Gutsy Surgery: A Joy Project

I recently discovered a photo series, created by the mother of another little short gut warrior, that depicts the stark contrast between how we view our experience as parents and how our children view the same things. I love the images and the sentiment, but, being a nasty cynic committed to raw honesty, I couldn’t help but think how little time our children have to enjoy the pure innocence and joy she attributes to the perspective of her son before real awareness begins to set in. The past few weeks have proven to me more than ever that even at three, even though he seems to be infinitely resilient, L understands that something is happening to him that maybe shouldn’t be; that pain is not normal and not okay. He knows his friends don’t have lines and tubes. He knows his friends can have cookies and he can’t. And last week when we were admitted for 48 hours for a fever (standard procedure with a central line while they rule out line infection), we also got to take a trip to ER radiology because he told the ER doctors his belly hurt – because last time he was in the hospital, they made his belly really hurt, and he was afraid they would do it again.

And yet – in spite of all that, his pain does live alongside a deep and abiding joy, sometimes within seconds of each other. When I picked him up from school and told him we were heading to the hospital last Monday, he shrieked and jumped up and down with excitement.

It impresses upon me more than ever that I must teach him that it is okay to be angry and sad sometimes about the difficult things life has handed him, and also that that anger and sadness don’t have to replace joy, but instead can live alongside it. I don’t quite know how to teach him that; but I think it may be my most important job as his mother.

And so, inspired by Emerson, and by Emerson’s mama, let’s talk about all the many happinesses we have found during our gutsy surgery journey: the train table in the playroom, the clown doctors and the dog therapists, and the importance of a hospital that understands the profound healing that is brought about by happiness. Here is a look at joy.

There’s this view of the sunrise:

sunrise

There are wagon rides:

wagonride

There’s plenty of doctoring to be done, and an endless supply of bandaids:

bandaids

You get to wear your jammies all day, and you get extra snuggles.

There are Darth Vader toes:

pulseox

There are furry visitors:

And funny visitors:

clown

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And visitors who are so exciting he can’t bear to look away:

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And there are visitors who are absolutely terrifying, but still somehow know that Thomas minis are his very most favorite of all:

There’s a train table that provides endless hours of fun, and also the motivation to take not just one first step after surgery, but to turn that first post-op step into a dozen steps because Thomas really needs to drive to the other side of Sodor. 

There are superheroes:

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And there are real-life heroes:

firefighter

firefighter3

There are poops to celebrate, and a whole floor full of people who understand just how much celebration those poops deserve (don’t worry, I’ll spare you the photo here – although I have quite the collection!)

There is midnight construction thanks to staff who know exactly where to find “ya bulldozer and ya frontwoader yat were so fun in ya pwayroom a couple a weeks ago”:

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There’s the pride of completing his very first 24-piece puzzle all by himself:

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There’s a neat phone you can pick up that makes pizza and grilled cheese (and occasionally a few vegetables) show up right at your door:

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There’s a garden to explore that contains the whole world:

garden-world

And there’s the day the garden transforms into a winter wonderland:

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Most of all, there are friends. I can’t post pictures of most of our friends (thanks a lot, HIPAA) but there are so many, many moments of connection, big and small – with other children and with their parents, who are probably the only people in the world who truly understand; with friends and family who are pulling for us from all over the world; in visits from new friends we never would have met if we hadn’t been thrown onto this path; with nurses we’re meeting for the first time but who treat us like family, and with nurses who have come into our lives and have come to feel like part of our family. At the beginning of our journey I felt so incredibly alone, and I have gradually, and painfully at times, come to feel like part of an incredible community.

In my last post I insisted that happiness and the ability to thrive is not incompatible with continued struggles. But even now, when things are going well for L (and they are indeed going well, more to come on that soon!), I occasionally need to remind myself that continued struggles are not incompatible with happiness. Yes, there is pain. There will always be pain in the world, in all kinds of forms. But alongside that pain, and in spite of it, lives joy.

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