When my youngest son was born last March, the doctors immediately noticed his head. Something wasn’t right about it. We kept a keen eye on it for months, eventually getting a CT scan.
Our pediatrician's office called my wife later that same day. We knew the news wasn’t good. Our son had a condition called Craniosynostosis (don’t Google it, trust me) that affects about one in 2,000 kids. The plates in his head had fused prematurely, making it grow long like a football and putting him in danger of brain damage.
He needed skull surgery. The good news: Valley Children’s Hospital had a lot of experience with this, especially his fantastic doctors — neurosurgeon Patricia Quebada-Clerkin and plastic surgeon Mimi Chao. The bad news: He was 6 months old, and no matter how much reassurance we got from doctors, it was still terrifying to think about them cutting open your child’s head.
I sat in the recovery room with my son in my arms late one night after the surgery, which I’m thankful to say, went perfectly. But it was hard not to get emotional seeing a blood drain attached to his head and stitches from ear to ear. I was holding him, crying and getting my feelings out. As is my nature, I started writing. Until recently, I hadn’t shared this with anyone but my brave wife, Tanya. Here it is, in its original form:
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For the past few months, I’d hold my son in my arms, so close that his hair would run against my face. He didn’t have much — he was only a few months old — but it was soft and silky and smelled like baby. I’d kiss his head and cherish the moment.
It was comforting, somewhat because I knew those moments would be gone soon, somewhat because we’d help each other find peace.
It’s 4:12 a.m. right now. A nurse just came into his room at the children’s hospital to attach some more cords to him, to get some more readings.
A few minutes ago, we’d been sitting on the end of the fold-out-chair that my wife and I have been using as a bed the last few nights. I held him tight rocking him back and forth, trying to bring him peace. He was, understandably, uncomfortable.
His head rubbed against my face. It was bristly and coarse and didn’t feel like baby. His hair was gone, shaved away in the minutes before the surgeons cut open his head, broke parts of his skull with a saw and hammer, took out those skull pieces and stitched him back up so he could have a *normal* head — so his brain could grow right and the plates in his skull that fused prematurely didn’t cause him to go blind one day.
Maybe it’s the tired in me, but as his bristly shaved head rubbed against my face, as I looked down at his ear-to-ear bruises and stitches, I got caught in metaphor. I thought about how his innocence is lost, about how that gentle soul in his six-month old body has felt pain he doesn’t even understand yet and how he’ll never be able to go back to the first head of ever-so-soft baby hair.
He’s doing great. He’s recovering well. His surgeons were wonderful — yep, it took more than one. (I talked about it quickly before, but the surgery was actually about four hours long).
The staff at the hospital is amazing, and not in that way that everything is amazing, but for-real amazing.
Everything went as well as it could have. We should go home later today, if nothing goes wrong. It’s been a long four days.
It’s 4:24 a.m. right now, and I’m crying. He’s quiet. Those roles will reverse soon enough, I’m willing to bet on it. I’m going to go kiss his head and cherish this moment, too, as tear-inducing as it was.
Literally two minutes after I wrapped myself up in a blanket and tried to get some sleep, there was a knock at the door. It was a woman with a needle, here to collect more blood. He didn’t cry.
Epilogue II, [Jan. 24]
He’s doing great. His hair is coming back. He’s happy as ever. He doesn’t even know what happened to him.