The last 27 hours have been the longest of my life. Specifically the four hundred and five minutes that Walter was in the OR. It's a specific kind of torture that I wouldn't wish on anyone. You have nothing but a large tv with a long list of numbers. Each child has a number and the screen updates, minute by minute. 112 minutes in the OR room, 233 minutes in the OR room, 399 minutes in the OR room. Until, finally, the words switch to "In recovery" and you can breathe. We got a scary call Monday night. Two days before the surgery. A vague voicemail saying they received Walter's sleep study results and needed a CT scan before we could proceed with the surgery. I didn't sleep that night. Worried that they would postpone this thing, yet again. Worried that something more could be wrong. I called that nurse practitioner back at 7pm Monday night. 7am Tuesday morning. 8am Tuesday morning. And at 9:04 received a call. The CT scan was to check the brain and spinal chord to rule out a potential problem. When I asked what they were looking for specifically, she said "let's not worry about that until we see the results." Cue me worrying about "that" until we got the results. Whatever "that" was. I packed the car, passed the other two kids off to my parents and Walter and I were on our way. We made it to CHLA with 8 minutes to spare. I was momentarily distracted by my ability to find a parking spot and arrive on time despite the late notice and LA traffic. We were off to a good start. Walter still seemed confused, but excited, to be an only child for the day. That excitement faded briefly when they strapped him on to the machine. He bounced back and forth between curious and crying throughout the scan.
The test was quick and now we just had to wait. I left the hospital thinking about a woman I had met in the radiology waiting room. She sat alone in the corner of this oddly bright and cheerful waiting room, littered with toys and children's books, as her 8 year old daughter underwent testing for leukemia. Apparently there are two types, one of which has a 90% recovery rate. Her daughter has the other kind. She expects they'll be at the hospital 2-3 months for this first round of chemo. If you are ever looking for perspective, visit a children's hospital. I got the call that afternoon that there was no sign of a brain hemorrhage and surgery would be a 10am go time with an 8am check in the following day. I didn't even know a brain hemorrhage was on the table so..... yay? Dan drove down and met us and we stayed the night with dear friends who live near the hospital as Walter basked in the glory of what it feels like to be an only child for a day. Ignorance is bliss and I'm grateful Walter didn't know what was coming. He slept between us that night, for the first time ever. And I held him tightly, quietly crying and eventually drifted off to sleep. The last thing I remember is seeing his little pointy forehead glistening from my tears. The next morning we checked in early. I mistakenly took us to the surgery waiting area instead of surgery admitting. It was eerily quite in the waiting room and it took me a moment to figure out why. There were about 5 sets of parents. All with their strollers. But none with their children. The strollers sat empty. The clerk pointed us in the direction of admitting and off we went. A quick exam, 4 painful attempts at a blood draw and an adorable costume change later, we were escorted in to the surgery play room. A place where kids of all ages played in their hospital gowns waiting for their names to be called. Then it was our turn. I'd held it together pretty well up until this point. But going in to the OR prep area got me. There are rolling cribs instead of beds. Tiny oxygen masks and blood pressure cuffs. It's surreal. One by one each doctor came by to speak with us. The first 3 were all men. They were clinical and matter of fact about it all. Reiterating what we already had prepared for. Then a woman came over. She used a softer tone. Leaned in. She was being more kind than clinical. And I lost it. So did my husband. They gave Walter a mild sedative so he wouldn't be panicked when they took him away. I think I'm the one who could have really used the sedative. We put him in his tiny crib on wheels. We each leaned in for a hug and kiss and I bawled as they rolled my heart away through two huge pink doors. We were left with a number and a pager. Almost as if we were waiting to be seated at the cheesecake factory. "krieg, party of two, you baby is ready". We were taken to the surgery waiting area. Two dear friends surprised us by showing up to offer support. I was in no mood for friends. I was exhausted and distraught and wanted to spend the next 6-8 hours alone staring at that tv, watching Walters number and the updates. But, as is often the case, I was wrong. We needed them there and didn't even know it. We were instructed to spend the first 2 hours "out and about" by the medical team. An instruction I was fully prepared to ignore until the friends arrival spurred me into action. There was a great farmers market set up in the court yard and we spent the morning walking, pager in hand, laughing and feeling loved as we pushed an empty stroller around the neighborhood. It was perfect. Two hours had passed in the blink of an eye thanks to those friends and some great farmers market food. We went and checked in. No news. After sitting together for a while longer, we said our goodbyes and Dan and I turned to the comfort of some trashy reality tv to pass the time. My eyes darting back and forth between the Bachelor and Walter's updates. 211 minutes in the OR. Ari's being a douche. I watched as other parents came and went. 307 minutes. A couple sits in the corner of the waiting room crying because there son has been in the OR for 5 hours for what they were told would be a two hour procedure as Becca cries on tv because her fiancé loves one of the 25 other women he dated while they were together. 405 minutes in and it feels like the time is going slower than the traffic on the actual 405 freeway. Then it happens. Suddenly and without warning, it switches to "in recovery". The pager never goes off. The doctor never comes down. Instead a nurse comes and take us to our son. He is in PICU. Walter waivers between outrage and exhaustion. He has great brain activity. Good levels and a perfectly flat forehead. He's rocking a turban like only a cute ass baby can. He's perfect. Pissed, but perfect. He lost a lot of blood during the procedure, which they assure us "sometimes happens". They keep a close eye on his white blood cell count. His oxygen levels. His temperature which is living around 101.2. Because of his rolling veins, he has an iv port on each ankle as well as one one in his upper left arm. He has an art line in his right arm and a catheter. In his brief moments of alertness, he makes it his mission to rip every single one out. His eyes have swollen shut so he can't see us. But he can hear us. He caresses my face and pulls my hair. He downs every bottle we offer and the entire staff has confessed that he is the cutest baby on the ward. If things continue to go this well, there is even talk of moving us to a regular room out of the PICU later today. He's a fighter and I'm so fucking proud of this kid.