I look up to the monitor in the waiting room and find her number. #7471. Next to it, the number 132. One hundred thirty two minutes into surgery, and so much more to go. One of the surgical nurses called me on my cell phone shortly after the procedure began.
–I just wanted you to know that we started about 10 minutes ago and everything is going great.
She promised to call later with an update. The procedure could take five hours or more. It’s a massive team working on her. Many introduced themselves to us while Jordan was in pre-op. Residents, fellows, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and so many of the brand of kind, caring nurses we’ve grown fond of at CHLA. I don’t think it’s possible to be comfortable during this process, but Jeanette and I are definitely less manic because we have so much faith in the team.
Jordan took most of it in stride. True to form, she waxed loquacious on arrival and peppered me with a battery of questions before the sunrise. She was most concerned about the pajama plan. She wanted to know just how soon she could get out of the hospital’s standard issue. She hates them. We told her it might be a day or two, which did not go over well. She wants to get back into her flannels as soon as surgery is over. She even asked her neurosurgeon if she had permission to put them on when she gets to her room. He said he didn’t think it would be a problem. That calmed her somewhat.
She was extraordinarily brave in pre-op—more so than usual. You could palpate her courage just standing close to her bed. Perhaps I felt it more than usual because it was wrapped around a bundle of anxiety. She was nervous. She didn’t talk about this, but you could tell. She gets very calm when she is most afraid. It doesn’t help to talk to her, or stroke her hair, kiss her cheek or hold her hand. If anything, those subtle gestures just make her more anxious, even crabby. She likes to be left alone. She steels herself for what she has to do. I can only imagine what thoughts must run through her mind as the doctors talk about the procedure and so many strangers in scrubs stop by to ask questions and look her over. Whatever runs through her mind, it doesn’t stop her. She retreats into her sphinxen trance and looks off at fixed point somewhere in the room.
About an hour before it was time to go to the O.R., a nurse started a drip of strong antibiotics. It is standard procedure. Jordan tolerates most medicines, but she had a reaction to this one. A tide of pink washed over her skin from head to chest, accompanied by a ravenous itchiness. She dug her fingers into her scalp, scratching with such ferocity that she drew blood. It was the only moment where she was really agitated and unlike herself. Even though it’s a very common reaction to the antibiotic, I think Jordan expelled nervous energy through her nails. Jeanette and I had to hold her arms down at one point, which only vexed her more. Benadryl settled her down, but not before Jordan told her neurosurgeon that she was in “a storm of itchiness.” I think even he was surprised by her poetic description. The three of us stood silent for a moment to drink in that wonderful description of how she felt inside.
When it was time to send her off, I took a deep breath and tried to saddle my own inner tempest. I told Jordan earlier in the morning that I might cry a little when it was time for her to go up to the operating room. I didn’t want her to be scared, I said. “Since Mom and Dad are doing all the worrying for you, sometimes we cry a little.” She said she understood. And, as predicted, when I leaned over and kissed her on the forehead I splashed her with a few tears. I told her how proud she made me and how much I loved her. And I told her I would see her very soon. All things considered, I held it together pretty well until the doors closed and my girl was out of sight. Then I let it out. Nettie and I ducked into a small counseling room and drained our emotions for five minutes. We held each other, cried, and found our breath again.
When I stepped into the shower at 4:45am this morning I wondered about all the people who are in the operating room with Jordan right now. I imagined faces I’d never seen before, rolling out of bed and brushing their teeth, having their coffee and preparing to start their day. At 8am they had a long surgery to begin. They undoubtedly shuffled through a morning routine the way we all do. Perhaps they spent a few moments with their own kids, a spouse, a friendly dog. With the warm water running over my face, I thought about the dozen or more strangers who were about to take custody of my daughter’s life. I am grateful to every one of them. And as the timer assigned to patient #7471 flashes 171, my heart is with them.