Nico certainly keeps us on our toes.
She was born breach. She’s a habitual vomiter and grunter and can be pretty darn fussy when she puts her mind to it. She doesn’t sleep well and goes a little loco each day between about 6 and 8 p.m., or what we call the witching hours in our house. During that time period, she’ll chomp at her pacifier like a mini-meth addict, suddenly burst into unexplainable tears before falling into a deep sleep and then, five minutes later, wake up with a start and cry out as if she’s just been stabbed in the stomach. She is only consolable when wrapped in a blanket and held tightly. Then around 8 p.m. or so she’s her old sweet self again.
And all these things, though they worried me at first, have come to seem cute and overall harmless. At least as I write about them now, with her sleeping in my arms.
But this latest challenge she’s thrown our way has been a bit harder to take lightly.
About a week and a half ago, Marta noticed something inflamed near Nico’s groin while we were changing her diaper. She called me over to see it, but by the time I got there it was gone. Then a few days later it returned. Both times, the thing showed up after Nico had been crying. It was sort of like a small bubble or inflammation and, when touched, it felt a bit like a knot.
We asked the doctor about it at our first-month check up and she said to call if we saw it again. We did and a few days later we were back at the clinic. The bump had been there when we’d called earlier that day, but by the time we got in to see the doctor it was gone. After we described it, though, and showed her a picture Marta had taken of it with her iPhone, the doctor said, “Really, the only thing that could be is a hernia. I’ll set you up with pediatric surgery for a consult.”
Most likely, Nico would need surgery, she added.
For some reasons, nothing about that worried me. Nico has a hernia, yes, but then so did my father, so did my friend’s boyfriend, so do lots of people. They all had surgery and it was fine.
Only after we saw the surgeon yesterday, after he too diagnosed a hernia and told us that Nico would need surgery–in two days–did I suddenly get very, very freaked out.
We were in a cramped examination room in the pediatric surgery wing. They’d kept us waiting for an hour because an emergency pediatric surgery case had been whisked in before us. The waiting room was filled with grim looking parents watching over children of various sizes and states of apparent health. The nurses were not nearly as cheery and optimistic as they are in the regular pediatrics wing. There was, in general, a sense of doom about the place that most likely affected my mood.
The surgeon was named a man named Graham from South Africa who bonded with Marta over their accents. He guessed she was either from Serbia or Russia, which did not give me a lot of confidence in his reasoning powers. He took a quick looked at Nico, diagnosed her with an inguinal hernia on the right side and then told us that we’d need to come in for surgery–sooner rather than later. He was taking off for vacation in a week. He added that we could also elect to have the left side operated on as a preventative measure.
I told him we would need to talk over our options and then call back to make the surgery appointment, and he looked at me like I was crazy. It’s much better if you just do it all now, he said, adding that we’d have to sign a bunch of papers and the nurses would need to come in and talk to us about the surgery procedure, etc.
I realized then that deciding on your child’s surgery is not the same as buying a new car. When we made that big decision, we went to lunch first and talked over the pros and cons. Having a little buffer of time helps me to process things, be they massive debt or surgery for my 7-week-old baby. Without that buffer of time, I did what I often do in such situations. I cried.
The doctor had left by then, thankfully. We were waiting for someone to come in with consent forms and I looked over at Nico, on her back in a diaper on the examination table. She had been squirming during the examination, but with just the two of there she was calm. I tried to imagine her under anesthesia. I tried to picture Graham pocking around in her groin with his laparoscopic needle. I suddenly felt like I had very little control over just about everything.
Probably I will offend some uber-baby lovers by this comparison, but the closest I’ve been to this feeling before was when Finn to get neutered. He was a street dog I’d found in Houston–or rather one who found me: he followed me home one day when I was out running. I had no intention of keeping him at first. I thought I would get him neutered and cleaned up and healthy for whatever owner I found in the coming weeks. But he’d been with me a couple weeks by the time I took him to the free spay-nueter clinic and, as I dropped him off, I suddenly felt a verifiable pang in my heart. They led him away from me with a little lopped rope around his neck and he looked back at me like I’d forsaken him. By the time I came to pick him up that afternoon, I’d already decided I was keeping him.
With Nico (who I’ve already decided to keep, by the way), it’s all this but so much more acute. I suppose this is what being a parent means: extreme vulnerability mixed with love, lack of sleep and the occasional longing for that less complicated childless life once led.
Wish us luck tomorrow. Surgery is scheduled for 8 a.m.