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Yesterday afternoon, I had to watch as doctors put Irini to sleep for surgery. I had to stand by helpless as her eyes registered a look of shock and betrayal and pain as they put the IV into her tiny little hand, and then as they fluttered off into that deep and dreamless sleep that is being under anaesthetic. I then had to walk away, knowing that there was nothing I could do to protect her, or help her, or even be there for her. As I walked down the hall, alone, I didn’t think that I could feel any worse (but how wrong I was).

Irini has had surgery before, but this time it seemed so much worse. There is just something about eye surgery that taps into our fears and makes it seem so much worse than a lot of other surgeries. Her surgeon is one of the best in the state, and her surgery was relatively simple. In fact, there were three more little children that went in for the same operation before her. But the 2 hour wait in the waiting room seemed interminable. I think I read about 6 magazines, but I honestly could not tell one single thing I read. I don’t remember anything I talked about with my husband. It was a long, numb blur.

And then, they were calling me in to recovery, and there she was, hooked up to machines, her eyes swollen shut, and sobbing uncontrollably. This went on for about half an hour, before they called the anaesthetist back to see if she needed some more pain relief. They didn’t think she did since she had been given plenty in theatre, but since she was crying so much, they thought it would be best to give her a top up dose just in case. With promises of it kicking in in 10 – 15 minutes, they moved up to a glider chair, so I could cuddle and rock her to try and soothe her. 30 minutes later, she was still sobbing, but had now come out of her anaesthetic haze enough that she could start talking. This is when we discovered that she wasn’t in pain, she was terrified since she couldn’t see. If I felt terrible when I left her on the operating table, there are truly no words to describe how I felt when she was crying out “Mummy, I can’t see you, I can’t see Baba” and there was nothing I could do to help her feel better. This went on for a while longer before I think she finally exhausted herself, and this together with all of the drugs led her to finally start drifting off to a sleepy daze punctuated with little sobs. There was only one light moment when she asked “Mummy, how am I going to watch cartoons? See Dora and Boots?” Trust my daughter to think of cartoons! It wasn’t until we were settling her into her car seat that her little swollen eyelids started to open; straight away she calmed down. I can only imagine what Irini was feeling when she thought that she couldn’t see, how scared she must have been. She is usually so tough and so independent and so in control all of the time, that to feel so out of control must have been absolutely terrifying for her.

Now, a day later, she is fine and apart from a lovely pair of “vampire eyes” (she looks exactly like the evil vampires from the Twilight Saga!) as we are calling them, it is like nothing happened. She is running around and we are spending most of our time trying to get her to relax and rest and make sure that she doesn’t knock her head or eyes. Apart from a few minutes four times a day when we have to put drops in her eyes and her fears come back of not being able to see, it is like all my worry has vanished into the night.

This experience, while one I never want to go through again, really made me reflect on motherhood. While I like to believe that I can always be there for my babies, that I can always protect them, that is simply not true. It reminded me of the quote “children don’t belong to mums, they are a loan from God.” I can do my best to raise them well, to protect them, to hold them, but ultimately, there is only so much I can control. I realised that I need to cherish every moment I have with them. I need to spend more time intentionally parenting, rather than fitting in parenting around all of the other things I “think” I need to do. I need to cuddle more and read together more, and just “be” together more. So again, while I hope that this is the last surgery Irini has to go through, I am grateful that it gave me the wakeup call I think I needed.

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