Toddler under the knife

MY son had his tonsils out last year, following bout after bout after bout of swollen tonsils, vomiting, fevers, until finally we were put on the waiting list.

It was a tough decision to make. No one wants their barely three-year old to have to undergo surgery. But, then again, no one wants their child sick and distressed for five to seven days every four to six weeks.

The first trip down for his surgery – five hours in the car and staying at a dodgy motel – was for nothing. We were ready to be wheeled into the operating theatre when they asked about a little cough he had. Nope, sorry. Can’t operate.

So we took the kids to a nearby circus and then drove all the way home (shouldn’t have been completely pointless, after all).

The night before he was scheduled for his second attempt at a tonsilectomy, he was hit with a fever. He started vomiting and crying and I couldn’t settle him. We were in the emergency ward at midnight, getting him anti-nausea medicine.

We were due to start our five-hour drive in a matter of hours, back for his surgery. We had to weigh it up – do we presume they won’t operate again and save ourselves the trip, or do we dose him up, drive him down and hope for the best?

We chose the latter and to our relief, Son was over his 24-hour bug, they got us in scrubs and we walked into the room. The doctors had told me (both times) that the anaesthesia would make my son fidget or twitch. And I thought I understood.

We looked at all the  computers, counted all the funny lights, let him feel the “jelly pillow” – why don’t you try putting your cheek on it? – and then, we let him smell the strawberry mask. My beautiful boy was obliging, and as I felt him mellow, I layed him on the mattress …. he started fighting me, I told him it was okay, and kept him from wriggling too much. He fought some more and then he was asleep. I felt atrocious.

The doctor told me I could say goodbye now.

I know, right?!

I burst into tears and told him I loved him. Smiling pathetically, which is what I do when I cry in front of strangers, I wound my way back to Husband and Daughter. We had a very quiet lunch, spilling tears over my coffee milk, and by the time we went back to the ward he was in recovery.

I spent that night in hospital with him, listening to crying children and the long ding-dong of nurse buzzers. Cracking open a red eye every hour as a nurse did her observations… waiting for the sun to come up.

It was gruelling. It was September 2010, days after my son’s third birthday. And now it’s March and he’s been sick a total of ZERO times since then. So, would I do it again? Yes.

But, if you want advice… here’s mine. Explain everything your child needs to know, right up until the mask. Son watched a puppet on TV going into hospital and I talked about it as we watched, and I think it helped to have a frame of reference. Don’t lose the plot until after they’re asleep. And lots of hugs when they wake up, but you probably don’t need me to tell you that.

Also (and here’s what I was originally going to discuss, but had no real opinion on) studies have shown that children who have tonsilectomies and adnoidectomies have an increased risk of becoming overweight – researchers cite either: an associated symptom of tonsilitus which reduces a child’s capacity to intake calories which, once diseased tonsils are removed, is corrected and a dramatic surge in calorie intake occurs; and parents of an ailing child (such as those with recurrent tonsilitus) over-feed their children.

My son has put on weight since his surgery, but he’s also had significant growth spurts. I think each parent can monitor their child’s development and seek out paediatric advice if there’s any concern.

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