At 6:30 this morning I pulled into the parking garage of one of the best hospitals in the Piedmont Triad. I walked past the helipad and into the eerily quiet surgical wing. I sat in the waiting room and tried to avoid eye contact with the other “waiters”; I was scared of what I would see in their eyes and broken faces. I waited for my best friend to come out and tell me they had started surgery on her 10-week old son, Grant. Grant was born with two club feet and has been wearing casts for the past few weeks of his short life. Today was the most invasive part of his long-term treatment plan for his feet, the snipping of his ankle tendons. There is probably a more medically accurate term for the procedure, but “snipping of the tendons” is about as medical as I get. Being the surrogate father of this sweet little boy, I was nervous and hopeful about his operation.
There is nothing like sitting in a pediatric surgery waiting room to give you a nice big helping of perspective on life.
Bridget, Grant’s mother, and I were nervous about his surgery but also realized how lucky she was. Looking around the waiting room at the distressed faces of the parents, grandparents, friends, aunts, uncles, and siblings of the children in surgery, my heart broke. Undoubtedly, some of these families were having the worst day of their lives. I said a quick prayer of thanks for my health, and the health of those close to me.
There was a young boy sitting next to me who was hooked up to some type of portable machine complete with tubes coming out of his shirt, but otherwise pretty healthy looking. He was waiting to be called into surgery, but by his attitude, could have just as easily been waiting in line for ice cream. It was amazing to watch this mother, father, and son interact. While HE was the one getting ready to go into another surgery (they had alluded to previous surgeries), HE was the one making his parents laugh and easing their tension. I could see the worry lines on his mother’s face. She was smiling, but looked as if her plastered on smile might shatter at any moment. “I’m freezing, why don’t you give me your socks when you go into surgery. You won’t need them in there!!!” she joked with her boy.
The boy said to his father “when gramma and grandpa come to visit, can we not go anywhere the whole week? Can we all just stay together at the house and hang out?” The dad said “sure buddy, but don’t you want to just go out and get one meal? Maybe a steak or something?” He rebutted quickly “dad, I really shouldn’t be going out in public. I can’t get sick, I can’t even catch one germ!” The dad forced a smile and said “okay, no problem. I’ll cook you a steak at home.”
I suddenly grew furious with myself. Furious that I had been complaining about my pollen allergies yesterday. I became furious at parents who yell at their kids for wanting to go down the slide “just one more time” or beg to go to Chuck-E-Cheese for dinner again. Here sat a 10-year old boy who was begging his father to stay inside, for fear of getting sick and receiving an express ticket to the hospital.
Grant came through the surgery beautifully and is on his way to a full recovery. In a few years, he will have perfectly straight feet and will not remember the hours that his mother spent with him in doctor’s offices and hospitals. He will only have stories and pictures as reminders of the club feet he was born with. I’m willing to bet that the families this morning in the waiting room would trade positions with Bridget in a heartbeat. In a few years, they may still be dealing with whatever is ailing their precious child. In a few years, they may not have their precious child.
I am constantly looking for sources of perspective and inspiration in life, but little did I know the impact that a pediatric surgery waiting room would have on me. While heartbreaking, it reminded me how blessed I am. It reminded me how blessed those close to me are, as none of them are dealing with serious medical conditions. Watching this family of three interact also reminded me that even in a difficult time, there are still reasons to smile. They found reasons to laugh and smile; their bravery was astonishing.
So the next time your kid wants to eat ice cream and pancakes for dinner, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to let him. All it takes is a little perspective to realize that your worries, problems, and frustrations are frivolous compared to what they could be.