Pre-Op

It’s been a long time coming, a really long time recently


By now, we were supposed to be in the painful process of recovery

There are so many things to talk about here, so many things that have happened and so many other things that, though scheduled to have happened, haven’t happened yet. For a start, Little has not yet had her operation. It is Saturday, and her operation was supposed to have happened yesterday. Likewise, it is Saturday afternoon, and her ears have yet to be relieved of their wax, that was scheduled for this morning. There is a lot of waiting in China. You see it at the train stations, at the bus stops and airports: people settled in for a long time waiting. They are very good at it, coming prepared for the eternal wait with bags full of snacks and flasks of tea that is perpetually refilled from the apparently endless supply of boiling water that is freely available wherever people coalesce and collect to kill time.

Waiting is never fun, but waiting hospital is even less fun. They want us to stay in, to keep Little corralled and controlled so as to minimise her risk of… something, they have never really explained what. And before I go on, I really should say that when I say we, I am really talking about my wife and Little. I did the Wednesday attempt at admission (it didn’t work out), all day Thursday (an unnatural hell) and I am here now (Little’s asleep), but everything else has been my wife. She’ll be here tonight and all day tomorrow, with me only joining her post operation. Thence, tomorrow night and the night after that, with me popping in to give her a break. She has been amazing and I have had the easy job, that of trying to maintain some order for Big throughout these complicated, upsetting times.

It has been a tough few days. By now, we were supposed to be in the painful process of recovery like the dozen or so other kids that I can hear across the ward. I’m not looking forward to being the parent that tries to calm those children, to soften their cries and ease their pain with nothing more than our physical presence, cheap toys and the tiny doses of drugs that such small people can tolerate safely. I can hear one now, the cries desperate and unrelenting. It is a terrifying soundtrack to my fevered projections of my immediate future. I want to not hear that from Little, to feel as powerless as that child’s parents must. I’m glad then, that we’re not there yet, but at the same time, I want all this to be over, for Little to have had her operation, to be on the way to recovery, however hard it is to hear her cries. I wish I was one of those parents now and not still killing time, waiting forever in a hospital room, listening to other children cry.

The thermometer said 37.8oC, which is barely a temperature, let alone a fever. I called it a feve.

So what has been the delay? China, basically. Anyone who has ever spent any time here at all will know that everything takes time. Bureaucracy is never speedy, but in China it slides at a snail’s pace, and leaves a slimy trail of disgruntlement and anger on everyone it passes. When we first met Little, when we travelled to Taiyuan to greet her, we spent a week in a hotel room waiting for her passport, a passport that we realised, when we finally received it, had been issued a month before adoption day. Thus, the admission process took hours of forms and tests and was finally stalled altogether by Little having a fever.

Little didn’t have a fever. The thermometer said 37.8C, which is barely a temperature, let alone a fever. I called it a feve, something that was incomplete, with not enough effort having been applied. To borrow from the professional parlance that I seem to have found myself surrounded by these days, this feve was would not even warrant a mark, was work that was not even eligible for submission to the exam board. It was a joke, but they took it very seriously and, after several hours of trying, Little was not admitted on Wednesday.

Anyone who has spent any time in China also knows that there are some very strange and very strong beliefs around here about hot and cold, especially when it comes to babies. How many times, when Big was little, were we told that she was cold? Well of course, she must be; it was thirty degrees in the shade, and we’d only dressed her in shorts and a t-shirt. Silly us. Similarly with Little this week. Despite the feve that prevented her admission, she too was tai long la because she was also only dressed in shorts and a t-shirt on a day when the mercury touched nearly thirty. Whilst I’m at it, remember I mentioned about the near constant supply of boiling water pretty much everywhere you go in China, it’s the same here. There is a samovar on every floor, but for cold water, you must bring your own.

That, then, was Wednesday. Thursday began early, we were supposed to be there before 8 o’clock. We left on time, and Little was great in the car, but the world outside was not. Beijing has horrendous traffic at the best of times, but that morning it was hell on earth. I got to the hospital from home today in less than 25 minutes, that day it took more nearly an hour and a half. Then there were all those forms and tests again, Little’s feve having now disintegrated to an acceptable 37C. It was game on, just not right now.

Better to embrace change, to revel in and revere it.

They said I couldn’t take her out, but got cross when she ran around. Tell me when you need me, I said and I will bring her back. Of course this all had to be done in Chinese, of which I have very little. I took her out anyway, we went for a walk, and I got a call when I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. They weren’t annoyed, not really, just confused by my being there at all.

That made two of us. All this, more than anything else we’ve done: all our adventures, all around the world, has made me wonder what it is that we are doing in all this. Not the adoption, nor that we have chosen to live so far away from everything we knew. All that is fine. But trying to navigate a Chinese hospital, led by doctors and nurses who were just as confused as I was — though not for the same reasons — and not really having a clue, at any point what was going on (but trusting the process anyway, trusting it completely) made me realise that most of the time none of us have much of a basis at all really to argue that we are secure. The human condition, I realised, is in a stabilised state of flux. We may be all right, and probably forever, but it doesn’t take much to tip the apple cart, to undo our balancing act and tear our lives asunder. Better then to embrace change, to revel in and revere it. That way you get used to it, and it never really comes as a surprise. You deal with it better.

The morning was OK. Little was good, was really good. We went out, we ate some really good street food really, really messily. We were wearing it when we got back, were covered in noodles and cucumber and soy and peanuts, all the yummy stuff that Little was probably not supposed to be eating. No one at the hospital thought it was funny. We thought it was hilarious and that’s where thing began to go down hill.

Little was really tired, but wouldn’t sleep. I think she was scared of the institutional cot in her room. Certainly, her screams differed to her usual screams of sleep fighting and refusal, of sleep combat. Much higher than usual, much more urgent, she had the look of fear on her face and I couldn’t leave her like that. I got her up and held her, held her until she calmed down. Then we went to play. But because she was so tired, she couldn’t really do that either. She kept falling down, kept wanting things, then not wanting them. Then demanding them again. She wanted to be held and be running, both at the same time. She was only interested in being anywhere she was not permitted to be.

She gets like this at home, but its dealwithable at home. In hospital, with increasingly dour staff looking down on her, on me, it became a horrible few, but very long hours. I couldn’t cope with it. I got angry and Little for not playing ball and at myself for not being enough to convince her to play. I got angry and frustrated with not being able to ask for help and for the fact that it wasn’t just offered. I almost took her home.

I didn’t, I stuck it out and thence, pretty much, my shift was over. My wife was now in charge. Some things she’s told me:

Every other child here is here is here with a party of people. Two parents, usually, but at least two of their parents too and maybe an ayi as well. They are doing this as a team. My wife got asked on Friday, her Chinese is so much better than mine, where all her people were, where was her mother, where was her mother in law? It makes you realise how far away from home we are when the answer you give, though making sense, was utterly alien to the people hearing it.

She described her first night here, of the cries she heard from children and some of the screams they received in return. One boy, much older than babies who are the majority here, was being looked after by his grandparents, and when we was crying in pain, they told him that if he didn’t stop, bad things, worse things, would come to get him.

I need to be careful here. The Chinese are not evil people and they are not generally cruel. But their whole approach to medicine, particularly to pain management is utterly different to that which we in the West are used to. They just don’t do it, they think that they way to deal with pain is to get through it, to get past it. For an adult, that might be possible, but for a small boy, or a baby — how is that not cruel, when there are so many easy, safe options available?

She told me about her dark thoughts about Little’s birth parents, told me that, in the middle of night listening to the silence of children finally stilled by sleep, she wondered what made them give Little up when so many other parents held on to their children despite the clefts in the lips and their palates. She said she thinks differently about them now, but we haven’t had time to discuss what she meant.

This is a long post already, so I am going to stop now. It is a little rushed, and not fully proof read. My apologies, but I wanted to get something down before Little wakes up.

It’s her op tomorrow, there is surely more to come…


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