The people they send to pediatric surgery

As I said a few days ago, our trip to the hospital for Nico’s surgery was not only emotionally trying, it was also disorienting on a psychological level. And by disorienting, I mean this: I had no idea doctors and nurses could be so completely odd.

But let me start at the beginning.

We arrived last Thursday for surgery and were first sent to a general waiting room, where patient statuses were listed on an electronic screen that had an eerie resemblance to flight status screens in airports. We looked up Nico’s number on the screen and beside that saw her status (pre-operative) and the estimated surgery time: 2 hours. Below were a list of various other statuses she might at some point take: post-op, recovery, etc. We were then given a buzzer, like you have at a restaurant, and told to wait.

Once our time came, a woman led us to what was essentially a holding room. Ours was a small square space with two small chairs and one giant recliner that I forced Marta to recline in and then she me. Because we had nothing else to do. There was also a TV in the room and everyone who stopped by to check in on us or Nico pointed out the remote and explained how we could use it to watch the TV. They seemed disturbed to see us just sitting there, talking and reclining.

The first man to visit us was an assistant surgeon. He was handsome in a baby-cheeked way and spoke in a really quiet voice, like they do in library demonstrations for kids. But he was overall normal. The only odd thing he did was say that he had really been looking forward to seeing us because he had heard our daughter grunted and he had a newborn son about three months old who was also a grunter.

“It’s funny to hear her, because he does the same thing,” he said, smiling at Nico as she grunted her way through a real or imagined fart. “But it’s totally normal.”

After he left, the creepy male nurse arrived.

He was tall and thin in a doughy way, like if you touched him your finger might sink into the surrounding flesh. He spoke in a soft voice as well, but not soft in a library-voice way; more like soft with a menacing scream lurking just behind it. He called Nico “Princess” and never made eye contact with either of her parents (aka us). He spent a very long time with his back to us while imputing information into a computer and only once said, in an even quieter but somehow creepier voice, “I’m sorry to have my back to you for so long.” It felt like he was really saying: “I will kill you later and barbecue your ears on a stick.” He played with Nico’s toes while putting on her heart monitor and mumbling to her: “Hey, little Princess. Hey Princess, Princess.” He also conveniently had his staff ID turned around so that we couldn’t see his name. I finally asked him what his name was and he got agitated, quickly mumbled “Jesse,” and soon after that left the room.

Marta and I immediately agreed that not only was he creepy, but creepy in a very particular way: like one of those characters on a CSI or Law and Order episode who works at a nursing home and secretly kills old people. Which is probably really mean of us. Mostly likely he’s a completely normal guy.

After the creepy male nurse came the combative anesthesiologist. She seemed normal enough at first: comfortable Dansk shoes, long hair and that sort of former-hippy, but now healthy older person face. She asked us about Nico’s general health and breathing and we said they were all fine, but that the doctors had diagnosed her with acid reflux. And that’s when she turned nasty:

“Yeah, sure,” she said. “Like we can really know a baby has acid reflux. What are we going to do, ask her how she feels?”

I’m far from a defender of traditional medicine. I think we overprescribe medicine and label children with conditions they don’t have. But I couldn’t help getting a little defensive at this point.

“That’s what they doctors said,” I countered. “Based on her symptoms: She was vomiting all the the time and she couldn’t sleep because her throat was so agitated and she coughed like a 70-year-old cigar smoker.” I then imitated the way Nico used to hack-cough in the night.

The anesthesiologist just smirked in a self-satisfied way and continued with her questioning. Until, that is, another male nurse showed up at the door with some questions. Seeing him there waiting, the combative anesthesiologist looked at us and, I swear, sighed exaggeratedly and rolled her eyes. When the nurse entered the room to ask his questions, she turned her back to him and pretended to input information into the computer.

Then he left and she turned back to us in a huff and shook her head as if we shared some sort of high-school annoyance for this poor nurse who had happened to show up at the wrong time.

“Well, let’s continue,” she sighed.

If we thought she was bad then, though, things only got worse after the surgery.

Three or so hours after they whisked Nico off, we were called in to see her in the post-op room. She was lying on a cot, swaddled in blankets, hooked up to machines and completely flushed. Needless to say we were close to tears. There was yet another male nurse attending to her, but he was completely competent. He wore sensible sneakers and was sensitive to our rather raw state, emotionally speaking. He quickly set up a place for Marta to sit and hold Nico, despite all her attached wires, and pulled up another chair so I could sit nearby. When Marta wanted to nurse, he quickly pulled the curtains around us to allow for some privacy and only came in when necessary to check Nico’s vital items. And when I asked when we’d be able to leave, he was quick to try to figure that out as well.

He said he had to check what the doctors wanted to do. Sometimes, with babies as young as Nico, the doctors want them to stay overnight for observation. He just wasn’t sure. So he called…yes, the combative anesthesiologist.

She showed up in a huff. He mentioned that they were wondering when Nico might be able to leave.

She said: “Why are you asking me that?”

“Um. We were told you were the one to make that decision,” he said.

“Why would I be the one to make that decision?” she asked, the snark-levels rising in her voice.

“That’s just what we had heard,” the poor nurse explained.

“By whom?” the anesthesiologist said, clearly not expecting an answer and, in fact, walking out the door as she said this. “I think someone around here is trying to avoid their work by putting it off on someone else.”

This time it was the nurse who sighed. I felt for him.

Eventually we were given the OK to go back to the holding room, where creepy Jesse came to see us once more, played with Nico’s toes again and called her Princess about two more time.

Mostly, though, we were with a kind of dorky but otherwise harmless male nurse whose only infraction was that he called Nico “he” most of the time and used a sort of fifth grade vocabulary when discussing the body. For instance, instead of saying spit-up or vomit, he said “puke” and when talking the possibility of infection of the surgery site, he said we should keep an eye out for something that is “yucky gross.” At another point he paused before explaining another term to us and asked, “Are either of you native English speakers?” I said I was. He then said the term: “urpy” as in, “Your baby might be a little urpy in these next couple days.” Then he smiled at me like this was a really funny word we both understood, as native English speakers. Though as far as I could tell it was just the word burpy but without the “b.”

Soon after that the combative anesthesiologist arrived and explained in the sweetest of voices that we could leave and that it had been a pleasure to meet us.

We left the hospital thrilled to have Nico back with us and safely out of surgery, but also relieved to finally be out of that madhouse.

3 thoughts on “The people they send to pediatric surgery

  1. You all have had many creepy and repulsive dr/nurse experiences at this fancy university hospital. I think you should barbeque all of their ears on a stick! Maybe backwards Texas will provide more normal and respectful health care. Hope so.


  2. The problem with barbecuing his ears is that apparently there wouldn’t be much meat on them. Remind me to tell you some stories about nursing homes in New York–you ain’t heard nothing yet.


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