A few days before Benjamin’s recent eye surgery, we headed to Tulsa for his pre-operation appointment. Since we had scheduled for the afternoon, we were to check in at the main hospital instead of the children’s hospital where he would actually have his surgery. As we made our way to the check-in desk, I saw the familiar waiting area next to the coffee stand. I realized that the last time we had been to this particular waiting area was the day before Benjamin’s heart surgery. We have gone to the children’s hospital for every other pre-op appointment since. I was not prepared for the wave of emotion that hit me as we checked in and took a seat to wait.
The first thing I noticed was the built-in play area in the center of the waiting area. There were colorful beads to move along a maze of colorful wires, spinning dials and squares, a tic-tac-toe board, etc. I was transported back to the day before our tiny son’s heart surgery. Shawn and I sat in the waiting area in an emotional daze before being called back for one of the most difficult afternoons of our life. Shawn needed a distraction, so he sat on the floor and began to play at the play area, much to my embarrassment. After awhile a little girl joined him (he’s always been a magnet for kids), and he continued even after she left, despite my pleas that he come sit with me again. In my stress, I wanted the comfort of his presence next to me. In his stress, he couldn’t bear to sit still and was looking for anything to take his mind off of the painful situation at hand.
“Benjamin Hemminger?” My thoughts were brought back to the present as I heard my son’s name being called. I didn’t want to walk back into the pre-op area. I wanted to go home. I felt silly for feeling this way. I was directed to a small desk area where I signed some paper work before being sent back to the waiting area again. As we waited, I thought that Benjamin might enjoy the play area, so I pulled him out of his stroller, and we knelt down in front of it as he began to reach for the beads. It felt a little bittersweet in a way to have Benjamin playing at the same spot his Daddy had over two years prior.
“Benjamin Hemminger?” Our play time had only just begun when we were called back for the second time and again I felt a slight feeling of dread come over me. Since I was already holding my son, I just carried him back in one arm and pushed the stroller with the other. The first order of business was to have him weighed and measured. Before we could begin, I noticed the parked stroller start to tip back, weighted down by the diaper bag. Out of instinct I lunged to catch it, giving my poor boy a bit of whip lash in the process. He, of course, began to cry, adding strain to my already strained emotions. I felt so bad. Thankfully it didn’t take him too long to calm down and after being weighed and measured, we were taken back to one of the nurses’ stations that were set up as pods one after the other with a curtain to draw across the entrance. I was grateful that we were not taken to the same station as we had been two years ago, though all of them look virtually the same.
As I waited for a consultation with an anesthesiologist, I remembered again our last experience in this place. It was essential that our son have blood drawn before such a major surgery, but his little veins had all been tapped while in the NICU. We watched helplessly as the first set of nurses tried multiple times to draw blood from our two month old baby’s little body, with failed attempts in his arms and legs. He screamed and screamed, turning bright red, with no concept of what was happening to him and why. When the first group failed, a team of pediatric nurses was called in. Since the stations were small, we were eventually asked to step outside. Though the curtain hid our eyes from seeing the continued failed attempts to draw Benjamin’s blood, it did nothing to drown out the sound of his screams. After the new team’s multiple failed attempts, we were allowed back in to comfort our son until the surgical assistant arrived. Knowing that getting blood from Benjamin’s arms or legs was proving to be too difficult, he tried to draw from our baby’s neck. His attempts failed as well, and we continued to be tortured by the screams of our tortured son. Finally, one of the surgeons, Dr. Barth was called in. She ultimately had to make incisions in Benjamin’s hips in order to draw the necessary amount of blood. All we could do through-out each episode was to hold on to each other and cry. We felt so helpless. When it was all said and done, we were exhausted, and our exhausted little baby looked like a pin cushion, with red dots from head to toe. We wondered how we would make it through his surgery the next morning.
The anesthesiologist arrived and went through routine information about general anesthesia and what to expect; information I’ve heard more times than I’ve ever wanted to. She was followed shortly by a nurse who went through more routine information about check-in for surgery and Benjamin’s required fast from midnight on. He didn’t even have to have blood drawn, as this was only a simple out-patient surgery, but still I felt raw. I was relieved when it was time to go.
As I started to drive, I began to pray, allowing the tears to finally come. I prayed for Benjamin to be healed of any trauma from his early months when Mommy couldn’t be there for him as I wanted to be. I was concerned about what may have happened to him emotionally with so many painful and confusing experiences throughout his hospital stays. I was concerned that he had such limited physical touch for nine days after his birth and for another nine days after his heart surgery. As I cried and prayed, though, I was reminded again of Jesus’ promise to me during that first shaky year, “I never left his bedside.” I have to trust that when I was unable to nurture Benjamin, the Holy Spirit was (and is) present with him, nurturing him and sustaining him. I have to believe that when I felt helpless to care for my son, the Helper was there, giving him all he had need of. I have to believe that the God who is outside of time is able to redeem the time for Benjamin that felt lost in the sterile environment of hospitals, when breathing tubes and wires kept him from Mommy’s and Daddy’s arms. I was comforted, knowing the promise is true, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”