It was the most horrible moment of the long, drawn-out day.
“Quick, this little boy needs to be with his mother!”
The orderly hurried past us, carrying the coughing, hysterical little boy in his arms. It was Mitchell. An hour before Mitchell had been happily fishing for magnetic lipped fish, with a plastic rod, with his new friends on the ward, Daisy and Anna. Now he was screaming, bewildered, and alone. I noticed there were specks of blood on the cloth he pressed to his mouth as he was rushed past.
We looked at each other, the three of us, Alan my husband, Danica my stepdaughter, and I. Pale and scared, on the trolley between us, clutching her beloved, scruffy bear, a favourite since babyhood, to her hospital-gowned chest, was five-year-old Daisy. She was soon to be undergoing the same operation; tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy, plus one more Mitchell hadn’t had, grommets.
Daisy’s big, round eyes seemed to be taking everything in; the busy ward, the screaming boy. Perhaps she was too scared to speak, but then she didn't speak much anyway. I smiled at her, trying to be reassuring and cheery.
I was gowned and capped, ready to accompany Daisy to theatre, to hold her hand, and be with her while she was anaesthetised. I hadn't expected to be nervous. But unexpectedly, I had been worrying and fussing, unable to settle to anything, from first light.
While I pulled myself together, Bear piped up: “Daisy,” he squeaked, in the peculiar, strangled tones I gave him, “I feel a bit scared.”
“You feel a bit scared do you Bear?” I asked promptly. “Well, that’s understandable; it’s all very new and different. What about you, Daisy, do you feel a bit scared?”
“Yes,” Daisy answered, in a quiet, small voice.
“Oh darling,” I quavered. “Yes, it is a bit scary isn’t it? And you are being so very brave, you should be so proud of yourself.”
After a moment, Daisy asked, “Are you proud of me, Mummy?'”
“Oh yes darling , I'm very proud of you. Daddy is too, aren't you Alan?”
“Oh yes , I am.”
“We're all proud of you, you're being so brave,” said Danica.
After two years of referrals, hearing tests, and specialists, we’d really only had three weeks to prepare for this day.
“Yes, I think we had better have them all. Tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy, and grommets, in both ears,” announced the specialist, as though he was placing an order in a Chinese Restaurant.
For most of Daisy’s five years, breathing at night had been a noisy struggle. Children at sleepovers complained; Daisy kept them awake. As winter’s cold settled upon us each year, her inner ears filled again with thick, impervious glue. Her world became muffled, and she studied our lips seriously, trying to understand. We were sent whizzing off to have this test and that. Results were confirmed over and over. But still, we had to wait and see. See what the summer brings, if she gets bad over winter, bring her back.
The last few months had been the worst; night after night she’d drifted between a light, noisy sleep, and a choking, strangling nothingness. Sleep apnoea. We took her back, and she sat pale and listless in the big leather chair in the specialist’s room. He made the decision for us.
“Nearly time to go in,” the theatre nurse said.
I clutched my handbag tightly. It didn't occur to me to give it to Alan or Danica. I wondered if the nurse would require the bag to be covered with one of the blue shower caps, like the one I had on my head. I had a vision of a small blue puffy ball, with red handles.
“Yes, that’s fine. Bring it along!” said the cheerful theatre nurse. Theatre wasn't as sterile as I thought then. Ladies handbags welcome!
The theatre nurse turned to Daisy. “Hello there Daisy. My name’s Julie. And who's this little fellow?”
“This is Bear,” I said, after a pause, during which Daisy stared at her wordlessly.
“I'm having my tonsils out,” squeaked Bear.
“Let me look … Oh yes, they do look sore,” said Julie, concerned. “Has Bear been having a lot of sore throats Daisy?”
Daisy nodded, her eyes brightened a little.
“We’ll fix that up for him. Right, are you ready to go Daisy? Say goodbyeto Daddy and your sister. Off we go!”
Obviously, I wasn’t myself. During the act of donning a surgical gown and blue, puffy cap I had become quite convinced I would be in theatre for the whole of the operation. I felt part of the team. I imagined myself holding Daisy’s limp, pale hand, and maybe occasionally passing the surgeon some terrifying instrument, the sort with a sharp, scraping hook on one end. Yurg! I would look the other way during that bit.
The theatre looked like you’d expect; lots of expensive machines, with dials and lights. Very reassuring. The anaesthetist and the specialist looked spectacularly competent, in their gowns and masks. Daisy stared around the room, eyes consistently wide now.
Everyone chatted in a friendly way with each other, and with Daisy and Bear, while Daisy did “the only job she has to do”, that of holding her arm perfectly still.
While the anaesthetist deftly inserted the cannula in the back of her hand Daisy craned her head around for a look, despite the best distraction methods being employed at her head. The anaesthetist gave her the cannula packet to look at instead, and kept the long needle cleverly out of sight.
“I'm going to have one of those in my paw, too,” Bear informed Daisy proudly, in his squeaky voice, indicating the cannula being taped to her wrist. The theatre staff looked at me, startled at Bear’s voice.
“I'm sorry,” I said. “That happens to be the way Bear talks, so we all have to put up with the consequences.”
That didn't really make sense, but they all laughed anyway.
Daisy’s eyes were fluttering closed as the anaesthetic began to take effect.
“You're going to have the Special Sleep now, Daisy,” I whispered to her.
Bear gave a few loud snores. I just had time to kiss her cool cheek, and whisper, “I love you” in her ear, before she was unconscious.
“Thank you, you were wonderful,” they all said, as I retrieved my carefully placed, sterile enough, handbag from its spot near the doors of the theatre. I smiled at them as I pushed through the swinging, plastic doors.
Alan and Danica were waiting for me in the nurses’ office. They wanted to hear all that had happened and I told them what I could.
“Wonderful. They said I was wonderful,” I told them proudly.
We arrived back on the ward at the same time Anna, who had gone in after Mitchell, and before Daisy, was wheeled back in. Like Mitchell, she was upset, screaming and crying. She leapt off the trolley into her father’s arms, and the family hurried past us; no friendly glances our way. They were beside themselves.
“Oh heck!” My little cloud of wonderful-ness evaporated before this blazing reminder of reality. I wanted to pace up and down the room. I was a female plover with eggs in danger, a mother bear with a hunter between me, and my cub. How could I survive the required time before Daisy was back? Every second was dragging itself through cold molasses, before it reluctantly passed: T-o-c-k!
Our nurse came in to prepare us.
“Daisy will most probably be in a similar state to Mitchell and Anna. They are given morphine, and a pessary of paracetamol in recovery. The morphine disorients them,” she warned.
I began to pace again. Unbidden, the thoughts were flying through my mind, oh God, please don't let her die under the anaesthetic. Please don't let her have a terrible, haemorrhaging complication, or be hideously allergic to morphine. I pushed them away.
I was hot and bothered. I took off my jacket. I straightened everything in the room. I cleared a space on the bed; space to deal with hysteria, of child, of mother.
“She’s on her way down,” the nurse came in to tell us at last. I took a few hot, deep breaths. Which way would the trolley come? I looked wildly, up and down the corridor. And then, quite suddenly, the trolley swung through the doors opposite, pushed by the same orderly we’d seen before.
Sleeping peacefully, cheeks flushed rosy pink, and bundled up in soft blue rugs, was my little Daisy. Not screaming, not hysterical after all. Sleeping, with her scruffy little Bear snuggled against her, a round bandaid over his mouth.
With incredible relief, I gathered her into my arms. She was soft and floppy. One foot caught momentarily in the side rails, as I lifted her out of the blue rugs. She was heavier than I imagined against my chest. I held her to me thankfully, whispering reassuring words in her ear, and peppering little kisses on her flushed cheek. Her eyes fluttered open for a moment, as I carried her into the room. She was glazed, and dazzled by morphine, her eyes glassy.
“Look, Daisy,” I said gently, “Here's Bear’s father!”
She smiled. An enormous brown teddy bear was waiting for her, propped up against her pillow, prepared as a distraction for an hysterical awakening. He was taking up rather a large amount of room, and had left no room at all for a sleepy little girl not needing distraction after all, but only to rest between cool, cotton sheets.
Daisy had found bear’s father at the chemist, a few weeks before. She ran straight to him, scorning others in pretty, pastel hues of similar gigantean proportions, and buried her face in his soft, brown body. She was an expert in Persuasive Techniques for Retail Situations, particularly those most effective with her mother. The technique of choice usually involved tears and whining. She was quite inventive this time. Here was Bear's Father , she announced.
“And Bear misses his father so much, Mummy. Now we’ve found him,we have to buy him. How much money is it? How much money do you have, Mummy?”
“Not enough to buy that bear, Daisy,” I said firmly. “Come on, ice-cream time, I think!” I mused loudly, over the sounds of tears and whining.
We bought bear’s father another day. It was something we could do. Nearly everything is up to the surgeon, the anaesthetist, and the nurses. The part we play is to sit around supporting, encouraging. And waiting. We may aspire to do it all wonderfully, but in the end we must simply wait, and above all, trust that all will be well. Maybe buying the biggest bear in the shop would help that.
We hid him in Danica’s wardrobe. Alan stuffed him into a black plastic bag, smuggled him into the hospital, and hid him at the nurses’ station, until the moment was right.
While Daisy slept off the effects of the anaesthetic and morphine, her chubby arms wrapped around the furry body of bear’s father, her breathing blissfully silent and easy, I sent text messages to everyone:
She's back. All OK. Is sleeping now.
Other children came back screaming,
not Daisy! May be woozy when M … '
M … ene? I searched my mind desperately.
“Alan, what’s the drug she’s had called? Is it … metaphene ?”
“Oh, of course!” I laughed, “I knew it started with M and ended with ine”
… when Morphine wears
off. xx K
Maybe I’m not so good with words. But at least I respond appropriately to Persuasive Techniques for Retail Situations.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem