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When Surgery Is Required

Sheila Fitzgerald
Irvine CA USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 2, March-April 2003, p. 59

After nearly three months of chronic ear infections, Kyle's pediatrician referred us to the ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist to evaluate the need for tubes in his ears. Our first visit with the ENT doctor was very informative and supportive. He was quite surprised to find that Kyle was still nursing at almost seven months old. He told me they don't usually see young babies who are breastfed with chronic ear problems. He encouraged me to continue to breastfeed for as long as I possibly could. He scheduled several tests and explained that the final decision on whether Kyle would need surgery would be based on the results of these tests.

The tympanogram, a test that measures sound waves bounced off the eardrum, indicated fluid built up behind the eardrums. This provides a good medium for bacteria to grow and over time causes the bones of the inner ear to become "mushy." Kyle's hearing was at risk of being permanently diminished if we did not insert tubes to drain the fluid.

On April 24, 2002, Kyle went in for surgery to insert tubes in both ears. He was content to play with the medical equipment in the room while I anxiously discussed his surgery and recovery possibilities with the anesthesiologist and surgeon. They told me he would need to be totally awake before I would be allowed into the recovery room. I knew that also meant he would be screaming, but I fully expected to be able to nurse him right after surgery so that he'd be happy within minutes. I was a nervous wreck as the nurse calmly took Kyle from my arms and carried him into the operating room while pointing me to the waiting room. He began to cry as he realized I was not going with him. All I could do was go to the waiting room.

A little more than 30 minutes went by when the nurse finally came out and motioned me to come back into the recovery room. I could hear Kyle screaming inconsolably in the background as we entered. I took my baby boy into my arms and cuddled him. I felt nursing would be the best way to calm him and the nurse gave us permission to do so. We sat in the reclining chair together. However, things didn't go as smoothly as I had envisioned. He would latch on but pull off, arching his back and screaming. The nurse assured me this was normal post-operative behavior, as the anesthesia makes babies feel, "drunk, dizzy, and confused." She told me even breastfed babies have a hard time settling down after surgery. We walked and cuddled and bounced and finally, after about five minutes that felt like an eternity, he latched on and began to nurse. When he would begin to tighten up and fuss again, I'd sing to him and pat his bottom and he'd whimper and go back to nursing. Finally, with a little shudder of his body, he relaxed and drifted off to sleep, still attached to my breast.

Shortly afterwards, the next little one came out of the operating room into the recovery room, screaming as Kyle had been not too long before. The nurse soon asked if I would mind relinquishing the one and only soundproof room for this new little one and her mother. Everyone was very apologetic about making me get up, but I assured them I'd been doing this for a while and would not have any trouble moving with Kyle still latched on, which is what we did.

Kyle continued to nurse for comfort for about 30 more minutes before he let go of my breast, totally asleep. The other little one continued to scream the entire time with her poor mother trying everything to console her. She didn't want to be rocked, didn't want her bottle, and didn't want her pacifier. Nothing was working to calm her down. Kyle was discharged from the recovery room at the same time the other child, still screaming, was discharged. I felt so sorry for this mother who was unable to calm her baby and help her feel secure. I was also very grateful for the fact that, by breastfeeding, I was able to comfort Kyle after such a traumatic experience.

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