You'll find hundreds of files on cleft lip, cleft palate here on widesmiles.org

This one is about: My Sister's Surgery


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MY SISTER'S SURGERY
by Joanne Green

I was not yet five years old when my sister had a scary thing called an "Operation". I didn't know what it was, but I knew she wasn't sleeping in my bedroom at night, and she wasn't around to play with me the next morning. She was in a big, scary place called a "Hospital", and I couldn't see her until she could come back home.

Mommy and Daddy were scared too. I could tell because they talked to each other with their worried voices, and sometimes Mommy cried. And when they prayed, they asked God to make my sister well and help her to come home safely. Boy, I sure hoped that God would know what they were talking about, because I really wanted my sister to come back home again.

Mommy and Daddy told me that my sister had something wrong on the inside of her, and the doctors had to fix it in the hospital. I could handle that. But she had to stay in the hospital for a while, and when she got home she would not be able to play for some time. I wondered how sick she really was, and would she die in the hospital?

Every day that my sister was in the hospital, my Mommy would take me to our friend's house, where I would stay while Mommy went to the hospital to visit my sister. Our friend was a very nice lady. She did her best to keep me occupied and happy while I was with her. She even bought special treats to have on hand when I came over. I asked our friend when my sister would come home. She said, "Probably in a few days." but she didn't tell me anything more about what was going on in that big old place called the Hospital.

One day my Mommy brought me with her to the hospital. I couldn't go in far enough to see my sister because the hospital had a rule against that. They thought my germs would make my sister sick. I wondered how I was going to keep my germs to myself when they let my sister come home and share my bedroom with me again.

Anyway, Mommy went away and a grown-up friend and I waited in a room they called the waiting room. I thought that was funny. It seemed like a long time, but Mommy eventually did come back. Of course, my sister was not with her, but Mommy told me all about how my sister was smiling and talking. She had even asked about me!

Then my Mommy gave me a small paper bag. Another of our friends had given a gift to my sister. She also bought a gift for me. I opened the bag and found a card of blue plastic pop beads - enough to make a necklace and a bracelet! I felt so special - and not quite so lonely.

It has been more than 30 years since my sister's appendectomy. Hospital stays have been shortened since then, and hospital rules have mercifully been relaxed. But the experiences of children as they relate to a crisis such as this are much the same today as they were three decades ago.

Now, with three cleft-born children, I face surgery very often with one child or another. Not only do I think of the child having the surgery, but I find I must also think about the needs of the children who are NOT hospital-bound. My early experience helps me to understand those needed, at least on some level.

Children have a difficult time comprehending anything in the abstract. They cannot relate to a place with which they have no experience. They internalize the situation in ways we could never imagine.

Young children are naturally egocentric. That means they perceive everything as happening either FOR them, TO them, ABOUT them, or BECAUSE OF them. They are the center of their universe. They do not understand that their need to know may not be paramount in their parent's mind. A situation they do not understand is perceived as fearful, dreaded or dangerous. Unasked or inadequately answered questions are answered in the child's imagination - where all the scary monsters reside. And the monsters have answers readily available for any question that may trouble a child. My monsters told me that my sister might die. The trouble is, the monsters don't usually have the facts straight.

A young child thinks in concrete terms. It is important for your younger child to be able to SEE a hospitalized sibling. Most hospitals allow limited visiting for siblings. Sometimes that means that a sibling can visit from a nearby waiting area. When my nephew was hospitalized with pneumonia, his brother was strictly prohibited from visiting. Not to be dissuaded from a brotherly visit, he stood outside his brother's hospital room window to wish him a speedy recovery - and to see for himself that his brother truly was on the mend. If even a short visit cannot be arranged, maybe you can take a video camera into your child's room to tape a short message for those at home.

It was the pop beads that made a real difference for me. Somehow, I felt that my sister was doing well. After all, someone was able to also think of me. The beads probably cost under a dollar, but to me they were priceless. Thanks to those pop beads, I KNEW my sister was coming home! After all, she HAD to see my pretty new necklace and bracelet!

----------------------Joanne Green is the mother of three cleft-affected children. She is also the Editor of WIDE SMILES Magazine.


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