Monday, June 22, 2009


My parents said that I was practically born with tonsillitis, but the doctors waited until I was four to take them out. Apparently, I would wake up at night gasping for air, my throat too swollen to breathe.

The first time I realized something bad was going to happen to me, my dad had taken me to a movie, and kept apologizing over and over. “I'm sorry you have to have a tonsillectomy,” he said. The lect-to-me part and all the guilt in his voice made me think it was his fault. I had no idea what it meant, but I thought about it for the whole movie. My mom apologized all the time too. I started to think my parents were plotting against me. If they were both so sorry, couldn't they just not lect-to-me my tonsils?

Most of my childhood was marked with constant confusion. My sister recently found a picture of me from when I was about five. “Look at your face!” she said. In the picture I was trying to smile, but my eyes were huge and radiating fear. It was enclosed in a frame made of cardboard and a few remnants of macaroni and gold spray paint. “I must have been at Sunday School. I never really understood Sunday School,” I said, peeling off a loose noodle. People should explain things to kids better.

It became clear to me that I would have to stay overnight at the hospital when my mom took me to K-Mart to pick out my own pair of hospital jammies. They had purple, pink, and orange tulips on them and ruffles at my feet like clown pants. I couldn't wait to wear them. I would lay them on my bed, straighten the tiny purple bows, and dream about the day that I would finally get to wear them. In retrospect I was clearly being manipulated.

When the big day finally came, I got to go on a tour of the hospital. I had my jammies in a bag over my shoulder and the promise of endless ice cream and popsicles filled my mind. The nurse gave each child on the tour a plastic medicine bag. In it was either that weird mirror thing doctors strap to their heads in movies, or a pointed nurses cap with a big red cross on it. All of the boys got to be doctors, and the girls were nurses. I handed my medicine bag back to the lady, once again confused about why she thought I wanted to be a nurse. “I want to be a doctor,” I informed her. I was thinking big and bucking stereotypical gender roles at age four. I often wonder what happened to that gumption. I had the surgery and felt pretty miserable for about a week. Soon I could breathe and swallow like a champ, but at the end of all of my suffering I learned the cruelest lesson of them all: life is not fair and when you're not paying attention your sister will eat all of your ice cream.

So about six months ago at one of Rosie's checkups, I was complaing that she was sick ALL THE TIME and wouldn't eat or sleep. Our doctor pried open Rosie's mouth and said, "Oh my!" as if she couldn't control herself. Once she had gathered her thoughts, she added in a much calmer voice, "Rosie's tonsils are simply huge."

They were swabbed for strep, but showed no infection. Her tonsils had just grown to be too large-- known as kissing tonsils. The Doctor explained that they were making it too hard for her to breathe at night, so she woke up all the time. And they were so big that she couldn't swallow enough food to nourish herself, which is why she hadn't gained any weight for almost six months. Feeling like THE WORST MOTHER, EVER, I promptly made an appointment with an ENT who droned on about having to wait to do the surgery until kids are at least two, so they can be reasoned with if they refuse to drink fluids. I thought in my head that we could be waiting for years, in Rosie's case, since she's as stubborn as the dykes are tall in her native Netherland home. But as soon as the doctor caught sight of the tonsils in question, he said, "my, that's an impressive presentation," and told us to schedule surgery immediately. He also said we could put tubes in her ears at the same time to help with her constant ear infections.

So I took my poor baby (who couldn't breathe, eat, or hear) home and waited nearly a month for the surgeon's schedule to clear up. It was agonizing. I spent most of the time playing out in my head what it would feel like to hand my baby over to a stranger and watch her get carried into an Operating Room where I couldn't comfort her.

When the day finally came, Kris's parents surprised us at the hospital, and waited through the whole morning with us. It was such a relief! Between the copious toys in every corner of Primary Children's Hospital, and the nurses who blew bubbles and sang, Rose was fascinated with the whole process. When the Surgeon came to take Rosie away he even let her take her monkey and her blankey with her, so somehow, it felt a little easier.

The surgery was over in just a half hour, so one of us got to go back to recovery sooner than we had ever imagined. Kris is the best dad, ever, so I knew he would be aching to comfort Rosie. He practically ran down the hall to go get her. I had to wait another 30 minutes before I got to see her. When I finally got to go back I expected to see a beautiful reunification of father and daughter, but instead Kris had a mix of heartache and terror on his face, and was covered in the blood that Rosie had coughed up. She was still choking on her sobs. Kris said that Rose was so mad she would focus very her on deliberately pinching him between all the screaming.

It got better from there, though, with only a few more traumatic moments. Once we figured out that the IV in her foot was making her miserable, and adjusted it for her, all was well again. We all got a little sleep, but Rosie woke up at about 3:00am convinced that it was time to play. Kris and I pulled her through the halls of the hospital in a wagon for hours. We watched Bambi, which only made her giggle and yell, "bunny!!" rather than lulling her back to sleep. By 5:00am, the nurse said we could just go home.

After another day of rest and occasional bouts of the grumps, Rosie was a new woman! Now she can breathe, eat and is starting to put some chub back on her tiny bones. I feel so lucky that one of the best children's hospitals in the country is just up the street from my house. This whole experience could have been so much worse than it was.

While I'm very excited to stop explaining why my 21 month old baby is barely the size of an average one year old, the best result of the whole experience is that Rosie giggles all the time now. A laugh from Rose used to be a very rare treat. She was always pretty happy, just doing the best with what she had, but I think she felt too sick to giggle and play like a normal kid. I just hope we can get the next kid's inevitable case of Tonsillitis nipped in the bud even sooner.


Anonymous said...

i am reading your blog. i am maggie may´s friend.
love to you and peace!