We went up to New Haven last month so Magdalena could have her tonsils out. The operation was a success; the aftermath was a nightmare.
The patient was in high spirits when we arrived at the hospital, entertaining the staff with her trademark blend of impulsive hijinks and absurd non-sequiturs. Magdalena can be a handful, but it is often a charming handful. If I was a doctor or a nurse, I’d mark the “OUT OF THE ORDINARY” box on her medical chart.
Of course, they did mark that box, because there are all sorts of scary-sounding things that can go wrong when someone with Down syndrome goes under the knife. My wife and I tried to put those things out of our minds as we waited in the small room with the big stack of magazines. Some quiet prayers were said.
We weren’t the only ones in that waiting room, and I don’t think we were the only ones praying. There were other families of other patients, some with severe special needs. It occurred to me that even when things are scary and complicated, they can always be scarier and more complicated. I prayed that I would remember that. Always.
In the recovery room Magdalena was in a bad way. She drifted in and out of sleep. There was a young boy in the bed next to us who was really struggling. It seemed as if maybe he’d had a bad reaction to his anesthesia. There was an air of confusion and concern. As they drew the curtain closed for privacy, I said another quiet prayer for that boy and his family. I hope he recovered quickly.
Things progressed well for Mags though we stayed overnight just to be sure. She slept most of the time. I remembered having my tonsils out when I was eighteen. My mother said I was a grumpy patient, but there wasn’t much in the way of drama.
Magdalena is only seven—she is all about the drama. At rest in her hospital bed, she looked like an angel. Awake, she looked like she wanted to punish us. And punish us she did.
Mags may not have fully understood why her throat was on fire and full of pop rocks, but she knew that she didn’t like it. The doctors counseled patience. Eating was low on the list of priorities. Drinking was at the top. Drinking speeds recovery by exercising the throat muscles that have been shocked by the violence of the surgery.
Here’s the thing, though: Magdalena is a bad drinker on her best day. She aspirates thin liquids—meaning she can potentially draw into her lungs any liquid thinner in consistency than honey. Her standard tipple is a thickened slurry of watered-down apple sauce. She drinks it, but she doesn’t love it. We often resort to cajoling.
Given the circumstances, we were prepared to offer just about anything to get her sip from the straw. The demands got increasingly specific. At first, she would drink only if we let her watch a DVD. Then it had to be a DVD of the Muppet Show. Then a specific episode on a specific DVD of the Muppet Show.
The praying intensified.
Soon we were watching a continuous loop of Connie Stevens singing Dion and the Belmonts’ “Teenager in Love” from the second episode of the Muppet Show’s first season in 1977. Nothing else would get her to drink.
My wife did a lot of mumbling to herself. I couldn’t tell if she was praying or not.
Over the course of about two weeks, our household was pushed to the limit. We were all forced to dig pretty deep. All I can say is: God bless that Muppet Show. God bless Connie Stevens. God bless Dion and the Belmonts. They got Magdalena to drink, and so got her to heal.
Endurance, patience, courage—anyone who’s cared for someone through an illness knows these virtues are present in greater quantities than we realize. Only when called on to help someone who really needs it do we tap the deepest reservoirs of our love and compassion.
Prayer helps bring them to the surface.