If I had to relive one week of my life, the week that my daughter Tricia had her palate surgery would be the VERY last that I would want to go through.
Yet, it was one of the most important events that has shaped me as a parent. I wouldn’t trade it.
She was tiny for her age, a friendly little mite with blond hair and gray-green eyes. She liked to dangle her legs over the edge of the balcony of our no-frills student apartment and call “Hi!” to the passersby.
She was 19 months old when the plastic surgeon deemed her old enough and heavy enough to withstand the surgery. She enjoyed the juices and toys and playhouses in the play room of Primary Children’s Hospital the night before the surgery. In the morning, they wheeled her off on a high gurney as she gazed curiously around the hall.
It was a complicated procedure. Her cleft palate was so severe that they did a pharyngeal flap at the same time as they closed the cleft palate. She had sutures forming two opposite candycanes along the left and right sides of the palate, a suture line that ran from the gum ridge, through the back of the soft palate, uniting each half of her uvula for the first time. Beyond our view, a flap was cut from the back of her throat and rotated forward and stitched across the back of the soft palate to extend it so that it could reach the back of her throat and thereby avoid the typical cleft palate (often unintelligible) speech. Everywhere that new tissue was introduced (as in the union of the hard and soft palate and the pharyngeal flap) the edges of the tissue to be joined had to be cut so that the two raw edges could heal together. When I think about how sensitive a mouth is, it gives me shivers to think of it.
She woke before the pain meds wore off. “Daddy” she said as plainly as any child ever said it. It was the first time she’d been able to form the plosive consonant “D.” The flap was already functioning perfectly.
Her arms were splinted so that she couldn’t reach her mouth and disturb the artful reconstruction of her mouth. She HATED the constraint of the arm splints.
She was pale beyond measure and there was a little blood around her lips. “Keep it moist,” the doctor instructed the nurses. ” She must take at least 20 oz a day to stay hydrated and keep the site moist.
The nurses at Primary Children’s were absolutely wonderful.. The doctor’s skills were incredible. It truly is artistry to see the solution to
She was soon in serious pain. I don’t remember what they did to ease it, if anything. She was so little, I think they just kept her on Tylenol.
Tricia clamped her mouth shut while big tears rolled down her cheeks, whimpering through her nose. Her eyes pleaded, “Please don’t make me swallow.OH PLEASE!”
But the risk was too great to let her go without drinking. We had to force her. Every drop of jello water down her throat was a victory. The nurses showed us how to cross our knees over her lower body and pin her arm under ours. We couldn’t force anything into her delicate site, so she had to open her mouth. She wouldn’t do it unless we plugged her nose. She’d hold her breath as long as she could and then open to breathe. We pour in a teaspoon of liquid. She’d struggle and cry and splutter. We’d wake her to try to pour more liquid in her mouth. “Wake up sleepy baby so I can torture you some more.”
But it was either that or a lifetime of poor speech quality and/or a need to redo the surgery.
On the evening of the fourth day, a nurse asked her if she’d like some apple juice. She loved apple juice. She nodded. The nurse gave her about 2 oz in a cup and she drank it voluntarily. My heart still leaps when I remember the joy of that moment. She wasn’t completely done fighting me, but after 6 days in the hospital, the pain was less. We took home our little ghost for another two weeks in the arm splints.
My friend Robin who lived in our complex cried when she brought Tricia’s little playmate Tara over to greet her. They didn’t stay long. She said she couldn’t stand to see her looking so weak.
Nowadays, cleft palate babies get an I. V. They’ve discovered that the saliva is enough to keep the site moist. . .
But at the time, we believed that her whole future depended on our relentless diligence in forcing her to drink. A normal life and bright future depended on good quality speech. But knowing that forcing her to do what had to be done was absolutely for her own good didn’t make it any easier emotionally.
What is it like for our Heavenly Father? He lets us suffer through all kinds of trials and pain and grief and hardship when He could take it away. But He knows the outcome he wants for us, so He allows all the mortal difficulties to teach us and shape us so that we can reach our full potential. He is faithful and firm in giving us what is best, even though it is often not at all what we want.
Wise adults follow the Lord’s example in giving what is best, whether it pleases the requester or not.
Wise parents restrict their children’s activities and do not give them everything they think they want, while seeing fully to their actual needs. They give whatever is best until the child is old enough to understand the ramifications of his/her choices. To abdicate these responsibilities is to shortchange our children and damn them to a life of substandard achievement and dwarfed faith.
I believe that each of us will be held accountable for over-indulging our children. As we help them do hard things, and sacrifice things they want for higher purposes, they develop confidence, moral courage and integrity. Their lives will bloom into powerful, joyful, capable leaders.