Glue ear (and flat feet) runs in our family and my 10-year old daughter has had four operations to date to insert grommets (tiny ventilation tubes) and remove her adenoids.
Her 6-year old sister seemed to be having less of a problem at first, having had only one operation four years ago, but this week, following months of persistent glue ear and a steadily increasing hearing loss, we couldn’t wait any longer.
The operation – a routine procedure that takes no more than twenty minutes – was scheduled for Tuesday and in the days leading up to the operation, my daughter and I talked at length about what to expect. I explained to her about the general anaesthetics (the “magic sleep” as she calls it) and said she’d be able to go home after lunch and attend school as usual the following day.
Far from feeling anxious and scared about the upcoming operation, my daughter was treating it as if it involved a day at the fun fair.
“I can’t wait for Tuesday, mummy; I’m so excited!” she squealed happily, as her older sister shook her head in disbelief.
The night before the operation she went to bed without any fuss while I lay sleepless for a long time, anxious about the upcoming hospital visit.
As a child, I had at least a half-dozen operations to fix my chronic issues with glue ear and hearing loss – a common problem for children born with cleft – and each operation was fraught with deep anxiety as I was petrified of the foul-smelling mask that would put me to sleep.
My daughter, however, appeared completely at ease with it all as we arrived at the hospital early Tuesday morning. When the anaesthetist came knocking on the door to our tiny room, he gently explained the procedure to my daughter and asked if she’d prefer a cannula in her hand or a mask over her face. She chose the former because she’d heard from her sister that the mask smelled funny.
A short while later, the consultant dropped by followed by the play specialist, a young woman whose job was to alleviate any fear and anxiety amongst the young patients.
I’ve met the anaesthetist on several occasions as he works in tandem with my daughters’ ENT consultant and each time I see him I find myself wishing that I’d had a doctor like him when I was little. Not only is he lovely to speak to, he’s an expert at putting children and their parents at ease, making the anaesthetics procedure feel like a walk in the park.
Eventually, a nurse came and told us it was time to go down to the operating theatre, where the anaesthetist and two assistants greeted us with big smiles.
“Are you good at counting?” the doctor asked my daughter with a twinkle in his eye.
“Great, will you help me count shiny pound coins? The higher you can count the more pound coins your mother will give you.”
Not one to turn down the chance to make a bit of pocket money, my daughter immediately accepted the challenge.
As the doctor slowly injected the anaesthetic solution into her hand, they counted together,
“One shiny pound coin, two shiny pound coins, three shiny pound coins, four shiny pound coins…”
That’s as far as they got before my daughter’s eyes shut and she was out.
Half an hour later, a nurse came to fetch me from the parents’ waiting room to take me to the recovery suite where my daughter was just waking up.
“Mummy, you have to give me four pounds!” was the first thing she said as she saw me.
Once she had been wheeled back to her room and had a few sips of water to clear her throat, she asked for food and something to play with.
“Don’t you want to take a nap first,” I said, desperate for some shut-eye myself, but my daughter was high as a kite from all the medicines and given a chance, would have happily turned the entire clinic into a party place.
“Can we do this again, please?” she said to me as we were discharged in the afternoon. “Having the magic sleep and eating lunch in bed was so much fun!”
Although my own childhood experience with the “magic sleep” was nothing less than traumatic, watching my daughter breeze through without fear or anxiety, may actually have helped me begin to heal a bit of my own trauma.
That said, I’m in no rush to return for another ear operation.