A motion blurred photograph of a child patient on stretcher or gurney being pushed at speed through a hospital corridor by doctors & nurses to an emergency room

When They Wheel Your Child Back for Surgery


You smile and check the boxes on the paperwork. You sign and initial and hand over insurance information, paying attention to your parking space as you enter the hospital.

B7. We are at B7. Remember that. It’s important. I don’t want to get lost.

The nurses ask what kind of medications your child is taking, so you go through the list like marking off groceries, the inhaled, nebulized meds, the pancreatic enzymes, the vitamins and you spell them, one by one. You sound them out because the intake person is not familiar.

“It’s OK,” you say. “It took me years to spell them.”

There are invisible letters. It’s OK. It takes years. Invisible years. It’s OK. Years.

Any allergies? Yes, just one. Sulfa. Side affects? Yes, just a rash.

You plan with snacks and DVD’s, books and stuffed animals, the lovies that will comfort your lovie. You remember to pack the face mask and hand sanitizer, the wipes to clean the sides of the bed and wheel chair. You call your insurance provider to see what to expect in the mail next month. You are prepared in a million ways.

And then your child is on a bed that has wheels and side bars, a remote to move it up and down and scrunched up or spread out. It is magic to your child. She delights in the power of the thing. “Look what I can do?” Yes, look what you can do. You can do anything. Remember that. My dear. Anything.

The surgery nurse comes in and takes her pulse ox and listens to her heart, her breathing. She sounds good. Good. Good. Where did we park? B7. That’s right. B7. She’s allergic to sulfa, you repeat. OK. Good.

Your child is dressed in hospital pajamas that are cheery. They are a spinoff of something Disney but generic. Like “Little Mermaid,” but with a brunette instead of a redhead. B7. Don’t forget. Brunette Ariel and B7.

The anesthesiologist comes in. He asks the questions you know by heart. You run through the list of prior surgeries and procedures and sense for a moment a look of sadness in his eyes. He knows women like you. Mothers like you. They are all the same, listing like groceries, their child’s procedures. G-tube placement, endoscopy, bronchoscopy, blood transfusions. Milk, bacon, bread. Zenpep, Pulmozyme, Albuterol. Just a list. Just groceries. Sad groceries. Required to live.

She’s allergic to sulfa. She’s allergic to sulfa. B7. We are parked in B7. He is young, maybe too young you think. Did he really have time for med school and residency and his tie is Winnie the Pooh, good God, is he really qualified? Winnie the Pooh? B7.

The nurse comes. She calls you “Mommy.” She says, “OK mommy, we’re going to take her now.” And it hits. It hits. It hits. Tears well up but you can’t. Just think B7. Repeat B7. We have to find our car. Your child is wearing scrubs like a guest star on Grey’s Anatomy, and a little hair net like a cafeteria worker serving burritos to 7th graders or maybe a surgeon. But she’s 11. She’s only 11, you want to scream. Please, please doctor with the Winnie the Pooh tie, please nurse, please valet. Please let her be OK. Promise it.

You follow the gurney. You are that parent. You ask, “How far can I go?” They are used to moms like you, moms that don’t just wait in the room. They know you are the hallway mom who paces and insists on knowing exactly how long it takes. They are kind. They say, “Just to these doors mommy.” They call you mommy. They know. They are kind. They have done this before. They are mommies, too. You have done this before.

You look at your baby. She is the same face she was when she entered this world. She has the same eyes. She is the same. The exact same.

You tell her, “I love you. I love you. I love you.”

There is a risk. B7. B7. We are parked at B7. She smiles under mask. You hold back an avalanche. You hold it. B7 dammit. B7. She’s allergic to sulfa. The doors open. Please let Winnie the Pooh be qualified. Please God. Please.

She is through the doors, a woosh. No entry. You stand there unable to move. You cannot follow.

Your feet follow the arrows on the floor. Yellow arrows taking you to the waiting room where it is now your turn to wait. The arrows do not point anywhere else. So you follow. You do what you are told.

There are coffee smells and others waiting. “US Weekly” and “Newsweek” and “Time Magazines” are there to distract. It’s a trick, you think. But you do it anyway. You read an article about Madagascar.

How far is B7 from Madagascar? Would we get lost there? Could we find our way home? Your child loves lemurs. Lemurs are native to Madagascar. B7. Please God. Don’t let us forget where we are. Please God please. Let Winnie the Pooh know what he is doing. Let him know h0w we get from Madagascar to B7. It will all be OK.

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