Helping Sam Hear: A Family’s Journey – Chapter Three: Surgery
In the 9 months leading up to surgery, we found comfort in the answers to virtually every question we posed. Now we were about to hand Sam over for his procedure, so any unexpected bit of information would give us pause — even what the surgeon had for breakfast.
“Coffee and a danish?” Teresa asked, obviously thinking a heartier breakfast was in order. The surgeon, recognizing our somewhat irrational state, quickly added that he drank some orange juice, too.
The Big Day
People who do this kind of thing for a living say cochlear implant surgery is fairly straightforward. While we have no reason to doubt them, it’s difficult to casually digest words like “mastoidectomy” in a description of what is in store for your child. From the moment we woke on the day of surgery, our excitement about Sam’s life after surgery was tempered by anxiety about the risks, no matter how small.
Sam’s day started at 4:00 a.m., when the window was closing on his last opportunity to drink clear liquids before surgery. He rubbed his eyes with the backs of his hands and gave his mom a big smile, but showed no interest in an early-morning gulp of Pedialyte. Teresa put him back in his crib until we were ready to leave for the hospital a little more than an hour later.
Sam was awake for the entire ride and, despite limited sleep, no food, and no liquids, was in a good mood. Once we arrived at 6:30 a.m., we bounced from admissions to a waiting area to a room just outside the operating room, answering questions and signing papers at each stop along the way.
Sam watched a “Barney” video as nurses hustled in and out to change him into a gown, put an ID tag on his ankle, and check his vital signs. He was unfazed, but Teresa and I grew more emotional as the level of activity let us know Sam would be going into surgery soon.
That’s when Sam’s surgeon stopped in. We took advantage of our last opportunity to ask him questions, covering topics ranging from what he ate for breakfast to precautions they would take to prevent complications during surgery. The surgeon answered each question with calming confidence. The surgery is the easy part, he told us, no doubt noticing our concern.
Teresa said, “Please take care of Sam like he’s one of your own.” The doctor promised he would, encouraged us not to worry, and left the room.
Before long the anesthesia team came in. They gave Sam a mild sedative to prevent separation anxiety and let us say our goodbyes. Sam traded smiles with the anesthesiologist and reached for her surgical mask as she carried him away. Teresa and I leaned out the door to watch every step until the two of them crossed through a set of swinging doors.
From there we went out to sit among other anxious parents in a waiting area for what we were told could be a 4-hour stay. A nurse gave us our first update after an hour, then came back an hour later with unexpected news: Things went so well that the doctor was already closing Sam’s incision. After meeting with the surgeons about 20 minutes later, we joined Sam in the post-anesthesia care unit.
A Quick Recovery
Sam was lying on a gurney with a nurse by his side, his little head wrapped in a turban-like bandage. His face was a little puffy, but overall he looked better than we thought he would. Sam remained unconscious for a good 4 hours before he began to rub his eyes and cry out occasionally as the doctors transitioned his pain medication coming through the IV — from morphine to Tylenol with codeine.
As time passed, the crowd of children recovering from surgery grew and cries sporadically rang out from different directions. Parents entered the room with an air of purpose that peaked upon identifying their children and then turned gentle as they approached the bedside of their little ones. You couldn’t help but count your blessings in that room.
Construction was going on at the hospital, limiting the number of available rooms. In the late afternoon we were moved to a second holding area, where we stayed until about 8:00 p.m. when Sam was admitted for the evening. Sam shared a room with another child who received an implant shortly after him, giving our families a common bond to discuss.
Sam took his first drink at midnight and drank even more at 4:00 a.m. By morning he was ready for breakfast and seemed to be acting like himself. It was a huge relief to see his smile again. A doctor on duty removed Sam’s bandage, and the surgery site looked great. A small strip of surgical tape covered a thin C-shaped line that ran behind Sam’s right ear. It appeared clean and tightly sutured, relieving concerns we had about the need for us to perform wound-care duties at home. We took turns feeling the quarter-sized bump made by the implant’s internal component, located nearby but more toward the back of his head.
Our only nervous moment came when Sam woke from his morning nap with a significant dent in his head from the crib rail. The doctor assured us that it would go away as his swelling subsided, and he was right.
Surgery day was long and emotionally taxing at times, but in the end Sam’s doctor delivered on his prediction of a smooth outcome — despite being fueled by little more than caffeine and pastry. We entrusted our child to skilled, compassionate professionals, and they treated him like he was one of their own.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: May 2011