Emergency Hernia Surgery for our Two-Year-Old

Written January 29, 2012.

Right now I’m sitting in room 445 in the Pediatric Unit of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Billings, MT. It’s 11 PM on Sunday night, and I’m waiting for our two-year-old to get out of an emergency hernia surgery. In a little hospital crib in the room our 9-month-old baby girl is sleeping. She’s not sick, but she’s along for the ride because she is a nurser. Sleeping in the hospital bed nearby is my husband, Jarred, who is sick with the stomach flu. While waiting in the ER for information about our little boy’s surgery, Jarred got sick and vomited 2.5 liters. We don’t usually tally that sort of thing, but in the ER, measuring things is standard protocol for the nurse who helped clean it up. Life has a way of throwing curveballs and helping keep things in perspective. Here I was stressing out about our upcoming cross country move, and suddenly, all of that screeches to a halt because my baby boy is in surgery right now.

Sleeping in the hospital after emergency hernia surgery.

Even before an emergency hernia surgery, the weekend was full. On Friday afternoon our 6-year-old celebrated her birthday with a much anticipated party with nine friends and cousins, ages 7 and under. The two hour event took every bit of our reserves out of us, even though we tried to keep it pretty low key. Low key just doesn’t happen with that many kids swarming around a house, high on Pixie Sticks and Pepsi. As chaotic as it was, we wanted to let her have one last party here with her classmates and cousins, and they all had a blast.

So after a Friday spent getting a house ready for the onslaught of excited kids, and adding the general melee of the week, and moving plans, we didn’t do much at all on Saturday. Our two littlest ones have been getting me up a lot at night, so my days are a blur, and I looked forward to a Sunday with no plans at all.

Saturday night was especially exhausting. Our baby girl woke up once at midnight, but our 2-year-old got up and out of bed and wandered into our room three times in the night, got up for the day at 5 AM to watch cartoons, and then kept returning to our bed every half an hour or so until I dragged myself out of bed. In hindsight, he was probably starting to feel the pain of his hernia. On Sunday morning, I dragged myself to the shower and we headed to church, where I don’t remember a bit of the readings, but I do remember that our baby girl was hugging her dad adorably for much of the time.

As we were getting ready to leave, our 2-year-old complained that his tummy hurt. A few moments later he was screaming and crying in the bathroom, crouched down on the floor. I thought he was just throwing a fit because he was tired, so I picked him up and he screamed louder. When he quieted down enough, he managed to say “ow, ow, ow, my tummy hurts.” He kept on screaming for several minutes, long enough that everyone in church who sees him regularly and knows him well collectively said we should take him in to the doctor. So, in the matter of minutes, our Sunday got rearranged, and we left our two oldest kids with Jarred’s sister, we grabbed a few essentials, and headed to the ER.

When we got there, they did an abdominal x-ray and palpated his belly, took his vitals, and determined that he had a painful case of constipation and a belly full of gas making the pain worse. They gave him a suppository twice and then an enema, and we waited several hours for something to happen. The whole time he was listlessly tired and had the chills while sweating. When he finally had a messy diaper, they deemed it a success, and we were discharged and went home. As we left, the receptionist at the ER commented that he still had the same horrible look on his face as when we came in.

So, we picked up an easy fried chicken dinner at the grocery store and some recommended apple juice for our little guy, picked up our two oldest kids, and headed home, ready to call it a night. As we drove home, I held him on my lap, and he just was a limp, occasionally wimpering little puddle of his usual self. Not long after we got in the door, our sick little guy threw up all over himself and his blanket. I put him in the bathtub to clean him up, and noticed he sat completely still as the bubbles and water filled in around him. Normally, he’s a blur in the bathtub. As I dried him off he cried out in pain, and when I glanced down I saw an egg-sized bulge just above his groin on the right. Our 4-year-old had hernia surgery just 10 months ago, so I knew right away that we once again had a hernia on our hands.

Wanting to just start crying, I instead went into battle mode, and we spent the next hour getting our kids fed, packing up and shipping off our older kids back to Jarred’s sister’s house for the night, and packing up for a night in the hospital for Mom, Dad, and the two littlest ones. Jarred drove about 90 mph back to the hospital, and even though the ER knew to expect us from the call back we made, everything moved in slow motion. As we drove in the dark, I couldn’t help but wonder how helpless we would be 100 or 150 years ago in this same situation.

Once we got to the hospital, Jarred dropped me and our little guy off first, and I carried him in and mumbled his information, scrawled my signatures, and sat down on the chair. I looked down at that sweet little boy in my arms, limp and wincing in pain but too tired and dehydrated to put up much protest. Wanting so desperately to make my baby all better, but being so helpless, unable to do anything but wait is so hard. We both just wanted to scream, “Can’t you see that this little boy is really sick?” But we just waited, and I didn’t care that the crazy people that collect in the ER saw the tears rolling down my face as I cradled a little boy in footy pajamas.

The hardest part was waiting for an IV. Knowing that he would probably have hernia surgery tonight, we couldn’t let him have water. But after not drinking anything but a few ounces of apple juice all day, and then throwing up twice, he had nothing in him. He held his empty sippy cup the whole 30 mile drive into the ER, and hung onto it until right before surgery. He kept asking for water with cracked, dry lips and sunken eyes pleading for a drink, in between whimpering in another wave of pain. When it tears me up to wait the relatively short time for the IV with pain medication, I’m humbled by the desperation that countless parents feel who handle far more severe illnesses in their children or live somewhere without access to medical care.

It’s now after midnight, and we’re still waiting for our little boy to get out of surgery. Jarred just got sick again, filling up another container. It’s going to be a long, sleepless night with a baby trying to sleep in a noisy hospital crib, a two year-old fresh out of hernia surgery, a dad who is continually throwing up and not able to help take care of anyone, and me, who hasn’t hardly slept for the last few days and won’t tonight either. All of this just makes me think that if all our stuff just burned up before moving to Minnesota, it wouldn’t matter. The truth is, the only thing that I really care about moving to Minnesota is us.


How about you…ever have one of those days where all of the little things suddenly get put in perspective?

© 2012


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