It is hard to say how much sleep I got the night before Jasper’s eye surgery. Jasper fell asleep early - earlier than he had in weeks, allowing me time to prepare physically - pack his baby blanket, his favorite g-raff (giraffe), his radio. And time to prepare emotionally. Surgery had been on various parts of my mind since January, and on the calendar since March. Now I felt oddly calm, ready. I had done what I could to prepare. The week before, Jasper and I went on a surgery pre-tour at Swedish First Hill. I knew the layout, the sequence of events. On the morning of surgery, I would not waste energy being discombobulated.
My best calculation is four to five hours’ sleep. In spite of preparation, I lost at least a few hours to worrying. The sound of the alarm came too soon. I let Jasper sleep as long as possible. It wouldn’t take much to get him ready - no milk, no food, the hospital would provide garments. When I woke Jasper, he woke without fuss. I changed his diaper, put a jacket on over his sleeper, and we left.
Surgery is scheduled by age. Jasper was second, 8:30 a.m. Check in no later than 6:30. The sequence of events went as expected. Upstairs, waiting room one (toy room). Review medical history with nurse (“No, this is not our first hospital experience...”). Then downstairs, to surgery, and waiting room two, where we would wait before and during Jasper’s surgery. Throughout surgery, there would need to be someone in the room who could sign a consent form.
By now, Jasper must know we do not wake up that early for anything good. By the time we got to waiting room one - and attempted to do vitals - he knew something was up. I put him in his surgery garments. A dull yellow top with equally dull, but not quite matching, yellow pants. Both were at least two sizes too big for him. From this point, in his clownish outfit, until just before surgery, there was almost no consoling or distracting him.
Waiting for 8:30 was almost as excruciating as waiting during surgery itself. Waiting room two also had toys, but Jasper wanted nothing to do with them. For a short time, I distracted him by blowing bubbles. Aside from that, he only wanted to cling to me. He wailed when I ducked into the restroom for a few minutes. I kept calm, knowing I would feel better as soon as we saw our ophthalmologist, Dr. Hope.
The first strabismus surgery of the day was a seven month old baby girl with crossed eyes. Her surgery ran long, meaning ours would be a little late. Shortly after 8:30, our doctor came in with a report for her family: “She did great...” he began. As soon as I heard those words, I started visualizing him delivering the same report to us: “Jasper did great...” In my mind, I repeated this over and over - the same way, when traveling, I visualize myself safely arriving back home.
Jasper was next. The doctor again explained the surgery, what to expect. Blood red eyes, bloody tears. I brought him photos of Jasper, so that he could double check the angle of correction, forty degrees. The anesthesiologist came over then. He described his role, the process. He told us Jasper was at greater risk riding around in the back of the car than he would be on the table. I believe you, I said. My job was to stay with Jasper, hold his hands, talk to him, sing to him, while the anesthesiologist held the plastic mask firmly over Jasper’s face. As soon as he falls asleep, I will kick you out, he told me.
Our Child Life Specialist returned for Jasper shortly afterward. Jasper had fallen asleep while the doctors were talking to us, and I’d hoped he’d stay asleep. He did not. I got up, Jasper in my arms, and we followed her down the hallway through heavy double doors. I walked into the room and lay Jasper on the table as I was told. Hold his arms down, the anesthesiologist reminded me. I held Jasper’s arms and cried, singing “Willie Was A Whale,” without even thinking.
Willy was a whale and he walked on the water
And he tried to be wough and he tried to be tough
But Willy wasn’t weally wough he wasn’t wough at all
He was a willy white whale and he walked on the water, oh yeah
Jasper’s arms eased up, then relaxed and were still, and I was told to leave. You did great, the anasthesiologist told me. I left the room crying, guided by our gal. I went upstairs to the main lobby, found my friend who was there for support. I hugged her and sobbed.
I brought a book to read during surgery, Little Bear Sees, How Children With Cortical Vision Impairment Can Learn to See. CVI is our greater concern, and it made sense to me to focus on this - the future - during surgery. I hadn’t finished the introduction before we heard muttering at the front desk outside waiting room two, about Jasper. A few minutes later, our doctor came in: “Jasper did great...”
Only one person is allowed in recovery one, still downstairs. The nurse said Jasper was starting to wake up. He’s sooo cute, she added. Jasper sat up and was flailing his arms. I forgot to mention, Jasper gets restless when he’s close to waking up, I told the nurse. Jasper lay on the stretcher, eyes closed. In the outer corners of each eye were pink-red tears. I knew his eyes would be totally bloodshot - bloody - after surgery. The nurse picked him up, carefully gathering his IV and oxygen cords, and put him in my arms, the same way I had held him in the NICU as a newborn. Though not nearly enough. I offered Jasper a bottle of sugar water, which he sucked down, then cried for more, eyes closed, and sucked down a second bottle. Contentment followed. Wrapped in his baby blanket, he fell asleep in my arms.