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Pediatric Surgery, known to we hospital insiders as “Peed Surge,” a place I’ve visited far too many times over the past three years . . . is somehow where we ended up yesterday.

No, there is not another freak accident to report, just a freaky sort of day, where everything seemed upside down and backwards and I couldn’t quite figure out why we were where we were.

On Wednesday afternoon, the secretary from the orthopaedic surgeon’s office called to schedule Thursday’s appointment to finally remove those stitches. She said, “1:30” and I quickly said, “Oh perfect,” relieved that the boys could stay at Dinosaur Dig camp until noon. Then she said we needed to arrive at 11:30 and that Austin couldn’t eat in the morning.

Oh bother, I thought, why on earth do they schedule kids in the afternoon if they’re not allowed to eat anything? And why on earth do we have to be there so darn early if this is supposed to be a ten-minute procedure? But I figured I knew my way around this stuff and didn’t ask any questions (insert foreshadowing music here). I got Austin up early and gave him a few bites of applesauce (more foreshadowing music), along with his morning meds, and dropped them off at camp for a quick two hours.

I picked them up at early at the Children’s Museum, which happens to be located a mere quarter mile from Rainbow (more music), then brought Braedan to a friend’s house and continued on my way with Austin to the hand surgeon’s Chagrin office, which was where we’d seen him for each of the past two weeks. Twenty-five minutes later we arrive and the woman checking people in was very confused when I said why we were there. She made a quick phone call and then told me, “He’s listed here for surgery at 1:30 downtown.” Surgery? What do you mean, surgery? “That’s what it says in our system. Are you familiar with Rainbow Babies’ & Children’s Hospital on the main campus?” Huh. “Oh yes,” I say and leave in a huff, retracing our steps all the way back, past our house, down the hill, into the all-too-familiar parking garage.

By this time, Austin, exhausted from begging for food, had fallen asleep, so I carry my 37-pound boy in my arms to the pediatric sedation unit. The woman there got the same confused look on her face and, not seeing his name on the list, called over to Peed Surge. Yup, they were waiting for us.

Good thing I know my way around that hospital with my eyes closed. Down one elevator, through the halls, up another elevator, follow the blue butterfly stickers on the wall and finally, we found ourselves back in Pediatric Surgery, for the eleventh time in Austin’s short life.

They checked us in after a short wait and we had to go through the whole rigmarole (yes, that’s really how you spell that word — I just checked): medical history, medications, reactions to blood or anesthesia, etc etc. The orthopaedic surgeon explained apologetically that he isn’t allowed to administer sedation himself, each piece of the health care puzzle now so highly specialized that you have to go to ten different departments to get anything done. He was surprised his secrtary hadn’t explained it better, but I think maybe it was my own fault for assuming I was already an expert. It was still expected to be  a minor procedure, propophol through the gas mask and quick removal of sutures. I felt sort of silly that we were even there, getting ready in pre-op, just to pull out some stitches! A far cry from the myraid other reasons we’ve been in that room.

And of course, being in that space, we bumped into Austin’s nurse practitioner (“What happened to Austin now?!”), the surgeon who did December’s kidney sparing surgery (“What are you doing here?”), the surgeon who did his first two surgeries three years ago, and eventually even his oncologist who was checking on another patient coming out of surgery (“Krissy. . . ? Are you guys okay?”).

And then the anesthesiologist showed up and was most concenred about those few bites of applesauce he’d had. I tried to excuse myself by explaining that I thought he was going not to surgery but to sedation, where you’re allowed to eat four hours prior, but she was not pleased. She wandered off to see if we could reschedule for 3, which I was dreading as Austin had been crying for food for the past hour and a half already. Eventually she conceded we could move ahead and do it, only after listing the rare but lousy things that could happen like applesauce coming up and getting stuck in his lungs, giving him pneumonia that would result in hospitalization. She thought the risk was negligible and I thought it sounded better than dealing with an increasingly starving pre-schooler for two more hours, so I signed the consent and finally, finally, it was time.

I donned my space suit and walked into the operating room with him, leaving only after he was knocked out, then wandered the halls until I had enough phone service to call Mark (“You’re where??”). Fifteen minutes later I was back in post-op, standing by his hospital crib, waiting for him to come to. Then another thirty minutes of recovery, complete with a popsicle and juice, before we were finally on our way.

No damage at all to the hand. The doctor even said he doesn’t need to see us for follow-up unless we have a concern (“You guys spend enough time in hospitals.” Do we ever!). Austin’s now free to swim and dig and grip and do all those other things that kids with two working hands do. And Mark has already taught him to bat as a lefty, so we’re all good. All good.

There were a lot of other doctors’ appointments that took place on Thursday and Friday . . . or didn’t take place. The vein mapping for placement of a dialysis catheter was postponed. It had been double booked with the chest CT, which obviously took precedence especially due to the concern with the liver. The vein mapping, as I explained last week, is for something we hope is way off in the future and actually something we hope never ever comes. So that one’ll just have to be rescheduled (or not).

Then on Friday, Mark took Austin to have his stitches removed. Remember how the hand surgeon had been upset with the type of stitches the ER used? Well, with good reason. He removed the three from Austin’s palm (the least sensitive and least mangled part of his hand) amidst so much screaming and squirming that we rescheduled for this Thursday so they can do it while Austin’s under sedation. They’ll just administer propophol through a gas mask and rip them out in ten minutes, saving the little guy any more unnecessary misery.

The hand is definitely healing though. When we change the dressing covering it, I’m no longer worried about infection since you can tell it’s all closed up nicely. Thanks goodness there.

And, and this is the best part of all, his Thursday labs revealed that his creatinine has lowered yet again. Still not in the normal range for a child his age, but getting mighty close.

Every time I look at him dancing about in his goofy way, playful and happy and unencumbered by disease (or — often — by clothes), I feel so thankful we have made this choice. We will never regret having these days.

Austin’s appointment this afternoon with the orthopaedic surgeon went well.  We soaked his hand in sterile water and peroxide until we could peel the bandages off and the doctor was quite pleased with how it looked. He could tell right away from the way Austin was holding his fingers that there was no nerve damage (phew) and said the skin tone looked good and pink which meant it was already reconnecting (phew again). Austin, yet again, has ended up extremely lucky in his own extremely unlucky way.

Stitches can be removed in a week, although the doctor did caution that the nylon kind used in the ER will be painful to remove.  Not awful, but at least a pinch which will certainly get tiresome when there are 42 of them. He even said he was going to call the ER to tell them not to use that type with kids anymore.

By the way, you’ve gotta click directly on the photo below to see up close the full extent of damage.

Thanks for all your comments, both here and on Facebook, which fully convey the horror and commiseration that such a story deserves. I heard from at least three separate people who said they read it out loud to a group to much gasping and groaning. We too felt horrified as we watched this all unfold and were weighed down by a deep sense of the injustice of it. Especially because it had happened on Austin’s requested outing, his special celebration, the thing he’d been awaiting for so long.

But at the same time, Mark and I were both slightly relieved (only slightly) that it was Austin forced to endure this and not Braedan. Braedan is marvelous in many ways, but tolerance for pain is not one of them. He has, however, encouraged all of us to eat (and color) with our left hands until Austin regains use of his right (coloring is easier than eating). Another grand and mature display of brotherly affection between the endless bickering.

And I agree that at least this falls within the range of “normal” little boy accidents but I also agree that we should be exempt from such things. In fact, I hereby apply for our official exemption and can write a powerful and convincing essay to the universe describing exactly why my family should no longer be subjected to such “ordinary” calamities as broken arms and bicycle accidents, and most especially not such major calamities as teenage car wrecks or middle-aged heart attacks.

Now I know (oh, do I ever) that suffering is not evenly distributed but I do indeed think we’ve had enough.

You’re not really gonna believe this one.

Back in the winter, during those long dark days spent cooped up in the hospital, Austin announced that when his PICC line was removed he wanted to go to Kalahari. No, not Africa; the “world’s largest indoor water park” located about an hour west of us. We’ve been for each of the past two summers with Mark’s family and so again planned a Gallagher outing for this week.

We arrived Tuesday afternoon and the boys quickly immersed themselves in the relatively small outdoor water slides (Braedan not being brave enough and Austin not tall enough for the more serious slides inside). After two hours of watching them climb up the steps and zoom down the slide, emerging from the tunnel with shouts of “Again! Again!,” Mark and I stood in the ten inch deep water with beers in our hands and commented on how lucky (again) we were to be there. “This is Austin’s victory parade,” we said as he whizzed past us for one more trip down the slide.

Then we dragged them back to the room for some dinner and were sitting out on the balcony looking over the restaurant options. I, of course, was most concerned with keeping Austin hydrated and had poured each boy a full glass of cranberry juice in the only glasses I could find which were, well, glass. And then Austin tripped, on something invisible, and fell forward on the concrete balcony floor, without thinking to release his grip on that drinking glass.

My initial reaction was annoyance that he had broken a glass, until I glanced up into Mark’s usually calm face and saw that something was definitely not right. I scrambled over the chairs to avoid the shards of glass, grabbed a bath towel and, as I quickly wrapped it around Austin’s hand, my heart sank. This was no small scrape, no minor abrasion easily remedied with a BandAid and Neosporin. No, no, his right ring finger was sliced (“filleted” the doctor later said) from base to tip, down to what appeared to be bone, skin dangling precariously from the top. And blood everywhere.

Here we go again.

I held my poor screaming child in my arms and tried to slow the flood of red seeping through towel after towel, while Mark called guest services to request medical attention. Finally, the EMT, whose job usually consists of swimming accidents, arrived and removed the towel (ouch) to briefly reveal this horribly mangled finger, not really looking like a  finger at all. He managed to wrap it tightly enough to stop the bleeding and called an ambulance, our first ride ever, to take us to the local hospital.

Austin was a trooper, laying back on that stretcher and looking in quiet wonder at the inside of a vehicle revered in the imaginations of young boys everywhere. And you should have seen the look on everyone’s faces, first the EMT, then the ambulance team, and finally the nurses and doctors in the ER of Firelands Regional Medical Center, when they asked, “Other than this incident, is he fine and healthy?” “Weeeeellllllll, . . .”

So, anyway, Mark met us at the hospital where Austin received a whooping 42 stitches in his right hand. Forty-two! Mostly on the ring finger, but also his pinkie and three on his palm. It was a long and tough process, with necessary but painful shots of Novocaine administered with a seriously huge needle right where he was most tender. It kept wearing off, prompting sudden and loud screams from a mostly calm Austin, then followed by additional shots followed by additional screams.

Mark and I found ourselves in a strangely familiar situation, hovering over Austin, singing in his ear, trying to distract and amuse while he lay on a hospital bed having terrible things done to him by strangers, all the while hushing him and sweetly reassuring him that this was for his own good. It was sadly typical for the three of us, a dance we know the moves to all too well.

But we made it, yet again. Mark and I were both wowed by the clean and calm atmosphere of the emergency room, quite a bit different from our own city hospital. We were back at the resort shortly after 10 to retrieve Braedan who had happily gone to dinner with his grandparents and, in a display of true brotherly affection, had saved half a grilled cheese for a very hungry Austin.  Thanks to a dose of Tylenol with codeine, both boys were asleep by 11, leaving Mark and I to sit on stools at the kitchenette counter with wine and room-service pizza.

Of course, Austin was instructed not to get his hand wet, which is something of a bummer when you’re at a water park. The EMT had met us upon our return with plastic cups, an enormous stuffed tiger and two credit cards loaded with tokens for the game room. So Wednesday morning we awoke with plans to play indoors all day and maybe take a trip to the nearby wildlife safari. And then I got a phone call from the resort’s retail manager who said she’d read a report on “the incident” and had a new waterproof glove designed by an orthopedic surgeon to use over casts. She hand-delivered it to our room and I was floored to discover that the same company also makes water-proof PICC line covers! Huh, just what I’d been searching for. Anyway, the blue rubber mitten was too big for Austin but we jimmy-rigged it with some tape and back to the pool he went.

We did of course spend an extraordinary amount of time in the game room winning all sorts of junk toys, including the newly coveted whoopee cushion which Austin has lovingly dubbed the “toot balloon.”

All in all, it ended up fine. He had his victory parade, interrupted by a little trip to the emergency room and 42 stitches. Tomorrow we see a local hand specialist to make sure there is no nerve damage. Stitches should come out in two weeks’ time and hopefully he’ll be as good as new. Mark’s pleased because he thinks this will be a good time to turn Austin into a lefty. You know . . . for his future as a professional baseball player. That was typed with a large dose of sarcasm although I suppose nothing about this kid could possibly surprise us, right?

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