Notes from Outpatient Surgery

By Tyann Sheldon Rouw

Notes from Outpatient Surgery

Just thinking about bringing my 13-year-old son Isaac to the hospital for outpatient surgery caused me to break out in a cold sweat. I was devastated when our dentist told us Isaac had a cavity that would need to be filled at the hospital. My husband and I decided as long as he’d be sedated, we’d have a mole removed from the sole of his foot at the same time. I had heard about similar outpatient surgeries from other families who have kids with special needs. I prayed it wouldn’t be a disaster.

When the nurse from pre-admission called to discuss Isaac’s upcoming surgery, we were leaving to run errands. It was difficult to hear her because Isaac screamed, “Go in the car! Go in the car!”

“Has he ever been diagnosed with diabetes or asthma? Has he ever had MRSA?” she asked.

She assured me every patient at the hospital was special, and the staff would do everything in their power to help Isaac have a positive experience. I hoped Isaac’s screams would get the message across: this upcoming surgery might be difficult.

“Please assign a nurse to Isaac who has a calm demeanor – someone who has a soft voice and a laid back personality,” I said. “He has limited language and occasionally unpleasant behaviors due to his autism. He has difficulty waiting, so we’ll be there at the latest acceptable time. We prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and I hope you’ll do the same,” I said.

She thanked me and said she’d make a note of it.

We arrived at the hospital early the day of surgery, rode the elevator to the second floor and checked in. Sharon, a nurse who has been in the field for 46 years, announced Isaac’s name. I waved my hands and smiled. She asked where she could find him.

“He went into the elevator,” I said. “Don’t worry, he’ll be back. Elevators are one of his favorite things.”

She looked puzzled but smiled. Years ago Isaac went to therapy in this same building several times per week. He fell madly in love with the elevators when he was a small boy.

We spent about two hours with Sharon. She was pleasant, helpful, understanding and non-judgmental. This woman was living proof angels exist on earth.

“Do you think he’ll let me put in an IV?” she asked.

It was the million dollar question. Would he let anyone poke him with a needle? Would he stay in the room long enough? Would he be upset when we shut the curtain and he could no longer see the action in the hallway? Would he pull out the IV?

You’d have better luck playing pick-up sticks with your butt cheeks, I wanted to say.

Isaac roamed the halls wearing his gown. Occasionally he screamed in protest, but nobody seemed alarmed by his cries. Sharon told us she’d call the operating room and attempt to put in the IV 15 minutes prior to the surgery, which we thought was a great idea. She asked another nurse to help.

“I’m good, but Beth is better,” she said.

Beth was upbeat, fun and hungry to find good veins. “Oh, look at that good one over there!” she said, as she poked his arm. I rubbed his back and within a few seconds, his IV was in place. Beth made it look easy.

Isaac sobbed briefly but was okay. He reclined on his portable bed, covered with blankets. Based on the look in his eyes and his intermittent tears, he seemed to know what was ahead.

Isaac seemed sad and serious as he was wheeled down the hallway. Leanne, the thoughtful operating room nurse with the calm voice, made sure he was able to wave his hand in front of the sensors to open the doors, which he loved. It’s hard to know what Isaac understands sometimes, but I was confident he knew exactly what was happening.

“We’ll see you in a few minutes, buddy,” I said, as I kissed his forehead and pulled him close. Isaac clutched his digital alarm clock, which he brought from home as a comfort item. Suddenly Isaac was gone. He was wheeled down the white long hallway that didn’t seem to have an end. It was like saying goodbye at the airport. I had a lump in my throat. The only consolation was that he was in good hands. The nursing staff was exceptional.

As we headed back to the waiting area, Sharon walked past and said, “How is your sweet son doing? You’re all wonderful. I was really impressed.”

“Please tell me you’ll never retire!” I said. If we ever found ourselves back here again, I wanted Sharon by our side. She didn’t mention Isaac’s screams or his repetitive behaviors. She only focused on the positives.

When I learned the surgery went well and Isaac was heading back to his room, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. According to the doctors, it couldn’t have gone any better.

While we sat in his room for a few hours watching Isaac sleep, I noticed his chart on one of the chairs. A post-it note stuck to the front said “Calm demeanor needed, soft voice, laid back.” It was written in ink and highlighted in bright yellow. I was grateful the nursing staff had gone the extra mile.

The nurse on the phone had assured me every patient was special, and the staff would do everything possible to help Isaac have a positive experience. Nobody had met Isaac prior to the day of surgery, but it didn’t matter. They respected him, listened to him and considered our needs. They presumed he was competent. They talked directly to him and let him answer questions, as much as he could. I am forever grateful to the nurses at the hospital whose outstanding care made our first outpatient surgery experience a positive one.

About this writer

  • Tyann Sheldon RouwTyann Sheldon Rouw is a contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul Series. Her work has appeared in Yahoo Parenting, Brain, Child Magazine, Scary Mommy, and The Mighty.

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5 Responses to “Notes from Outpatient Surgery”

  1. Your lovely story validates that there are kind caregivers in the medical profession. Your son has many gifts; treasure them. It is difficult for me to rise on an elevator once, much less repetitively.

  2. Jodi says:

    Thank you for sharing your positive experience. My 11 year old with Autism was just in the hospital for a week. It was a daunting experience, but what made it tolerable is that the medical and nursing staff held his dad and me as his expert and allowed us to dictate approach, timing, etc. Great article

  3. Tyann Rouw says:

    Thanks for your nice comment, Linda. A kind caregiver makes all the difference in our everyday lives. My son is a gift himself; he and his brothers are my greatest teachers.

  4. Ann says:

    Tyann is a gifted writer and a wonderful wife, mother, and friend. I loved this and have not been successful picking up the pick-up sticks with my butt cheeks. This piece is awesome. Tyann is another angel on earth.

  5. Tyann Rouw says:

    Jodi, I’m so glad the medical staff saw you and your child’s father as experts! I can’t imagine a week-long stay.

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