Leelo Versus the Hospital

These last few weeks have been exhausting and challenging for both Seymour and me. What with all the traveling and conference-going and new schools, classes, schedules, and homework, we've both been worn down to mewling little nubs.

Except I get to pull out the I'm Pregnant card, because 1) I am and 2) I'm realizing that if I don't start banking up on rest Now, whenever I can, I am either going into premature labor like I did with Iz, or I'll be too tired to push this baby out when its time comes. Not good.

So, last night I pulled out that card. I told my partner that I was wrecked, handed him the kids the very minute he walked in the door, ate the dinner that he had picked up, went downstairs, and was asleep by 8:00. I woke up this morning at 6:30 feeling refreshed and ready to resume my duties as perkily as a 30-weeks-along woman can be expected to be.

Turns out I might as well have stayed up all night, because today Leelo had the very last test ordered by the pediatric Neurologist at Stanffford: the dreaded MRI to see if he's got myelination issues. I hope and pray that this was truly it for diagnostics, that our boy need never see another specialist at that hospital--because I don't know if I can tolerate a day like this again, pregnant or not.

You see, he recognizes Stanffford Children's Hospital now. He knows that every time he goes to that building, something really unpleasant and protracted happens to him. He loathes the hospital so utterly that he started crying and protesting the moment I parked our car.

He wailed through the entire admissions process.

He sobbed as we walked from Admissions, down the hall to the elevators, and over to the Day Surgery suite.

He howled as the nice prep nurse tried to get his information and vitals, prompting her supervisor to come in and declare that all they needed was his weight. He continued his yelling for another 30 minutes, until they moved us from the prep room to a pre-op crib.

Then he became an acrobat. I am not certain why they expect any small child to be able to hang out in one of those elevated cribs with the low rails for more than five minutes, but we got to stay there for 90. I got to spend that entire time re-pinning our boy to the mat(tress).

I suppose their expectations are based on experiences such as those of the four or five other families who were waiting in the room with us, whose children were either too young or too sick to try to escape, or who actually listened to their parents when they told them to keep lying down.

Leelo actually did a fairly good job of listening to me when I asked him to lie down and put his head on the pillow. The problem was that I had to ask him every thirty seconds. He was also prone to bolting and standing upright on the mattress, prompting several nurses to come over and ask whether or not I had a handle on things. I choked down several snappish answers, settling for "yes, I am on him, he is like this all the time."

At which point every single one of them said "Well, he sure is cute." I am guessing that this is what they say to most of the parents, when they want to be reassuring but can't say anything blanket-like about health or behavior. Note that we were not in the plastic surgery suite.

When he wasn't trying to escape, he would remember that he hadn't been allowed to eat or drink anything since the night before. He demonstrated excellent language in asking for every single thing he likes to eat: water, milk, juice, Veggie Booty, Pirate Booty, sandwich, naan bread, croissant, lassi, smoothie, Cheerios, even the pineapple tofu he will only eat when completely famished. All I could do was tell him what great language he was using, and then tell him that I didn't have any _X_.

Having the other families around made me wonder about two things.

Half of the families were Spanish-speaking, and needed interpreters. One or two bilingual doctors were present, and able to speak with and reassure their patients' kin directly, but the other families had to wait for translators. This reaffirms my opinion that bilingualism can be a superpower, in the very best help-the-helpless kind of way. I told Iz this, and why, when we got home.

It was not clear to me what the other families were there for, but I can only hope that it wasn't anything chronic or terminal. I also hope they weren't resentful of our obviously healthy, active, jumpy, leapy, vocal boy. I almost wanted to tell them all "But he's autistic! And your child isn't!" But then, would I choose Leelo as he is--with his chance to be a real boy--or a Leelo chronically ill yet neurologically intact?

Complicating matters is my just having finished a shit-scaring book about a teenager with autism. If that's what Leelo's going to be like, then I'm not sure I can handle it. But then our boy is an affectionate sweetums. He won't let logic sever his bonds to those he loves. He won't. I will cease fretting now.

When we'd been in the hospital almost two hours and I was stressed to the point of tears, the anesthesiologist showed up and demanded to know why our boy hadn't been given his pre-op light sedative forty-five minutes earlier. Oh, the nurses forgot. Tra-la-la.

Turns out it didn't really matter--he didn't have to have it. But it would have been nice, because then we'd have had a groggy, giggly boy who would have barely fought his anesthesia mask, instead of a boy so terrified and adrenaline-pumped that it took four of us to hold him down during the two minutes it took for his general anesthesia to take hold.

Then the anesthesiologist kicked me out and told me they'd page me in an hour.

I found the cafeteria and settled in with yogurt, granola, and the latest issue of Brainy, Child. And realized that I no longer give a shit about parents obsessed with Atalanta's mother of all premium used kids' clothing sales, on whether or not one should be friends with one's children (the two sides of the debate, like most since Jane Smiley's ode to childhood indolence, ended up more aligned than divided, IMHO).

It's not that I don't remember my four years of being trapped behind the wall of new parenthood, of thinking how fascinating it was to read of people living lives so like my own yet able to wittily record their daily travails. It's just that I live in a parallel universe now. Most of that standard parenting shit, no matter what the slant or how well written, sinks right off of my radar or just irritates me.

While I was fuming, my pager went off. I met the anesthesiologist in the hall. She told me that Leelo was fine, that he was upstairs in recovery, and that I was really very lucky to have such a high-functioning autistic child. "Yes, we're very lucky," I whispered, knowing that she probably sees more severely affected children all the time, but thinking that she really should come to my house and spend time trying to interact with an almost-four-year-old boy who still doesn't get what "hungry" or "thirsty" mean before she tells me that I'm lucky.

Then up to recovery. Where Leelo was passed out completely, looking angelic and gorgeous--and surrounded by several beds' worth of children with tubes sticking out everywhere and hushed, fretful families. Something about being in the recovery room, about the quiet but palpable anguish, finally broke me and I started silently sobbing. None of the staffers noticed, or if they did then they graciously decided to let me be.

I had just turned myself back into brave calm Mommy when Leelo's anesthesia wore off. He sat straight up, screamed, and started raking at all his attached stickers and bandages and labels and electrodes and monitors. The nurses were on him instantly, and somehow managed to give me all his discharge instructions (potential nausea and reflux, no bath or activity until tomorrow) while simultaneously stripping him back down to his skin. I coaxed him into merely semi-panicked status by promising him a lassi.

Then they gave me a kiddie wagon and told me I could use it to take Leelo down to the lobby, but that I'd need to carry him to the car. "Um, I'm not allowed to carry him right now," I said, pointing to my huge belly. They found someone to sit with him on a loading bench outside the lobby while I retrieved our car. Leelo was too happy about leaving the building, and too zonked by the anesthesia after effects, to protest being left with a stranger for two minutes.

We left. Seymour called as we were pulling out of the parking lot, to see how we were doing. I broke down again, telling him that our day was "really hard." He offered to come home early, the dear.

We made our way over to the Indian Restaurant, for the promised lassi. I didn't want to risk sitting down, because that would mean naan bread and that would be solid food and that could mean barfing, so I took him inside in his stroller and asked for one lassi to go. The owner took my order, and refused to let me pay. I thought he was just being sweet, but then I got in the car and noticed my red-rimmed eyes, the hospital admission tag still visible on Leelo's ankle, and the great big LPCH VISITOR sticker on my shirt and realized that my son was now happily drinking a pity lassi. Which was fine.

We drove over to pick up Iz from school. She was sitting at her desk, sobbing. Apparently she'd not budgeted enough time to finish putting together her project, a manzana book. But she cheered up instantly when Leelo barfed lassi all over his stroller and the classroom floor, and I had to clean it up.

She was happier still when we got home and Leelo took off his diaper and peed all over the sofa within seconds of our stepping in the door. I hope she'll still be happy when she realizes that I was not a big enough person to get over myself and my crappy day and take her to afternoon ballet class.

The End.

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