This is a part of a series I am doing on my son’s cleft lip. I hope these posts reach someone who is embarking on their own cleft lip journey, looking for hope, and more of what to expect.
On to the most interesting part of our journey. The surgery!
Eric, Jacob, and I arrived at the hospital 8:30 a.m. The hospital was a series of check points and waiting. We checked in at a desk where we were given a yellow card. We waited in a lobby until someone came and found us with a matching yellow card. We gave all of our insurance information and all three of us were given hospital bracelets with numbers that matched. Then we were sent to “surgery waiting.” I had never heard of this area of the hospital before. Its a place where you literally wait while the person you are supporting is in surgery. We checked in at surgery waiting and were given a pager. We waited in that lobby with Eric until he was called back to an area that looked a lot like an emergency room, but was decorated for kids. Up until this point Eric had been sleeping, thank goodness! I was so worried that he was going to be miserable and screaming for milk. (He was not allowed to eat after 4:30 a.m.) We had to wake him up to weigh and change him into a baby hospital gown. He was not a happy camper.
Thankfully a nurse came and took him from us and rocked him to sleep while we spoke with the nurse assigned to Eric. I will say that the nurses at our hospital were angles. They were so caring and patient with Eric. They stayed with us the whole time, and held Eric and rocked him while we waited for the surgery to begin. We waited for over an hour in that tiny, emergency-like-hospital-room, He slept right up until we handed him over to the anesthesiologist. We left Eric at about 10:00.
So we sat and we waited again, but this time with out Eric. We got a snack from the cafeteria, we read the magazines in surgery waiting, and I did a lot of people watching. Everyone looked just as anxious and bored as I was. We were told the surgery would take about 2 hours, and at that 2 hour mark I was ready to go see my baby! Handing over Eric wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. It was the waiting. I sat and wondered what his tiny 12 pound body looked like laying in a big operating room. I wanted to know that he was being taken care of where ever he was. My momma bear heart was anxious. I sat, read, and snacked and I was exhausted!
FINALLY after 2 1/2 hours, we got the buzz. A hospital volunteer lead us through a maze to a small room filled with inspirational quotes on distressed pieces of wood The volunteer told us the surgeon would come into talk to us. After a few minutes, the big man on campus walked in, told us it went great, and that he had spent some extra time on the nose. He gave us a small packet of vaseline to reduce scaring. Then we walked back to surgery waiting… and waited for our pager to go off again.
It didn’t take too long before my pocket started buzzing again and the same volunteer lead us through another maze to the recovery area. I could hear Eric crying before I even got into the room. At this point I am pretty sure I was jogging. There were two nurses doting over him when we walked in. I couldn’t help but peak in the other recovery rooms as I walked to Eric. There was very, very heavy stuff going on with the other families. I was curious and my heart went out them.
Despite being groggy and upset, Eric looked amazing! He had some fresh blood, but that was to be expected. We were told we could feed him from any regular bottle, but he wasn’t having it. We tried feeding him with a syringe, which was hard. He was so wiggly, and upset that it was really hard to get the syringe in his mouth with out poking the repaired area.
He ate a little, but tired out and fell back to sleep. Our recovery nurse was amazing. There was some kind of audit going on in the hospital and she said she was just going to lay low with us. So she stayed in our room for the 3 or 4 hours we spent in recovery. Around 4:00 Eric was released. We left with some pain killers, syringes, bottles, a whole assortment of things to help us care for him.
Eric was doing incredibly well. Sure, he was upset when it was time to eat. It had to have been a little painful. He was working hard to learn how to suck, since he hadn’t been able to make a suction before. We had to put him to sleep propped up to reduce the swelling, but he slid down, and woke up in the middle of the night looking a little more swollen than I had expected. Again, he was frustrated with eating and eventually fussed himself back to sleep. By morning he was a little happier and more patient with the bottle. It didn’t take long before he was eating like a champ. Once he figured it out, there was no going back. He’s been chugging bottles like you wouldn’t believe.
The recovery was much easier than I had expected. The first 24 hours were rough. But look at him just a few days later! What a difference a day makes. He had lost a little weight, but it didn’t take him too long to put it back on and then some! My arms are limp at the end of the day with him.
The hardest part was not being able to hold him towards me. For THREE weeks, I couldn’t snuggle my little baby close and have his face towards my body. Any bumps to the face had to be avoided. He also had to wear splints, which the nurses call “no-no’s” for three weeks, so he couldn’t pick at his lip or bump his nose too much. At first these were helpful, and Eric didn’t seem to mind them too much, but by the end, he had learned how to slide them off. He had become a little Houdini and could wiggle those splints off faster than I could get them back on.
People would ask about the splints or give us funny looks when we were out in public. It really didn’t bother me. Some little kids were not shy about asking and I wasn’t shy about telling them. When I explained Eric’s cleft lip to little kids before Eric’s surgery I’d tell them, “When the baby was in my tummy, his little lip didn’t come together all the way and now he has a hole in his lip, but its okay because a doctor can fix it.”
Here is my most recent picture of Eric, 6 months after his surgery.
Eric is less than a year old and people are surprised when I say he was born with a cleft lip. I am grateful to live in an area where deformities are treated and fixed instead of shamed. I am grateful for talented doctors who have the steady hands and skills to help.
As we go forward, Eric will have an evaluation when he is 3 or 4 years old to see if he needs a bone graft in his palate and we will be looking out for any hearing or speech problems. Early intervention for these little babies is crucial. This little boy has so much love and support, a little cleft lip will slow not him down!