by Noni Bird
Parents find creative way to spend time in the waiting room during son's emergency surgery
I've heard it said many times that a parent's worst fear is getting a call in the middle of the night. But few parents are kept awake at night worrying about whether they will get one that night, and whether they have an emergency coping mechanism in place. I daresay any such plans or procedures would vanish into thin air as soon as they hear the police or hospital on the other line!
So it was that night when I was awakened by the hospital. I was confused at first, being half asleep, because my son was scheduled for a tonsillectomy the following week and I thought, Why is the hospital calling to confirm an appointment for my son at this hour of the night? But my head cleared very quickly when I was asked to come down to the hospital - with my husband. Or maybe they said, "Do you have someone to be with you?" It's bad news when they ask that. It means they don't expect you to be in any condition to drive home yourself.
We had to be prepared for the worst. But how? We must have agreed to just keep our thoughts to ourselves on the way down, because I don't remember a single word we spoke to each other. The only thing we knew was that our son was not the driver, because his car was still in the driveway. That was no assurance of anything.
So we drove in silence, too numb to speak. When we entered the emergency room to ask about our son, and the other boy, we were told the other boy "Didn't make it" but they were going to do "all they could" for our son! Those three words "Didn't make it" will haunt me forever! As bad an omen as it was to get the call, I wasn't prepared to hear those words about his friend. I went into shock. Would our son be next?
They let us see him before he went into surgery for his most serious internal injuries. He was awake, with tubes here and there, but concerned only for his friend, Jay. We wouldn't dare tell him Jay "didn't make it"; we would have to wait until he was out of danger, and able to take the news, because we knew there would be survivor guilt and PTSD to go along with it.
So there we were - two young parents of a 16-year-old- sitting awkwardly in the uncomfortable chairs similar to those in an airport: you can't put two together and lie down. We were exhausted."What if he doesn't make it?" my husband asked me, in a thin voice indicating that tears were sure to follow. And they did. "We have to be prepared for that." I said, and I took his hand. By this time I had recovered my strength and resolve. We all have more than we think we do at times like this, so when one is faltering, the other can step in, and maybe you have to take turns repeatedly.
One thing I have always done in my business life is try to identify all the possible scenarios given a set of facts, to determine which is best for a company, profit-wise. In my private life I do it as well, because when fear sets in, it helps to know what is the worst that can happen, because if it's not catastrophic or meriting such fear, or if there really is nothing to be done about it, I can put my mental energy into constructive thinking to move beyond it.
Now we knew what the worst case scenario was, and it was definitely not under our control. We were no longer numb. I wasn't shaking anymore. We had left the house without taking any reading material, of course, and we didn't have smartphones 20 years ago. I didn't see any magazines lying around, either. All we had by way of distraction was our wits! So while the surgery was going on for a few hours, we decided to engage in storytelling. We each chose two objects in the room to write about, using the other one as the main character.
I remember choosing a standing faux plant and a green winter scarf someone had left behind. He chose a box of Kleenex, and a magazine he found on the floor - an old issue of Health Magazine with a scantily clad model in underwear on the cover and the heading "Smart. Sexy. Strong."
You might be wondering how so many years later I would remember these details. I will tell you how. In his story, he had me stuffing my bra with Kleenex to get on the cover of that magazine, and I had him hiding from his mistress's husband behind that standing plant covering his private parts with that green scarf! We make fun of each other to this day with those scenarios.
When the surgeon came out, we were still smiling. Our son was going to be OK.