted.
You are my sunshine. You make me happy everyday. I can’t even begin to think about what it would be if the results had been different. Everyday since I have sent out happy thoughts and the closest I come to prayer for every parent who has ever landed on the other side of that diagnosis. Little Elephant, I love you.