Surviving My Son’s Surgery



Every day on Facebook I look at my “memories.” Basically it’s just a snapshot of whatever I posted about on the same day in the past. Some of these memories are funny, some of them are of when the kids were acting like little gremlins and others have me thinking nostalgically of family vacations and fun day trips. This past week my Facebook memories had me remembering a time in our lives that I would just as soon forget – the day my son had to have surgery at 7 months old. 

Being Born With A Birth “Defect”

First of all, I hate the term “birth defect.” For me it implies that the child is “less than perfect” or somehow the mother did something wrong for her child to be born a certain way. My son was born with a birth defect called hypospadias. We realized something was a miss in his first 12 hours of life when my OB came into my room to tell me he couldn’t be circumcised. (Side note – was I the only shocked to find out the OB does a circumcision and not the pediatrician?).

A few hours later, after his first visit with the pediatrician, we were given the hypospadias diagnosis. We were unsure of how severe it was and whether it would effect my sons ability to urinate. They had us pushing bottles on him until he finally was able to empty his bladder. After that, the initial worry of our doctors had subsided, and we were discharged with instructions to follow up with a urologist.

Making a Hard Decision

We sought two different opinions for our son. Both doctors said the same thing, “His condition isn’t critical, so the decision to operate is yours.” I would never wish my son to have a critical condition, however, I did wish that the surgery was an absolute necessity. I didn’t want to make the choice. I wanted the doctors to tell me what to do. There I was with a three week old, a five year old at home, and my post-partum hormones running rampant. I was prepared for the sleepless nights, the endless crying and dirty diapers. I was not prepared for making the decision of surgery for my three week old son.

I had an instant connection with the second surgeon we met with. When it comes to medical procedures and conditions I need facts not emotions. I had already researched the condition prior to our visit and had many in depth and multi-step questions prepared. Our surgeon drew out diagrams on the exam table paper (which given the area of the body he was operating on gave some humor to the situation), provided in depth detail and presented facts for and against surgery. These are the things that bring me comfort. After many long discussions with my husband, we decided to go forward with the surgery. Due to the risk of anesthesia on infants our surgeon (and any surgeon) would not perform “elective” surgery on our son until six months of age. 

The Waiting Game

Once we decided on surgery it seemed very far away. When you’re in the midst of waking up every three hours you can’t imagine the next day, let alone six months in advance. Once we started getting in to a routine, the idea of surgery loomed over my head. Finally the day before the surgery came, as did a snow storm. It was one of those storms were meteorologists were predicting Armageddon. Where the governor was shutting down roads. Two hours before we were going to leave we got a call from our surgeon’s coordinator who told us the surgery was cancelled. All that stress I was holding in came crashing down. Weeks spent trying to keep him healthy in the middle of winter, the worrying of how he would do during the surgery, all the horrible complications that ran through my head would not subside the next day. The idea that all these worries would finally be over vanished. 

Our surgeon originally told us he couldn’t reschedule for months and my husband wasn’t having it. He used his charm (and some begging) and got us scheduled for two weeks later. As luck would have it, another big snow storm came that day. Thankfully this time our surgeon didn’t cancel and the night before our son’s surgery we drove up to Hartford to spend the night in a nearby hotel to offset any road closures the storm would bring.

The Day Of Surgery

We spent the early morning in pre-op being asked over and over again if our son had been sick in the last two weeks. We have a history of adverse reactions to anesthesia so the doctors were taking extreme precautions. We had our son’s anesthesiologist visit our pre-op bed many times to go over specifics. It was decided by him that although normal procedure is to sedate the infant in the operating room and then administer an IV, he wanted an IV inserted before the surgery began. This was done so if there was a dangerous allergic reaction to the anesthesia they had an immediate point of access to administer medicine. If you have ever had an IV you know how painful those suckers are.

The anesthesiologist also gave us the option of giving our son an oral sedative to relax him and make the IV insertion process easier on him (and us). My husband and I had to watch helplessly as they gave my son the sedative so they would be able to secure an IV. Watching your little baby’s eyes suddenly become glassy and wandering was heartbreaking and terrifying. The doctors placed the IV and handed my baby off to a nurse who carried him away to the operating room. I still vividly remember my little boy looking over the nurses shoulder at me sucking on his little wrists. 

Then began the longest wait of our lives. Our surgeon gave us quite a scare. He came out of the OR not even ten minutes after surgery began. I don’t know if it was nerves or just not expecting to see our surgeon that fast, but we completely didn’t hear him say, “Everything is OK.” All we heard him say was, “Follow me,” as he lead us into a private room. He actually came out to tell us some amazing news. My son’s case was even milder than originally thought and the surgery wasn’t as complicated or invasive. He wouldn’t need a catheter post-op and we could take him home that day. We were called into recovery where we waited by his little crib for him to wake up. Once he was stabilized we were able to take him home. Finally the ordeal was over. 

Tips on Dealing with Surgery

Of course every surgery is different and what worked for me might not work for everyone, but this is what helped me:

  • Find a doctor who makes you comfortable. I didn’t need my son’s surgeon to hold MY hand. I needed to know that when he held the scalpel to my son that HIS hand was steady. 
  • Research and ask questions. The more you know before your consultation the better. 
  • Pack a bag of beloved items for your baby for before and after surgery. My son still sleeps with that same blanket we brought with us.
  • Do not leave the family waiting area when your child is in surgery. You might be the type to pace or walk out the stress, but don’t do it. If for some reason your surgeon needs to talk to you (like mine did) and you aren’t there, they have to send to security to find you. Unfortunately due to HIPPA security can’t tell you why. So you will spend the entire time walking back to the waiting room expecting the worse. The day is stressful enough – don’t add to it.
  • In recovery ask the nurse to remove the bandage and show you the wound. I made the nurse do this while my son was still sleeping off the anesthesia. I needed to see with my own eyes what a normal wound would look like. 
  • Have help at home. My mom came up and stayed with us. Not only was it comforting to have an extra set of hands if neededm but she kept my older child entertained so we could devote all our attention to our son. 
  • Babies are resilient. What might keep us in bed for a week won’t for them. My son was better 36 hours later. 
  • Give them all your love and use it as a reminder of how fragile life can be. 


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