Busy in Bristow: Don’t Be a Martyr Mom When Your Daughter Needs Surgery

| January 22, 2013 | 2 Comments | Busy in Bristow

Like many moms, Kathy drives a mini-van full of booster seats and Disney/Pixar DVD’s.

Take it from me: You don’t have to be overly stoic or Super Mom, or – God forbid – a martyr when your child’s gotta have surgery.

Our oldest daughter was only one when she had the first of three eye surgeries. Now, she’s 7, and she’s got to go back “under the knife.”

Back then, I insisted I was fine to take her all by myself. No need for both of us to miss work. No need to get a sitter for our sons after the pre-school let out. The first two minor surgeries were at outpatient centers in the ‘Burbs, and I figured it this way: 8:30AM surgery, 11:00AM recovery room, 12:30 preschool pick up for the other two kids … no problem, I got this.

Except after I’d gotten cocky about handling the first two on my own, I found I was in over my head with the third surgery, which was far more complicated and at Children’s National Medical Center in Downtown D.C.

Picture it: July, 2006, and I am driving our daughter through the maze of city streets, making one wrong turn after another in rush hour traffic. The clock’s ticking, she’s uncomfortable, asking me for juice (since she hasn’t had anything to eat or drink since dinner the night before), while I confront one way streets and traffic circles whose sole purpose it is to keep me from getting her to the doctor on time.

When I become utterly convinced that I can no longer figure out which way to drive the car without ending up either:

a) back in Virginia or

b) in the Potomac River,

I recognize a Metro stop and decide to dump our car at a metered space on the street. Sure, the car could easily get towed and impounded, but at that moment, the only thing that matters to me is getting our daughter to her surgery.

Forty-five minutes later, I emerge on the Metro from its darkened tunnels to its sunny platform, 16 month old on my hip, diaper bag slung over my shoulder and medical forms clutched in my right fist. I look just a tad bit frazzled when I sit down at the intake desk.

Too soon, I have to deposit my daughter in the O.R. Even the smallest cloth robe they drape her in hangs off her little body. I’ve done this twice before in just three months, and this is the most serious of surgeries. Anyone who has watched their child’s face get covered with a plastic mask and seen their baby’s body go limp, knows it is one of the most helpless feelings in the world.

My daughter was plenty scared that day, so I could not show my own fear. All I could do was hold her hand, tell her to hold Dolly, and repeat the mantra that it was going to be all right, I loved her, the doctor was going to help her see.

Terror in her eyes, then she was asleep, and I was whisked out of the room, doors swinging shut behind me.

In retrospect, I can’t blame him, but when I called my husband, he really couldn’t comprehend the part about the car:

“You got lost?” he asked.


“You left the car where?”

“K Street and something. In front of a convenience store.”

“And you need me to come pick you both up …”

“Yes. I can’t take her home on the Metro.”

“You got lost? How did you get lost? You never get lost.”

And so it went like that, until he finally “got it” that his otherwise completely competent wife had lost the car in our nation’s capital but had somehow managed to make it to the hospital on public transportation.

This time, I tell Nurse Donna that I am NOT going it alone. Both my husband and I will be there on the day of our daughter’s surgery, no matter what, but she tells me it’s up to the anesthesiologist whether or not both parents can go into the operating room with our daughter.

Now, readers – you know I’m not going to sit in the waiting room when they take her in if the guy says only one of us is permitted, but geez, it would be nice if I didn’t have to bear the sight of her limp body by myself.

Here’s to hoping we both get to don the blue booties and gaping gowns.

I already know that Dad’s going to be better at navigating Downtown D.C. than I was, and hopefully, I’ll continue to do an okay job navigating the emotional highways of the complicated map called parenthood.

Like many moms, Kathy drives a mini-van full of booster seats and Disney/Pixar DVD’s. When she’s not chauffeuring her kids, ages 11 and under, to activities, she teaches for Prince William County Public Schools, writes fiction, poetry and this column about the challenges and rewards of being a mom to young children.

© 2013, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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  1. Twingle05 says:

    Good luck, Kathy with your daughter’s surgery. It is times like this when we just need to let friends help out.

    • Kathy Smaltz says:

      Thank you, Twingle05. You are right, and a good family friend of ours came that day to stay with the other kids and get dinner ready for everyone.
      The surgery was also a great success, and we are grateful to our daughter’s skilled physicians.
      I hope to hear from you again and apologize it took me so long to reply! I didn’t realize people were posting comments to my column!

      Kathy S., Busy in Bristow

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