What I Remember of Merrick’s Surgery and Hospital Stay

Okay. So. I put up an album in Photos the whole ordeal, so you can look if you want but it won’t be in your face if you don’t. I do agree that I’d rather see a baby looking tired and swollen rather than hooked up to tubes and machinery, but that scar does make even me a little queasy sometimes. Anyway. Here’s what happened:
On Wednesday morning I got up at the butt-crack of dawn, packed, and drank coffee like a mofo. I hated to wake Merrick up at all–1) because I knew what the rest of the day had in store for him, and 2) because I figured he’d be starving and consequently cranky. We had to leave the house by 4:45 a.m. in order to snag Caleb’s dad, who had flown in the night before, from the airport. I waited until the last minute to pick him up out of his crib and change his diaper, then I left him in his snuggy little sleeper and popped him straight into his car seat. He snoozed all the way to the OU Children’s Hospital.
We parked. We made our way to the third floor, checked in, and settled down to wait. I was sort of hoping we’d have a little time to spend with Merrick before they called us back, but since he was number 1 on the list, it didn’t take long. They took us back into a hallway full of beds and curtains. Over the course of the next half-hour, 50 different people came by and asked the same questions over and over. We put Merrick in a fuzzy yellow hospital gown and some cute hospital booties. He was happy as a clam–talkative and smiley–so unaware, and that alone was heartbreaking. In curtained rooms all around us, you could hear kids crying, and begging their parents not to leave them.
So sad.
When the lady who takes away the babies came to take away our baby, I started to panic. I thought about grabbing my son and calmly walking out of that place–surely his head was not so messed up that he couldn’t just learn to live with it! But we handed him off, and he just smiled and cooed at us over the baby-taker’s shoulder as they went through the double doors.
And then I did loose it a little bit.
We knew it would be awhile before the operation got going, so we grabbed some breakfast in the cafeteria before camping out in the waiting room. The surgery started at 7:30. At 8:45 or so the doctor came out and shook our hands–he was done. (WARNING: UTTER GROSSNESS AHEAD) He had basically scalped my child, then cut out a 2-inch wide strip of skull-bone from the center of his head, and even more from the sides, creating a big honkin’ soft spot where Merrick previously had none…and then sewed it all back up.
I expected to be able to go back and see Merrick in no more than 30 minutes–but an hour and a half later we were still waiting. I think it would be fair to classify the entire morning as one of the most horrible times of my life so far. It turns out he ended up needing a blood transfusion in the recovery room. We were finally allowed to go back there 2 hours later.
Caleb seemed eerily calm–I was hyperventilating on the inside. I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say I didn’t like seeing my baby all wired up in a hospital bed with a white bandage over his tender little head–although at that particular point I don’t think I could’ve handled seeing the actual scar. And "scar" is a mild word for it–maybe "massive head wound" would work better. His head was very tall, and I couldn’t help but imagine that it was his brain overflowing from the gaping hole in his skull. (It wasn’t.)
They moved us up to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where 2 nurses exclusively pampered Merrick for 24 hours. His head was a little puffy on the first day, but other than that everything seemed normal–and unless someone was jacking with his IV or pricking his fingers, he slept. I could not pick him up for a while, and I wasn’t allowed to breastfeed since they needed to keep an exact measure of how much he ate, so I pumped and fed him through a bottle.
The next morning, the neurosurgeons came to remove the bandage, revealing the most gruesome sight I’ve ever seen–partly because for the nature of what it was, and partly because it was on a little bitty baby…I pretty much couldn’t stand to look at my own son. His head and face were very swollen, but he could still open both of his eyes–which was apparently not typical. He was taken off morphine…this day was the worst day. Merrick was just not lovin’ life at this point. We were transferred to the floor where the plain old sick kids stay; where the nurses care for 4 or more (I want to say a lot more) patients at a time–and they might check on your child if he was dying. Maybe.
We did a lot of holding him up rather than laying him down so the swelling wouldn’t get so bad–and it didn’t. His left eye got pretty puffy but he could still see out of it. His entire head felt soft and mushy and it rippled like a water bed whenever I rocked him. Ewwwww, no?
On the morning of the third day, Merrick was unhooked from most of his whatnots, mainly because he kept pulling everything off or out. His swelling was less than what it had been the day before even though we had been warned the third day would be the worst. He had actually slept a little bit the night before, and he was talkative and happy. His neurosurgeon said he looked a lot better than most cranio patients and that we would probably get to take him home by the next day, if not that afternoon. We expected the discharge process to take forever (seeing as how getting Merrick’s medication always took an hour or more), but once the doc gave the go-ahead, that hospital staff practically drop-kicked our asses out of there. We were literally walking out of that place within 15 minutes–true story, no lie!
And so we came home.
Other than having some trouble with a sore throat (from the ventilator) and constipation (I suppose from all the different meds?), Merrick is doing wonderfully. He’s still not keen on laying down on his back, but I think it’s his tummy that’s bothering him more than his head. Everything is back to normal–it’s almost as if nothing ever happened. I keep thinking to myself: "That was easy…a little too easy." But I am thankful. I’m so very thankful, to our family and our friends for all their help and support. I’m thankful that Merrick’s condition was mild and that it’s essentially cured now. I’m thankful we only stayed 3 days in that depressing hospital while some poor kids are there–sometimes alone–for months and months. We are definitely counting our blessings and enjoying every single moment with our son who is, was, and always will be, perfect, in every way.

About Toni

Mom. Wife. Artist. I take care of the kids and pretend to clean sometimes. I can cook spagetti and I have never been arrested. View all posts by Toni

3 responses to “What I Remember of Merrick’s Surgery and Hospital Stay

  • Joell

    Such great news, Toni.  And overall, sounds like a positive experience–as positive as it could be anyway being as y’all were in a hospital and somebody was sawing your kid’s skull open and whatnot. 😉  Sending a great big SHWEW!!!! your way.  Glad that is over and y’all can move on with the fun stuff of life…So thankful to hear the good news, girl.
    The only thing I would like to add here is that I still see no baldy pic of Caleb…waiting.

  • barnyardmama

    Welcome!  You’re one of us now.  Your story has a familiar ring to it although I’ll admit to being a tad jealous since you never have to go back.  Sniff.  I’ll live.  Love the way you describe the differences between ICU and regular floors.  I actually prefer that now that I’m Charlie’s primary caregiver, but when he left ICU for the first time I almost died of fright.
    I did google some pictures of other kids who were having that surgery and Merrick looks really good by comparison.  I don’t know why the little nekkid bebe with hospital tubes bugs me so much.  I guess because you want them to be innocent and never hurt.  I’m not really phased by the scars at this point.  Charlie escaped pretty good, but on the heart unit they cut up those kids like fish and the parents all want to show you the pictures.  I had to get over my squeamishness FAST!
    I think it’s the pain killers that cause constipation. 
    I’ll keep praying that Merrick has a speedy recovery.

  • miranda

    Man, that boy of yours is quite the little trooper! The strength of little babies is just amazing sometimes.I’m so relieved to hear that everything went about as well as it could have. I’m so sorry you had to go through all the icky parts, but it sounds like you managed just beautifully. As we all knew you would. :)Sending all good thoughts your way.

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