“His voice might change.” That’s what my wife Carrie told me: The surgery might make Emile’s voice change. I know his voice won’t stay this way forever, or even for long. Emile’s only three-and-a-half. But I love its exact current level of squeakiness. It’s a dumb concern, but this was was how I was dealing with the looming operation to cut out his adenoids and tonsils.
Its full dumbness became clear when I went to see E in the post-op recovery room on Wednesday morning, following the sound of his freaked-out wailing to a hospital bed where his tiny little body was coming out of the general anesthesia: agitated, disoriented, and in serious pain.
I barely noticed the blood from his mouth and nose staining my shirt. (We both wore Superman Ts to the hospital, though E now only had on his matching Superman undies beneath his yellow-striped hospital gown.) But I did notice how clutching my body as tight as he could manage didn’t slow down the wracking sobs, even with me singing his favourite Wizard of Oz songs, and I understood why my wife had agreed to let me go in this time, after she’d gone to comfort Emile following his first surgery last year.
And it would get a lot worse once we got home.
E’s first surgery involved the insertion of ear tubes, a means of reducing the painful pressure from fluid in his middle ear that wouldn’t drain, affecting his hearing and resulting in repeated infections. One of those caused a fever-induced febrile seizure in my arms. Carrie was away at the time, and his tiny 18-month-old body convulsed for what seemed like forever.
This new surgery is related to these earlier problems. It’s minor—or, rather, a routine one, since no such a thing as a “minor surgery” exists. It’s routine enough that Emile’s second cousin in Hawaii had it done just last week, and many Facebook friends told me they’d either had it done as kids or their own kids had gone through it. It also pales next to more serious surgeries, like the heart surgery performed on the baby of my wife’s high school friend.
But logic has little place when your little one is going under a knife. General anesthetic always carries the danger of not coming out of it, a risk that haunts no matter how infinitesimal it is these days. There’s also a full week of recovery—and this is where the hard part lies.
We actually discovered E’s adenoid issue by chance. Parents are paranoid by evolutionary design, and so we asked our doctor about a vertebra that appeared to be sticking out of his back more than the others. We were sent to Sick Kids for an x-ray and his back turned out to be totally fine. But the scan also found his adenoids were dangerously enlarged and might need to be removed.
Tonsils I knew about, but I’d never heard of their lymphatic cousins, adenoids. They are spongy tissue lumps comprising the baby/toddler immune system’s “first line of defence” against infections. They begin shrinking around age five and are basically undetectable by adulthood. But while there, they protect wee bairns by absorbing harmful bacteria and viruses—which, ironically, make them prone to getting infected themselves.
Located in the back of the nasal cavity, above the roof of the mouth, they’re un-examinable by regular means—which is why we only found them from the x-ray, despite Emile’s longstanding (and, in hindsight, directly related) health issues.
Adenoids can grow as big as a ping-pong ball and, when enlarged, can block the nose, causing drooling, snoring, and mouth-breathing as well as preventing ear drainage and causing chronic ear infections. These are all symptoms Emile has had to contend with almost his whole life. The adenoidectomy would also prevent potential problems, like “adenoid face,” a jaw deformation resulting from the nasal obstruction.
We tried using a nasal spray for a couple months, while we waited for our ENT appointment. But it made no difference and, eventually, our specialist recommended we remove the adenoid—and, while we were at it, the tonsils, too.
We prepped by buying lots of toys and treats like popsicles, freezies, and Jell-O. My day job has an amazing thing called family sick days, so I booked most of a week off to see him through recovery.
The surgery itself took about a half-hour, during which we stressed out in the children’s waiting room surrounded by cheerful decorations, happy toys, and another dad playing Super Mario on Wii. It was not a long time, but we don’t experience time in seconds so much as moments—and the length between the moment E was led away and the moment the doctor told us he was OK felt like an eternity.
We went home after four hours under observation in the hospital. E was sedated from the morphine and, whenever it wore off, he’d have a meltdown as the pain surged. Normally he feels no pain, not even flinching at doctor’s needles, but this was above and beyond. We had to force the medicine down and it was the only thing we’d gotten into him all day except for a few bites of Jell-O and small sips of water.
Overnight, it became a nightmare. I slept with him in the bed while my wife tried to get some rest on the couch, and E awoke almost every hour in pain. He refused to take his meds willingly so, at midnight and 4 a.m., I again had to hold him down while he screamed and writhed, just to get the morphine and Tylenol down his throat.
There was no way to get him hydrated in that state, which made his throat hurt more and, therefore, made him more adamant about not taking the medicine. It became such a downward spiral that, by morning, we nearly had to take him to Emerg to get an IV—until I was finally able to convince him that spending the day in hospital with a needle up his arm would be less preferable to sipping water on the couch in front of cartoons.
Eventually, I broke though, and when he faded out for a nap he slept for three hours. The rest of the day, night, and this morning have had ups and downs, and we’re not out of the woods yet. The fourth and fifth day are reportedly the worst as the scabs come off, and he still hasn’t had anything to eat but Jello-O, half a slice of lemon-meringue pie, and a bite of a Kinder egg. Oh, and his breath may soon start smelling like rotten meat while the flesh heals.
It’s been tough, a lot more so than we expected, and the fact that the surgery was elective makes it hard not to blame ourselves for putting Emile though it. But part of being a parent is looking long-term and realizing that, sometimes, you have to make decisions that are physically and emotionally painful, yet also the right ones.
We have few bad days left to come, but we also hope that the health issues that have forced us to spend an unbearable amount of time at the doctor’s and in hospital have finally been bought to an end.