Lessons from My Son’s Emergency Surgery

On Monday, I rushed my son Michael to the hospital. He had been having mild pain off and on, but mostly off, for a few days.  He woke up Monday morning and was doubled over.  When my cell phone rang at work, I instinctively knew something was wrong.  I answered not with hello but with, “What’s wrong?”  He described his pain and we decided that it was time to go to the hospital.  In what was a short time in hospital hours, he was diagnosed with appendicitis and taken into surgery. 

We were strangers having to follow unfamiliar rules in an unfamiliar setting.  I couldn’t help but think of how similar this must feel to young children in their first school or any child who has to move to a new environment.  We were vulnerable.  Michael is 22 years old but this was his first experience with a major health issue.  Even though he is legally an adult, I am still his mother and simultaneous wanted the medical professionals to make this better and be careful to do no harm to my child.

Every situation has lessons you can learn if you just pay attention.  The lessons I will take away from this experience are about people, interactions and reactions:

Random Acts of Kindness require nothing but a few words.  

Another emergency room patient who was in a bed in a cubby opposite Michael was being wheeled to her room.  As her gurney passed my son’s gurney, she leaned toward him and said, “I heard what is going on with you.  You are going to be okay.”  She had her own emergency situation and her own pain.  We had no interaction with her before that moment.  It was an incredibly kind gesture and we haven’t stopped talking about it.

The understanding that chronological age has nothing to do with what a person needs should apply to all age groups, not just young children in preschool classrooms.  

Because my son is 22 years old, he is treated like the adult that he is and doesn’t have to receive any special consideration.  Everyone understood that he is still young and his chronological age had little to do with the current need.  They allowed me to stay with him as he waited for the surgeon in pre-op.  After surgery, a recovery nurse came to get me.  She said, “You can’t stay long and usually we don’t have anyone with the patients as they awake but he’s only 22 and he should see his mother’s face as he becomes more aware.” 

There is great power in just being there.  

After surgery, I wanted to be with my son for as many hours were allowed.  He really didn’t need me for any of his physical needs.  He was being well taken care of by hospital staff.  He had his electronics to cut the boredom and he was in the bed on social media and played video games. I brought my laptop and set up a makeshift desk with two chairs.  At some point I turned to him and said, “I don’t feel like I’m doing much.”  He said, “You are here.” 

The ability to separate facts from emotions is priceless and that knowledge is the good that can come from tough experiences.  

Anxiety, sadness and panic do not help when you need to be making split second decisions and listening to jargon that is unfamiliar.  A couple of years ago, I experienced a traumatic event that was the catalyst for one of the most valuable lessons I will ever learn.  Emotions and thoughts are not reality.  Emotions and thoughts just happen and one is not better than the other.  Sometimes we are happy.  Sometimes we are sad.  All emotions and thoughts change and pass like clouds in the sky so it is best to stick to the facts.  My son’s situation was certainly unpleasant but that didn’t matter.  I needed to be calm for him. I needed to be his second set of ears as the people with knowledge spoke to him.  I never thought I would be grateful for that prior trauma in my life but I was on Monday.  I firmly believed I functioned better because I had learned from it.

If I could wave a magic wand, I would go back about a week and change everything.  I would cast a spell so that my son didn’t have appendicitis.  Or would I?  What other lessons would not be learned had we not experienced the past few days? 
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