Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Surgery for the boy

The story so far, in case you've missed it.

August 22, 2007: Something about his eyes
August 23, 2007: Whispers and gut feelings
August 23, 2007: Homecoming
August 24, 2007: Boston
August 24, 2007: The examination

September 11, 2007. It is Tuesday, and the boy born with cloudy eyes that turned deep, dark blue is having his first surgery today. He has pediatric glaucoma, a condition that is the leading cause of blindness in children, and he is scheduled to have a tiny tube shunt surgically implanted in his right eye to regulate the ocular pressure. He is 21 days old.

Eye surgery in Boston goes like this for our family: Monday morning, my wife packs up the car with the boy and his big sister, and her parents ride along as well. They have taken the week off of work to help out. I stay in Albany to work, and I will join the crew Monday evening.

They drive to Boston and have a visit with Dr. Walton to have the boy's eyes checked one last time and to go through some pre-operative assessments. Again, a visit with Dr. Walton is pretty special: no nurse, no mid-level practitioner. You walk in the office and Dr. Walton greets you. You wait in the small waiting room with the New England-themed books and the crayons on the child-sized table, and then he calls you and your child into the exam room.

After the visit with Dr. Walton, my wife and her folks check into the hotel near the hospital. We get two rooms - junior suite on the 12th floor so we have some space and the room across the hall. Medical discount. The kids settle in and have some dinner. I leave work in Albany at 7 pm, pick up some road food, and drive to Boston, hoping to arrive by 10 pm.

We awake early in the morning on Tuesday, September 11th and get the boy ready to head to the hospital. My wife's mom is called over from her hotel room so she can keep an eye on our 2 year-old. We leave the hotel at 5:45 am and walk the empty streets of Boston to the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. The walk is slow but refreshing; the air is cool and the sky grey. Yawkey Pavilion. Mass Gen. Parking garage. Bike rack. Hospital on the right.

When we arrive at the Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary, we take the elevator to the 8th floor - pediatric surgery. The safety doors are locked, and we ring the bell and are let in. We check the boy in at the desk and are shown to a room. We are told to change the boy into the world's tiniest hospital gown and wait until medical transport comes to walk one of us to surgery. (It was always my wife walking and carrying the boy to surgery, by choice.) The nurses show us to the family area where we can store something in the fridge if needed. We are offered juice. No nursing for the boy.

That surgery day has been repeated 8 times in the boy's life, so far.

Finally, the medical transport guy arrives to take my wife, holding the baby, to the elevator and to the surgical area. The transport guy is super cool. Funny enough to put you a bit at ease, but wise enough to know the serious nature of pediatric surgery.

Since my wife has always taken down the boy to the surgical area, I have no idea how it goes there. It's tough for both of us. Tears, prayers, petting the boy's tiny head and rubbing his feet and legs. She carries him off, and I wait, looking out the window over the Charles River.

My wife has told me about bringing the boy to surgery. Dr. Walton is there, and he takes the boy. No need for mom to be there to watch her son being put under general anesthesia. No need for that added stress. My wife returns to the room to wait to be called down again for the post-operative retrieval. 

During surgery, my wife and I sit and wait. We look out the window and talk about those things that husbands and wives talk about in hushed tones in a sterile hospital room. We walk down to the cafeteria and have some tea and coffee and a bit to eat. The nurse on the pediatric surgery floor gives us a pager. She'll ring if the operating room calls, and we can return to get our son. We return to the room.

We wait.

We meet other parents who have children that require eye or ear surgery. We once met a couple whose daughter was born with one eye. No reason why. Mother Nature or God or bad luck simply tapped this one on the shoulder and gave her only one eye. How do you deal with that?

The wait is deadly. Is everything ok? Anesthesia for a 3 week-old child can be tough. What's taking so long? We sit. We talk. We read the paper. We look at the river and the cars on Storrow Drive. Cambridge is nice. We call my in-laws. The daughter is doing well. She ate breakfast and went for a walk.

Finally, the nurse calls the room and tells us surgery is done. My wife reports to the nurse's station. She is escorted back to surgery, and the boy is in recovery. Surgery went well - no problems. Keep him mostly upright for 24 hours, and see you tomorrow in the office. Nurse a bit, and hold him a bit. Back up to the room you go.

When my wife returns, she is holding the boy. He's got a cloth-covered metal eye patch taped over his right eye. A small dot of a bandage on his foot indicates that the IV entered there. He's groggy, probably. It hard to tell what's what when the boy is only 21 days old. The nurse wants him to chill a bit before he goes back to the hotel.

He does as he should. Diaper change. We take off the tiniest hospital gown in the world and leave it on the bed. We call the nurse, and she discharges the boy from the hospital. Tube shunt and eye patch and tiny foot bandage and all. We thank the nurses, and exit the locked doors to the bustling streets of Boston below. Yawkey Pavilion, the bike rack, and the garage. Back to the hotel for some rest and some food. My wife and her parents, my daughter, and the baby boy with the metal eye patch taped to the front of his face eat in the hotel restaurant.

The boy sleeps propped up on a pillow in the bed that night. Tomorrow morning we report back to Dr. Walton's office for a post-op check. If all is ok, we'll follow up on Thursday. I'll head home on Wednesday evening to work on Thursday and Friday. Perhaps my family will be back in Albany on Thursday evening, maybe Friday morning. If all is ok.

All will be ok, right?


  1. Brett,
    I stumbled upon your blog when looking up your address to send a thank you note for the incredible care you provided our son. I am blown away by your story and I am truly hoping your little guy is doing great. How amazing that you can make us feel like my son's sports injury is the biggest thing in the world when you have faced this. While my heart breaks reading this, I know your boy is lucky to have you for a dad. -Adrienne Emery

    1. Adrienne - Thanks for your kind words. My son is doing fine, thanks! Hope all's well with you. - Brett.