It's been one week since Walter's surgery. Every day is better than the last. He still has a lot of pain when he lays down and diaper changes are the worst. He's waking up three to four times a night, screaming, but that's to be expected. He really is taking this whole thing in stride.
I'd like to think I'm also doing well, but I would be remiss to pretend that I didn't have the ultimate breakdown during our stay at the hospital.
The surgery was over, and they were moving us from PICU late Thursday night, just 28 hours after he had gotten out of surgery. Dan had gone home to look after our other two kids. I had slept maybe two hours combined the night before. I was tired and had only cried a handful of times, because I was trying to be strong for Walter.
He was in pain and swelling up like a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. He threw up everything he ate and his eyes were swollen shut, but we came in to this prepared. We knew to expect these things.
We had a good rapport with all the nurses in the PICU. I would take bets on who he looked like more day to day – a Teletubby, a Russian Stacking Doll, etc. We laughed a lot. Friends visited. I felt like it was good for Walter to hear us laughing since he couldn’t actually see us. He is used to a house of chaos. When the visitors left, and he would wake in the night with alarms going off because his heart rate had skyrocketed, I would sing to him and watch the monitor as his levels went back to normal.
Twenty-seven hours in, we were surviving. We had a routine. That's when the news came back that they would be moving us to a regular room on the 6th floor.
"Great!" I thought, "this is one step closer to getting out of here." But in the back of my mind, I worried. Worried that we were leaving the nurses I knew and the room I'd unpacked in. Leaving this one-on-one atmosphere when he wasn't eating, and still swelling.
I'm a mother. I worry. It's my thing.
But I tried to keep the mood light as they wheeled us into the elevator and up to the top floor. I was making small talk when it happened. They rolled us in to a shared room that had four other people in it.
Let me pause to mention that I am definitely a people person. I adore people. But I am also a very private person. I can't handle the idea that only a curtain would separate me from these strangers. That they would hear me singing at 3 am to my sick son as he simultaneously cried and puked all over me. My awareness of others around me is what makes me an excellent driver, but in this situation, makes me a terrible mother. It's what prevented me from nailing auditions in New York, because I refused to sing in my apartment, knowing that others could hear me. The reason I can be vulnerable in this blog, but if you see me in person I'll make a joke to keep us all from crying about just how sad this whole thing is. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed and I collapsed. The nurses ran to me. Cue the hyperventilating. At this point I'm having an out-of-body experience that I can't control. I've got a million things running through my mind, mainly "If everyone is taking care of me right now, who the hell is with Walter?"
I had a full-blown panic attack. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn't talk. The flood gates had opened.
This was my moment. This was my meltdown. And it was happening at 10:05 pm in front of three nurses, four strangers and my son who couldn't see me crumpled on the floor, but could certainly hear his mother weeping.
Looking back, it was probably the stress of everything combined that lead me to that mortifying moment. That, and two hours of sleep in the last two days made me exceptionally vulnerable. They quickly ushered us in to a private room, as I profusely apologized while continuing to hyperventilate and assuring them I could get it together.
The next thing I heard were the nurses talking at the nurses’ station to discuss my mental health. I overheard one say "PICU swears she is funny and laid back" while another suggested I may need medication.
I definitely made a solid first impression on the 6th floor staff. The night stretched on. I finally calmed down. Walter had settled in. Our night nurse was incredible. Walter and I slept 3 straight hours. She handled us both with love and care and made me feel like I wasn't a lunatic. When Walter woke up screaming at 3:30 am, I sang to him without worry. When I finally got him back down around 5 am, we slept another two hours. I woke up, braless, with drool on my pillow and three doctors hovering over Walter's crib. It was 7 am. Another two hours of sleep.
I greeted the doctors with my saggy mom boobs and a smile, drool still on my face. I felt renewed. I needed that cry. They showed me scans of Walter's new skull. It looks like art. They checked out Walter's head. He looked like a Kewpie Doll. The swelling had even swallowed his little nose. He still couldn't see. But he was calm.
It's hard to tell when a calm baby is awake when they can't open their eyes. Walter would pull a "French Mime" and stretch his arms out in front of himself, feeling the air. I would run over and put his hands on my face and he would perk up, feeling around my face until his hands made it up to my hair, which he would tug.
A few hours later, a social worker popped in. I instantly like him. A young, fabulous gay man. He was sent to ask about my emotions and to see how I was coping after last night's "event,” but instead we ended up talking about Ru Paul's Drag Race and my time in The Glamazons. I'm assuming he cleared me as "mentally fit to mother" because it wasn't brought up again.
I'll blog again soon about what Walter went through those days in the hospital. But it felt important to be honest about this moment. About my meltdown. I think sometime it's easier to just post about the positive things, but that's not real life.
In real life we fall ... and sometimes, if we are lucky enough, we have a team of nurses lift us back up again and remind us that even at a Children's Hospital, sometime we adults need some special care too.