It is nearly 2:00 in the morning and I am unable to sleep because I keep thinking about the look in his eyes.
All parties agreed that it was what was best for him.
But yet I continued to struggle with the decision.
Because ultimately as a parent - it is still your call.
For years we would see the orthodontist every six months to be told that he looked great and we should return in 6 months. Eventually they told us that he would no longer need to return. It was evident that he would not be the son in need of any orthodontic help.
He had never worn braces. His teeth perfectly aligned. His bite and spacing were impeccable. But last spring the dentist told us that he thought Son #1 would have to have his wisdom teeth removed at some point in the future. It appeared that his wisdom teeth would pose problems.
I still have all of my wisdom teeth and so does my husband. Although recently my husband at the age of 50 is beginning to have trouble. I didn't think that we would be seeing any issues with Son #1 for some time. Don't ask me why I made that assumption - I just did.
About 1 week before school was about to start, Son #1 informed me that he thought his wisdom teeth were trying to come in. They were uncomfortable. Bleeding. Irritating him with some foods. I immediately took him to the dentist and the general consensus was they needed to removed. All four. As soon as possible.
So after sitting with the calendar we knew that our time to choose would be precious. Being his Senior year, there would be many things on the calendar - important events that we would need to work around. Also knowing recovery would take some time and all would affect any sports activity and days of school work.
After some deliberation, he was scheduled for surgery before Labor Day weekend. Schools would be closed Friday, Monday and Tuesday - so having them removed on Thursday should allow plenty of time for recovery.
It was all very cut and dry.
At least so it seemed.
He would have his surgery consultation with the surgeon the day before. On that day, Son #1 remarked that he really would rather not have them removed.
I couldn't have agreed with him more. I completely understood. After all, there didn't appear to be anything too catastrophic happening at the moment - but I had been advised by two doctors that they needed to come out.
Interestingly, the night before the consultation, I told my husband that I didn't really want to put him through this. I had done a great deal of reading and wasn't convinced it was such a high priority for the pain and anguish it was going to cause now. But my husband reinforced the issues that he was now having with his own wisdom teeth and thought that whatever Son #1 would endure presently, would certainly be better than later as an adult - as my husband was facing.
So we went to the consultation.
Both Son #1 and I met the surgeon and immediately liked him. That was a good sign. I was feeling better although still a bit apprehensive.
After the doctor left, the nurse went over all of the "what-ifs" that were involved.
You know what I mean - all of the things that could, maybe, potentially, but not usually happen. The risks.
She told me that I needed to go down the list and initial next to each statement that I understood the possibility of the complication.
She then turned to my 17 year old son and said, "Sorry. If you were 18 you could make this decision - but it's still Mom's to make."
Remind me some more.
I signed off and initialed every cautionary statement.
Hole in the sinus cavity.
Hitting the nerve along the jaw line.
I have to admit - I took it all very seriously.
Son #1 has never been put under anesthesia for any reason so there was some concern within me over that as well.
We returned home and my unease continued to grow. I was surprised by this. Surprised that I was having such difficulty.
After all, I've been through meningitis, dozens of broken bones, possible appendicitis, testing for cystic fibrosis among a laundry list of other medical ailments and issues with my children over the past 17 years.
I've never had one under anesthesia before. Never any surgery of any kind. Certainly not to be performed by someone I had spent less than 10 minutes with...
I seriously began to second guess my consent.
I muttered over and over to my husband that I was terribly anxious about it.
He understood and legitimized my worry with his own.
But truthfully, Son #1's own apprehension is what made things the most difficult for me.
The fact that he was this fully grown guy - telling me that he didn't want to do something - that was suggested that we do - acknowledging all of the risks involved as my own responsibility.
In the past when my kids have been ill or needed medical treatment, I just took them and they complied. Treatment was never something that was an option and never anything that we debated.
Somehow this felt terribly different.
My husband and I confessed to each other that we had both "Googled" this procedure and read many of the horror stories. Including the story involving the 17 year old girl who passed away just last April while having the same procedure a mere 30 minutes from our home. We tried to ease each other's minds with the typical domestic banter - but as we laid next to each other in bed - the silence between the words was palpable. We both tossed and turned throughout the night. Finally acknowledging to each other that morning at the bathroom sink that neither of us had slept particularly well.
The next morning - Son #1 slept in later than usual while I had managed to be awake and restless a better part of the night. Still I could not explain this unease within me.
My husband planned to meet us at the surgeon - as I was concerned that I would not be able to get my son from the office to the car on my own after being put under with anesthesia. I know the effect that it has on me and how I struggle to come out of its hold and the ill feelings that follow. I packed barf bags just in case.
It was a short 20 minute ride yet listening to my son with his heavy sighs and repetitive chant to not do this - made it seem longer indeed.
We arrived 15 minutes early and after checking in and paying the bill - I slipped out to the restroom. When I returned only 7 minutes later, I found that my son had already been taken back. I reacted with a strange feeling of desperation that I needed to find him.
They led me back to the room where the two nurses began to hook him up to the heart monitor and prepare for his IV. I could tell that he was nervous. I saw that familiar smile and shift of the eyes that I've watched since he was just a toddler. I tried to make small talk about silly things tho I can't say that it relieved any of the tension that both of us felt.
The surgeon came in and put in his IV. Shortly after he began to administer medication through the syringe. After that Son #1 smiled and said, "Would this be the part where you are knocking me out?"
We all laughed and the surgeon told him it would be soon.
As the medication took effect, I watched my son's face.
His eyes shifting quickly side to side. Darting around the room. Obviously trying to process things that they were seeing out of the ordinary. He began to furl his brow. Looking concerned. Confused. At this point the surgeon said, "Are things starting to move around now?" My son responded with a nod of positivity.
After a few quick exchanges with my son about video games - specifically Call of Duty Black Ops - he looked at me sitting in the corner and told me that it was time for me to retire to the waiting room.
As I got up, I rubbed my son's legs and tried to speak to him. I searched his eyes for something responsive. His eyes were opened but didn't seem to have much understanding. The doctor told me that it would be a good time to give him a kiss since he was basically paralyzed at that moment.
So I did.
I bent down and kissed him harder than I probably have in many years. Then I said, "I'm going now, Bud. I love you."
I found that as I turned to leave the room - I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I cannot explain why. I only know that I felt extremely vulnerable and afraid. I knew his eyes had not told me what I needed.
I made my way to the waiting room and my eyes met my husband's. I felt my own concern reflecting in his. I knew he was feeling the same angst as me. I told him how relieved I was that part was over and how glad I was that he was there.
We then proceeded to watch a video on the flat screen television of some travel synopsis of what appeared to be South France - though I am not certain.
We watched the screen - taking in the beautiful scenery and picturesque towns, rocky cliffs and sapphire sea. I had moments that I thought to myself - they have this on here intentionally because they know that what happens in this office can be nerve wracking for those that are waiting for either their loved one or their own appointment. No matter the reason - I was genuinely thankful that it was on that screen.
Approximately 20 minutes later my husband pointed out that the doctor was standing in the hallway. He looked at me and said, "Do you think he is finished? Is it over that fast?"
Clearly after observing him enter another room other than my son's we knew the answer. Yes. In a matter of 20 minutes the procedure was complete.
About 15 minutes later a nurse appeared to tell us that he was still sleeping and all had gone well. I felt a huge rush of relief. Funny how those 20 minutes had caused so much trepidation.
After another 15 minutes - they told us we could go back to see him.
As we turned the corner I looked into his eyes. The same way I looked deeply into them before I left when I kissed him. I waited to see what they would tell me.
I was immediately struck with the intensity of the look in his eyes and suddenly I was overwhelmed by it.
He looked incredibly sad.
He looked like a small child who was terribly frightened.
I patted his arm. Then his leg. Then I tried to speak lightheartedly.
Anything that might trigger a reaction of relief from him.
Anything that would let me know that he was okay.
Anything that would replace that look in his eyes.
But it didn't happen.
His eyes scanned the room seeming to question everything.
The fear in them evident.
I finally had to speak up.
"Bud, are you okay?"
As he just stared at me, the nurse replied, "He's fine. He's still pretty out of it."
I heard her words and tried to accept them.
But looking into my son's eyes - I saw the opposite.
Again - I felt a bit shaky.
Like I was going to cry again.
My heart breaking for him.
I felt like I should be doing something to help him.
The doctor and nurse both came in and spoke to us.
They rattled off all sorts of instructions and handed us things for his discharge.
Yet - I didn't process any of it.
My eyes fixed on his.
Waiting for him to give me a sign that he was okay.
But it just didn't happen.
He could not have looked more like a little boy if he tried.
They told us that we could go and my son like a pinball bounced off the sides of the wall in the hallway.
We carefully escorted him down the hallway - into the elevator, out to the parking garage and into the truck with my husband.
I followed behind in my car.
I could not shake the image of the look in my son's eyes for the entire ride home.
Upon arriving home, we changed his gauze, put chapstick on his lips and made sure the ice packs were in place.
As he reclined in the chair, he looked up at me with the same helpless look.
Staring intently at me.
Finally I spoke softly and said - "Just go to sleep, Bud."
And with that - he closed his eyes and slept for two hours.
My daughter whispered to me, "He looks so sad, Mom. Why does he look like that?"
I said, "He does look sad and scared. I think it's just the anesthesia."
Son #3 remarked, "It's weird. He looks really young. He doesn't look like himself."
When he awoke two hours later, the pain was evident.
Recognition was there.
That fearful look had disappeared from his eyes.
My 17 year old son had returned.
Later he told me that he had no recognition of anything prior to when he woke up after being home and asleep for two hours.
As I have taken care of him over the past 36 hours - I have thought about that fear and sadness that pooled in his eyes and how it made me feel.
The compassion that welled up in me.
The instantaneous urge to make it better.
The helplessness when I realized that I couldn't.
I get it.
No matter how old our children grow - as parents we will always remember when they were young and completely dependent upon us for their care.
We will always remember that little being that relied constantly upon us for their very existence.
Back to the time when that is exactly what we were.
Responsible for their very existence.
Yet that feeling never leaves us.
We just file it away somewhere -
Watching them mature.
All the while we watch their eyes that send us the signal they are capable.
We file that feeling away until there is a time
That the fear and sadness return to their eyes.
And then we are there to be relied upon -
-- until it leaves again.