“She's not sleeping well at night,” I told our doctor. “She’s got bags under her eyes.”
Lauren, our 3-year-old twin daughter, hadn't been sleeping well in over a year. I kept telling myself that it was something she would grow out of, but the bedtime routine was dragging on. I would put her and her sister to bed at 7:30 pm and within an hour Lauren would wake herself up and start crying. She was snoring as loud as a grown man, stopping breathing in her sleep, and never getting into a deep sleep.
Earlier that spring we had participated in a sleep study. My husband Ed had taken Lauren to the children's hospital where she was born. They packed an overnight bag and checked into the laboratory as if they were having a hotel stay. He cuddled up with her on the bed. She was wearing pink flannel Disney Lady and the Tramp pajamas as a nurse placed a sleep cap on her head and wires all around her arms. Ed had snapped a quick picture on his phone and sent it to me. When I looked at my phone, I teared up at the sight of all the wires engulfing my daughter, which reminded me of our NICU stay three years prior.
My husband and I sat nervously in the waiting room of the doctor’s office as we waited for the test results.
“Lauren has severe sleep apnea.” The doctor minced no words as he looked up from his clipboard. “She’s a tiny little girl with huge tonsils and adenoids.”
“Surgery is necessary, Crystal,” My husband said squeezing my hand.
I nodded. “Yes, they have got to come out,” I said, a tear running down my cheek.
“You are doing the best thing,” the doctor said reassuringly. “This surgery is going to help her tremendously.”
I hoped he was right. A tonsillectomy is a simple enough procedure. Our doctor ensured us we had nothing to worry about, that he performed these surgeries all the time. But, of course, anytime there is a surgery and general anesthesia involved for one of my children, I’m going to worry like crazy.
We scheduled the surgery for early August before school started. We arrived at the hospital around 8:30 am and filled out some brief paperwork before we were led back to the prep room. As I undressed Lauren and put her into the hospital gown, I had a sudden flashback to when I was wearing a similar hospital gown on a different floor of the same hospital. The doctor came in the room one last time to go over the plan.
“We are removing Lauren’s tonsils and adenoids and placing tubes in her ears.” He said as he patted my shoulder. “It’s going to be fine, Mrs. Duffy.”
It felt as if we had gone over this plan a hundred times, but somehow hearing it aloud one more time from the soothing voice of the doctor subsided my nerves. I squeezed Lauren tightly and whispered in her ears.
“I love you, baby. Mommy will be right here waiting for you.” My voice cracked as I choked back tears.
The hardest moment was seeing her wheeled off to surgery. She didn't cry; she wasn't scared at all. The only thing she kept asking me about was her sisters.
“Where’s Katie and Abby, Mommy?” she asked me.
“They are waiting for you in the lobby. You'll see them soon.” I blew her a kiss as the nurse wheeled her through the double doors and into surgery.
Before we knew it, the surgery was over and our doctor came to talk to us in the waiting room to give us an update.
“Boy, did she really need this surgery.” Were the first words out of his mouth. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that even though this was stressful and nerve-wracking, we had done the right thing.
“I'm not going to lie, the two weeks after recovery are going to suck. But I promise it will get better.” Our doctor said, patting my hand reassuringly. He was not kidding. The first two days were the hardest. As Lauren came off the anesthesia in the recovery room, she was not a happy camper. She was screaming and kicking at every nurse that came near her, which is a common response to general anesthesia.
She calmed down once we got her settled into her room for the night. Our doctor had us spend one night in the PICU so she could be monitored closely. By the next morning, she was eating popsicles and pancakes and asking for her sisters. She was discharged the next afternoon and her sisters were waiting at home for her with a get-well present. We let them play for a few hours and then the girls left for grandma and grandpa’s house. I had my parents take our other two daughters for a few days so my husband and I could solely focus on Lauren. It helped her tremendously to have both Mommy and Daddy caring for her.
The recovery was rough, but here are some tips on caring for a toddler after a tonsillectomy.
1. Get Ahead of the Pain
This was important the first few days. I wrote everything down in a notebook so I wouldn’t forget. I logged each dosage and set alarms on my phone so I wouldn’t be late on the next dosage. I even woke up Lauren if she was sleeping to give her the next pain dosage. She was cranky and clingy, but never complained of anything hurting her.
2. Drink, Drink, Drink
Make sure to drink plenty of fluids the first 24-hours to avoid becoming dehydrated. Clear fluids such as water, apple juice, and popsicles worked best for us. Lauren didn’t feel like drinking from a glass so I used straws and held it up to her so it would be easy.
3. Comfort food
Friends and family had advised me to stock up on ice cream, puddings and Jell-O for after the surgery. Only, Lauren wanted nothing to do with the soft sweet food; she wanted all warm, savory foods like chicken soup, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese. Be prepared for any and all possibilities.
4. Hang in there!
It does get better. After the first week, I saw a huge improvement, both with the recovery and sleeping. The snoring had stopped completely and Lauren stopped waking up every hour. She was able to sleep deeply and comfortably and was noticeably breathing better. By two weeks, our little peanut was completely back to normal and excited about returning to school to tell her friends about her hospital visit.
Those first few days were rough but we survived. Each day got a little bit easier. I kept reminding myself that my little princess would be happy and healthy by getting the quality sleep that this surgery allowed her to have, and it was all worth it.
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Crystal Duffy lives in Houston with her husband, three little girls, and a yappy little Yorkie. Her writing has appeared in Scary Mommy, Mamapeadia, Twins Magazine and she’s a contributing writer for Twiniversity. She’s the author of her memoir, Twin to Twin, which details her high-risk twin pregnancy. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and her blog.