The morning of Evie’s surgery was dark, cold, and rainy. She was required to fast four hours prior to check-in, so I broke a cardinal parenting rule and woke a sleeping baby at 3 am to nurse one last time. I fell back in bed at 3:30, and woke again at 4:45. Sean and I fumbled to get dressed and gathered some last-minute items, then were off to Oakland Kaiser hospital at 5:30 am. We were silent as we drove along in the dark, and my thoughts began to drift to irrational worst-case scenarios. I finally broke the silence with: “what if Evie dies today?” Sean quickly replied: “She’s not going to die today. Everything will be fine.”
There was less traffic than anticipated on the drive there, so we arrived at the hospital early. This was a good thing, since we weren’t sure where we were going. Just as we left cover of the parking garage, we realized we had conveniently left our umbrella in the car. A moment very similar to this, then ensued:
So we forged ahead, and I’m sure we were quite the sight as we jogged towards the hospital – toting three large bags and a baby in tow. After waiting at the longest cross-walk in all of history, we eventually made it into the hospital only slightly wet. We found the ambulatory surgery unit, signed in, and found a seat in the packed, dingy waiting room. We drank some coffee and attempted to relax (ha!), when a woman struck up conversation with us. (Not that this was a bad thing, I’m just not typically a lively conversationalist at 7 in the morning). She asked what everyone *always* asks us – “is she your first?” I guess people assume she must be, since I am informed ad nauseam I don’t look a day past 16. She then recounted an entire Modern Family episode – I really can’t remember why – and we smiled and nodded, smiled and nodded.
After what felt like an eternity, we were summoned to the check-in office. We signed a bunch of paperwork acknowledging possibility of death, dismemberment, irreversible damage, lingering PTSD, etc. etc. etc., and then we were off to weigh Evie and change her into the 10-sizes-too-big hospital-issued gown. She weighed 12 lbs 5 oz, which placed her in the 20th percentile, down from the 90th percentile at birth (I unequivocally blame her birth weight on the daily half-baked chocolate chip cookies I consumed in abnormally large quantities while pregnant, haha).
Next, we transferred to a pre-op area, and answered a million questions. My personal favorites: “does she smoke?”, “does she drink alcohol?”, and “any custody issues?” After the long interview, we waited for her plastic surgeon and anesthesiologist to come brief us. Evie was surprisingly calm during the wait, considering she hadn’t nursed in five hours and I imagine was very hungry. Even though Evie couldn’t use words, she’s a smart girl and figured out another way to communicate exactly what she thought about the impending ordeal:
Eventually, Dr. Yokoo and the anesthesiologist came by to ask if we had any questions and to provide more information. The anesthesiologist assured us it was more likely for us to have been in a car accident on the drive to the hospital than for something to go wrong with anesthesia, so that made me feel better (except then I worried about crashing on the way home). They left to prepare for Evie’s surgery, and in the meantime, she passed out:
A short while later, a nurse came and escorted us to the double doors leading into the hallway of the operating rooms. We each gave Evie one last kiss and squeeze and said goodbye. Emotionally, we had been ok up until that point, but as we watched the doors close and little Evie disappear down the hallway, a switch flipped in mere seconds and the tears instantly welled up in our eyes. I can’t explain why, it was just really distressing to watch a stranger carry away our baby girl. Shoot, if it was that traumatic to release a child for a relatively non life-threatening surgery, I hope to never know what it feels like for one that is. Ugh, no parent should ever EVER have to go through that!!!
We sat down to pray together and regain our composure, then wandered aimlessly up and down the same hallway for five minutes, as we attempted to figure out how to get to the hospital’s lobby. We must have looked highly suspicious to anyone watching on a security cam – haha! We eventually made it, dropped off our bags, and I immediately left to find the hospital’s lactation room because it was time to pump.
I was informed the room was on the administrative 12th floor, but after walking the hallways multiple times, I could not find it anywhere. I stopped to ask a man who worked at the hospital where it was, and he said he didn’t think they had one. He flagged down another man, who flagged down another man, and all three stared at me blankly while I explained that I was searching for the lactation room. The three adamantly agreed one did not exist, and boisterously shared a good laugh about how absurd that would be. They eventually pulled themselves together long enough to suggest I try the labor and delivery floor. Good thing I’m not easily embarrassed by awkward situations, because I probably would have melted into the floor.
In the nick of time, a woman was walking by who must have heard our conversation and scolded them, snapping: “state law requires every workplace to provide a room for breastfeeding mothers to pump…it’s on the 11th floor.” She rolled her eyes, grabbed my arm, and took me down a flight of stairs and showed me the room. She asked if I worked at the hospital, and I said no, I was there because my 3-month-old daughter was having a cleft lip repair. I think she could sense I might burst into tears at any moment, so she pulled me in for a big bear hug and gave me her phone number in case I needed anything. I think she might have been an angel…a big, sassy angel 😉
After my pumping adventure, I returned to the lobby, and Sean and I waited together for the remaining 2 hours. While we waited, we talked on the phone with Caleb and Nana, which was really nice because it got our mind off the surgery for a little. Caleb was having a blast with Nana – splashing in puddles and getting really muddy…pretty typical 🙂 There was another family waiting next to us who we had seen in the surgery waiting room upstairs. From what we gathered, their young son (maybe 7 or 8 years?) was undergoing brain surgery…a 24-hour operation. I really felt for them.
I kept anxiously looking at the clock, and just before noon, a messenger came over to inform us Evie’s surgery was finished, and we could go up to see her. When we walked into the large recovery room with multiple beds, I could hear Evie crying. My heart skipped a few beats, and I quickened my pace. I had expected her to wake from the anesthesia groggy and lethargic (not upset), so I was concerned. When we arrived at her side, I barely heard Dr. Yokoo say the operation had gone well, before the small crowd of medical professionals gathered by her crib were all telling me she was hungry and wanted to eat. Everything was a blur after that as I jumped into action – I quickly sat down, whipped out the goods (so much for privacy!), and fought with all the tubes and cords attached to her as I tried to maneuver her into the correct position.
What resulted next was so sad and pathetic, it made me tear up again. Evie was obviously starving, but because her surgeon gave her mouth a nerve block, she couldn’t close her lips to latch on, and her tongue was completely numb as well. She kept trying and just couldn’t do it, making her increasingly frustrated, and crying harder and harder. I felt so powerless to help her 🙁
It was obvious that Evie was not capable of breastfeeding yet, so we retrieved the milk I pumped earlier and began syringe feeding her (i.e. basically squirting milk down her throat). Once we did that, she calmed down a bit, which was a huge relief. Since she didn’t eat well right off the bat, we were transferred to the pediatrics floor, in case we needed to stay overnight.
When we arrived at our shared room, there was already two women there with a toddler boy, who appeared to have been there awhile. As we situated ourselves, a doctor walked in to talk to them, and the first thing I heard out of his mouth was: “your son’s rare infection disease…” Wait, WHAT!?!?! I literally froze in place, and thought: “ummm, should we be sharing a room with this boy??” It would seem I do not have the best of luck with shared hospital rooms, haha!
As it turned out, the boy had a surgery and the wound got infected, but it wasn’t contagious. It was actually a really sad situation – he was obviously in a lot of pain from all his groans and cries, he also had down syndrome, and his mother was quite belligerent with the medical professionals who came in and out, and the other woman in the room who was the boy’s grandmother. We really didn’t have to think long about whether we wanted to stay the night or not! :/
Over the next few hours, we syringe-fed Evie nearly continuously, and she took 5 ounces which was commendable. Soon after we had arrived at the pediatrics room, I needed to pump again, so I hopped up on the middle bed right next to her crib, since there was limited seating in the room. Evie’s nurse had left the room, and when she returned I was seriously reprimanded for sitting on a “clean” bed, which she lamented would now need to be changed. Geesh, sorry…and thanks for the heads up!
After a few hours in the recovery room, I attempted to nurse Evie again, and this time she did much better. The nerve block had worn off just enough to regain function of her mouth/lips/tongue, but was still keeping her pain mostly at bay. It was slow going, but I was encouraged she was able to breastfeed at all. Since Evie did a decent job nursing, her nurse decided she could be discharged. By this point we were exhausted and ready to go home, so we were happy to receive this news.
We picked up her medicine in the pharmacy, and left the hospital. Predictably, we got lost and couldn’t figure out where we parked (I think we must be directionally challenged), so we walked in a circle around the hospital until we finally found it (this time, hauling 5 bags and a baby)! Sweating bullets, we loaded up the car, and as we were leaving the parking garage, we got stuck at the automated parking machine because it wouldn’t accept our ticket. We motioned for every car behind us to go around, backed up, and re-parked so Sean could go back in the building to get help from someone. I really think we should have our own reality TV show…it would be awesome. Just kidding, it would actually be super boring.
We eventually made it home after a delightful trip in rush-hour traffic and a record-breaking wait at Chipotle, and then the real fun began…