This week, I saw the inside of my daughter’s head.
It’s been over a month since Catherine had grommets inserted, although it feels like far longer. The day itself was long and exhausting for us all. We left the house at 10.30 that morning, and by 6pm I was literally crawling up the stairs, swallowing the nausea of a blinding migraine.
The private hospital was bustling that afternoon, patients being filtered in and out in a steady stream of efficiency and discreet shepherding. We were told that Kitty was the first to be seen by the consultant, the first in a row of four little children who were all having the same procedure; also, the youngest of the day.
We sat and waited for a long time, Kitty’s arms manacled around me, and her cheek wedged into the curve of my neck. Just before we were due to be called in, I felt the solid barrel of her body soften into sleep, her nervous breath calming and lengthening. And so I carried her through to pre-op, tucking her body into the space of mine, like I have done every day since the day she was born.
I don’t like to think about the operating theatre. She had awoken just before she was admitted, and her face was waxy and sheened with panic under the metallic gleam of the lights. I clutched her to me as I held the mask to her face. She thrashed and whimpered with fear at the smell of the gas. A nurse, much more capable than me at that moment, held her phone up so that Kitty could watch Peppa Pig, the (infernal) familiar theme song rooting her when she was feeling weightless. I held her head in my hand as her eyes flickered and rolled; the head I once could hold in the palm of my hand became impossibly heavy as she sank under slowly. All of a sudden I couldn’t support her anymore, hands lifted her onto the theatre table, and the same efficient nurse thumbed Kit’s lids shut over the blanched halfmoons of her eyes.
They wouldn’t let me kiss her goodbye – they had to work quickly. As I was ushered around the table I clutched at one small, cool foot – I willed so much helpless love into that grasp, my fingers slipping away as another nurse stuffed tissues into my hand and whisked me out.
She was out again within fifteen minutes, her little body barely making a dent in the covers of the adult-sized bed. I had told the consultant that I would need to be beside her as she woke, but the nurses had already roused her. I ran across the ward toward the sound of her terrified keening. I climbed up into her bed, and she wrapped herself around me, steadying herself. I palmed the hair back from the precious coils of her ears. Flakes of blood crumbled away at my touch. From behind the curtain beside us, I could hear the nurses vacuuming vomit out of the mouth of a different small girl, as my own small girl lay wet-eyed and slack in my arms.
The operation went very well, I was told. Lots of stuff had to be removed, the flimsy tubes were packed rigid. The gunk was infected, he said – she had probably been in pain (or discomfort at the very least) for quite some time. It explained a lot – her morning routine of waking up in tears, moaning with frustration and clutching fistfuls of her own hair. The formless rages that seemed to erupt from nowhere. The clumsiness. Lots of things that I had put down to toddlerdom, or worse, to being personality traits.
It’s not overstating things to say that this operation has changed all of our lives beyond measure. When she wakes in the morning, she sings and chuckles to herself. When we walk to school, she stands on the buggy board and narrates her journey for me, complete with magic spells (“Me turn dat car into…..HELLYGOPTA!”). She tells tales all the time – no sister’s misdemeanour goes unreported.
She has had a language explosion, with countless new words, phrases, and funny little turns of speech. We understand most of what she says. Her pronunciation is still wrong, but the difference now is that she feels confident to speak it anyway. We have (with the help of our superb public health nurse, and a wonderful speech and language therapy team) arranged for additional support from a child psychologist and speech therapist – all of this support, incidentally, freely available to us through the public system.
As I mentioned earlier, this week I saw inside her head. The consultant had her in for a check-up, and after some convincing (and a bribe of an edible nature) she agreed to let him check the various orifices.
Would Mum like to have a look, he asked. Once the otoscope was angled, he let me peer into the eyepiece. The taut membrane was there, spare and translucent, like a sliver of tracing paper. In the coral of her eardrum, the little plastic tube is incongruous. It’s dusted with the dried remnants of the fluid, with ghosty little echos of the lifetime of pain and confusion she suffered. But she’s better now. Me ears fixed, she says.
I saw the inside of her head that day. It was like magic. Imagine all those tiny mechanisms working together properly, like the hollow bones of a bird lifted by the wind. But those mechanisms, the ticktock workings of her body, aren’t what make her Kit. I don’t think we were ever quite sure, before, what it was that did make her Kit. Since she found her words, she found a way of passing so much of herself on to us. What a gift.
This is a companion piece to an earlier blog post about my daughter’s glue ear and subsequent hearing/ speech difficulties – if you want, you can read the earlier post here: