My son had dental surgery earlier this week. Because he has a seizure disorder, everyone involved agreed that the best way to proceed would be to have the two teeth that needed to be removed taken out under general anesthetic at the local hospital.
The day before his surgery, he and I took a tour of the out-patient surgical department so he would know exactly what to expect before, during, and after his surgery.
We talked about what he'd experience once he was admitted to the hospital, who would be taking care of him, what types of anesthetic he would be receiving (a combination of skin-numbing cream, a needle, and nitrous oxide via a mask), and we walked the route he would be following on surgery day.
Everyone did what they could to help him to prepare, in other words.
But when it came time for us to part ways at the double-doors that led to the operating wing, he became upset. I hugged him and tried to reassure him.
At that point, a nurse interrupted me and told me I was welcome to go into the operating room, too. Someone handed me a giant blue bag. I started to put my briefcase and my purse inside it.
Apparently the bag was a not a bag. It was a pair of one-size-fits-some overalls. I was supposed to put it on over my denim skirt (no easy task, that) and don the matching hair net.
My son found this hilarious.
I was the last one to make it into the operating room, as a result of my wardrobe challenges. Things were moving quickly by this point. I stood beside my son's left shoulder, echoing the reassuring words of the nurses and doctors. "You're strapped on the table because they don't want you to fall off." "The doctor needs you to breathe deeply so you can get some of the anesthetic into your lungs." "I know it's scary." "I'm right here." "I'll be waiting for you when you wake up." "It's okay." "I love you."
"He's asleep," the nurse said. My eyes were watery and my voice was shaky when I left the room and surrendered my blue suit. But I was grateful.
I can't imagine how much more afraid he would have been if I hadn't been able to talk to him, hold his hand, and pat his chest while he was trying to make sense of the scary sensations of going under general anesthetic for the very first time.
Actually, I can. I remember what it was like, a generation ago, when kids had to make that journey through those doors in the company of strangers, without the reassuring presence of mom or dad. We are lucky that providing health care to a child today emphasizes the care as much as the health. That's how it should be.