My son had a major orthopedic surgery back in 2013. At the the time of surgery, he was 9.5 years old. The surgery was necessary to address imbalances in muscle tightness and bone development in his legs and feet caused by his cerebral palsy. And, while he had endured medical treatments and surgeries while in the NICU during the first 5 months of his life, THIS was different experience.
I remember the moment when the nurses wheeled him away from us, drowsy but still aware, fear filling his eyes. We tried to comfort him and let him know that we would be there for him when he woke up. He continued to stare at us. Once through the double doors leading to the operating room, my husband and I cried as we held each other, praying that we would meet our boy on the other side.
And, we did. Many hours and many updates later, we were with our son as he started to wake from the anesthesia. And, when he finally opened his eyes, we could see fear and pain. He had just been through a grueling multi hour surgery where he now lay in bed with casts that covered his feet and spanned his legs up to mid-thigh. And, while he may have understood the need for it, he was not prepared for the reality of what his post-surgery life would be like. Neither were we.
I won’t go into the medical details of my son’s surgery. That is for another time. For us, the more long-lasting, and significant, legacy of that surgery was the emotional trauma. One manifestation of that trauma was his inability to fall asleep unless he was in physical contact with me or my husband. Then, he would wake multiple times screaming in terror. He would push us away, while at the same time, desperately needing the reassurance that we were there, and he was safe. During those “episodes”, we would just BE with him, holding him, speaking softly to him.
Over the years, these “episodes” have diminished in frequency. What used to be a nightly occurrence, now almost 7 years later, are not nearly as frequent nor as intense. But, what remains is his need for one of us to be near when he goes to sleep each night. And, so, we have a “family sleeping room” where we drift off to sleep each night. Now, when he wakes in the middle of the night, and he calls for me, I respond, “I am here. You are safe.” And I will place my hand on his back, to reassure him of my physical presence. And he drifts peacefully back into slumber, resting in the knowledge that he is indeed safe.