Thursday, September 17, 2009

On Single Parent Surgery - Round 2

The last Friday in August my daughter underwent Round 2 of her corrective ear surgery (a left tympanoplasty for those of you who like to call things by their proper names). As many of you will recall from this previous post, I had many mixed emotions about her initial surgery back in June, both before and immediately following that procedure. Her right tympanoplasty turned out well and healed just as it should, which was one of the main reasons for continuing with her second surgery so soon afterward (the original wait time was to be four to eight months to encourage maximum healing). However, the other driving reason for doing these surgeries so close together was that my insurance year changes on September 1st and I would have had to begin paying toward my deductible all over again.

What I did not know at the time was that this was a great idea for another financial reason. Unbeknownst to me, my insurance plan was voluntarily changed by my employer to the degree that if we had waited on the surgery, it would have ended up costing me twice as much out-of-pocket. Yes, you read that right. Twice as much for the same surgery performed in the same surgery center by the same surgeon. So, needless to say, I was happy that we were able to get it in before it would become an even more astronomical strain on my single-income budget.

Overall, I found that I was not as worried about this surgery as I had been about the first one. I’m certain it had something to do with the fact that she had her right tympanoplasty done only two months prior and that the healing process had gone remarkably well. It probably had a bit to do with the idea that I was preoccupied by some close friends during the first surgery itself and realized that this single parent surgery thing could be gotten through with a little humorous conversation. And I know it helped that about a week prior to the surgery another friend of ours had volunteered to come sit with me during the surgery, which was really great since most of my teacher friends had already gone back to work. And having two months’ advance notice of the surgery itself this time didn’t hurt either.

So the day before the surgery I started thinking about what needed to be done in preparation. Nothing to eat after midnight. Only a bit of water before leaving the house the next morning. Pack a pair of socks in case the OR is cold. Call the school and let them know why she would be missing her second full day of kindergarten. Read the surgery center book to her that night to ease her fear of surgery, even though she’s done this in the recent past. Bring a book in case there’s a lull in the conversation. Put in the old car seat so she would have better head support for the hour and a half drive home. I had pretty much thought of everything, and I was more than a little proud of myself for how thorough I’d been in my planning.

But nothing could have prepared me for how I would feel when the first wrench was thrown into it.

Because of the staggered enrollment process in our local school system, my daughter started school on a Tuesday, then was off Wednesday and Thursday. Her first full day with her entire class would have been the Friday of her surgery. Because I also work in the school system, but am not on a staggered return-to-work plan I had to work the two days she was “off”. So I asked our friend who had volunteered to sit with me during surgery (and whose younger daughter is the same age as mine) to watch her those two days. When I went to pick up my daughter on Thursday evening, the woman casually mentioned that she “would not be able to make it tomorrow” and left it at that. Now, I tend not to show much emotion on my face, but I am certain that she must have seen some mixture of shock/surprise/concern/confusion cross my brow at that moment. If she did, she never mentioned it. When I got in the van I asked my daughter if she had mentioned why she couldn’t come and she said it was “because she had some stuff to do around the house”. I could tell she was upset, so I didn’t press it further. But something just wasn’t adding up.

Now, there is one thing that I despise perhaps more than almost anything else: I cannot stand it when other adults make false promises to my child. I don’t think this is a kind thing to do to any child, and I make every attempt not to do it to my students. Children should be brought up with the idea that adults remain true to their word. It is a good lesson in how to deal with children when they are the adults some day and it reinforces the idea that adults should be a source of safety and security in a child’s life. But my daughter has suffered a great deal more hurt than most children her age and though she’s taken it in stride much more than I ever thought possible, she takes adults at their word. So when her best friend’s mom says she’ll call to arrange a play date for a given day, my daughter takes her at her word. And when a friend offered to “come see” her before her surgery? You guessed it, she took her at her word too. So I was more than just upset about this friend breaking her “promise” to me. I was upset about her breaking her word to my little girl.

As we drove home, I started to ponder exactly why things didn’t add up in this situation. The first thought was obvious. This friend is a stay-at-home mom who home-schools her children, so anything that needed to be done around the house could have easily been done during the days prior to or following the surgery. It was a flimsy excuse, but what was the real reason for her sudden change of heart? I wondered if maybe she didn’t want to drive the hour and a half to where the surgery would take place. I know money is generally tight for the family, so I thought maybe the extra gas and probable meal out for three would put too much of a strain on their budget. Both legitimate reasons, but why not just tell me as much? The more I pondered the situation, the more irritated I became.

Then the true reason hit me like a ton of bricks.

So on the way home from dinner with some other friends of ours, I called my mom and told her that this friend was not coming the next day. Now, I realize that this is not a fair thing to do to a mother who is 800 miles away and is already worried about her youngest grandchild enduring her second surgery of the summer, not to mention the fact that her son is still the sole caretaker of said grandchild. But my mom and I have always had a remarkable relationship, so I called to tell her what was going on. When I told her that I would be sitting alone during the hour and a half long surgery, she confirmed what I had surmised. Her words were something to the effect of, “I don’t want to put bad thoughts into your mind, but do you think it could be the husband?” Bingo Mom. You have once again hit the nail on the head. My mother, with all of her women’s intuition, had drawn precisely the same conclusion about this man whom she has only met a time or two. And sadly, I’m certain it was the proper conclusion to have drawn.

I have always been overly cautious in my friendships with married women. I work in a predominately female field and have never had any difficulty maintaining friendships with women. It was something I talked to my wife about early in our relationship as I had previously dated a girl who was very jealous (one of the many reasons I refer to her as “the one who showed me what I didn’t want in a wife”). My wife always took it stride, and was, more often than not, friends with these women as well. (To be clear, these friendships never extended beyond work unless my wife was also friends with them). It was something we continued to talk about during our marriage as well. Not that either of us were worried about anything inappropriate happening, but typically those kinds of things happen when your guard is down, so keeping an open dialogue about it just seemed like a smart thing to do.

The level of caution I used when I was dating and married could not even begin to compare to the level I’ve used since becoming a widower. As with everything else, I suddenly became very aware of how it might look if I spent too much time with another woman regardless of whether she was single or married and whether the time was spent inside of work or out. For the most part this transition time was actually that in name only. I stayed friends with my two happily married, middle aged friends at work and became better friends with the whole family of one of my other friends who is thirteen years my senior.

Here I will take a moment to mention how much I have appreciated this friend and her family. I met this friend when I worked at my first school after moving to the Southeast. By the time our daughter was born a year and a half later she was one of the few people we trusted to watch her on those rare occasions when my wife and I got out for a date. She never let us pay her and always said that the best thing we could do for her was to let her watch our daughter again the next time we went out, which we did. After my wife died, she and her husband, who attend our church, started inviting us out for lunch on Sundays. Over time it became a standing invitation, with the understanding that if one of us couldn’t make it on a particular Sunday there would be no hard feelings. Through this I have also become better friends with her husband, which is no small task since he is not much of a talker. They are some of my best friends here now. And incidentally, she and her daughters are the ones who sat with me during my daughter’s first surgery this summer (her husband had to work).

One thing I have always appreciated about our friendship is that her husband does not seem to mind that she and I are better friends than he and I are. He doesn’t seem to feel threatened or jealous or any of the other types of things husbands might feel in that sort of situation. (And rightly so as we are strictly friends).

Contrast this with the husband of the friend who backed out of the surgery. He is a prominent member of our church, and I mention this only because as such he should know better. Now, as I mentioned before, I know the importance of guarding oneself against any sort of impropriety in single/married friendships. But there has to be a level of trust involved as well. For him, that trust does not exist. Couple that with what I believe (and have observed on a minor level) is a complete and utter lack of respect for his wife and you have an idea of the dynamic that was involved in causing me to sit alone during what should have been a very scary hour and a half.

And more importantly, causing my innocent daughter to see that yet another trusted adult in her life was willing to let her down.

So that night, while I was getting her ready for bed and long after she was asleep, I did something very uncharacteristic. I got angry. And not only did I get angry, but I allowed myself to stay angry. I generally save my ire for social injustices and certain members of the local school administration (there’s a story there, but this has already waxed long), but in this moment I allowed myself to feel it for all it was worth. So I let it stew and fester for a good long while before I simmered down and headed to bed. But sadly, I lost whatever respect I had left for that man during those moments and have since been unable to bring myself to sit through his Sunday school class.

At this point I know you’re all hoping that things went well so this post will be over (if you’re still with me). And they did. My daughter was a bit more nervous than last time, but handled it amazingly well. I sat alone with my book, and was able to concentrate more often than not on the words on the page and not the images of what was happening to my daughter in the OR. When it was time to see her in recovery, her nurse (a man this time) did not ask me any questions beyond what was appropriate, so I was not forced to give an account of why I was there alone following her surgery this time. And I was facing a wall, so I did not have to see any other patients and therefore did not once have the urge to run screaming from the building. Which was good, since my daughter took about twice as long to come out of the anesthesia this time. We made it home safely (using the old five-point seat proved to be my best idea of the week) and our good friends brought us McDonald’s for dinner since we were confined to the house for the weekend.

If you can say you had a good experience with surgery, then I guess we did. Again.

But I still can’t help but be a little sad for the loss of respect we both suffered as a result of this experience.


  1. you have my utmost sympathies and respect. and i know what you're talking about. a widow i've gotten to know here in my new city was ostracized by other women when she tried to start going back to the football parties she had attended with her husband. suddenly she's a single woman (not seen as a grieving widow who wants company) and she is looking good, i.e. lost weight due to not eating properly because of her grief. this football season she has been welcomed back with open arms because, drum roll, she's engaged.

    you hit the nail on the head with the trust remarks. and i'm sorry to say from my 50 years of experience that it won't ever change. there will always be people who see you as a threat. you're a widower, a fantastic father, articulate, educated, and, form over here, appear to have a kind and generous nature. there will be women who will gravitate to you for that. there will be men who will be jealous. no one will use compassion or logic. and you and your daughter will have to endure the fall out.

    but with your guidance, she will come to learn to feel blessed by the people who do earn yours and her trust. she will not become cynical over the percentage who let her down. and she will become self sufficient while allowing others who wish to be a positive part of her life step in to help when she needs it. you, of course, have already learned these lessons. but it won't stop you from being angry that your child has to learn them.

    "it's a mad world." tell yourself, she's got the best of both you and your wife in her. and she's stronger with the guiding power of your love.

    i hope she heals as rapidly as she did the first time. i'm sorry you had to sit alone. and if you wish and think it appropriate, tell her there are others out here in the world wide community of those who have suffered the death of loved ones and miss them terribly who wish her and you all the very best. you are both in my prayers.

  2. WNS - I think women tend to ostracize widows more readily than men do widowers, but a man will not hesitate to do so when he feels threatened, however unintentional that may be on the widower's part. I was particularly surprised in this situation because I didn't see it coming, even though I had sensed the respect issues within their marriage.

    Yet the hardest part is seeing how this affects my daughter. I grew up quickly after my father died, seeing people for who they were and sensing it when I didn't directly observe it. It's one of the many things I don't want for my daughter. She should have the luxury of a childhood, and I will do everything I can to protect her from the harsh realities of this world, including people who should be able to see beyond their own insecurities.

    That being said, she is stronger than she should have to be and does exactly what you have mentioned - she gravitates toward the people who clearly love us and tolerates the rest.

    Just like her daddy.

  3. I'm impressed that you have handled so much all on your own. I haven' t dealt with anything of that gravity alone yet, and hope I won't have to. But very impressed by your ability to handle it all!

    Since I became a parent, I have been more and more sympathetic to the human condition- the flux of relationships. One would hope that a friend would never back out in such an important situation, but in the end people are scared, mostly scared of becoming like us, "alone." You made it clear that the couples relationship is already suffering, maybe its worse than what you think.

    I think people are put into each other's lives for different reasons. I have some friends that we have a mutually beneficial relationship of mutual committment. then I have some friends that care more for me than I for them, and vice versa. Maybe you were put in her life to show her something, and not they other way around. You do have to be clear about not intruding on the marriage and not putting yourself in a position where she or they will let you down again. But don't close the never know what is lurking around the corner.

    Great Blog, glad I stumbled upon it!

  4. Hmmmm... I'm sorry you had to go through this. WNS is right -- your daughter IS old enough to learn about adults making mistakes. And honestly? If this guy has such issues around his wife, and she is buying in to it, then your daughter is better off not spending time around them.

    You're a fantastic dad, one of the most considerate parents I know.



  5. This is the first of your posts that I've read and I hope to read a little more to catch up, but I'm SO sorry to hear that you and your daughter had to go through that.

    I would have hoped that even if trust was an issue with this couple that they could have put that aside for at least one afternoon for the sake of what you and your little girl were going through. I think Supa was right - you don't need them around in the end if they can't get past their own issues, but it's really unfortunate as it's sure can be hard to find help sometimes.

    Hope the healing goes well, in all respects. I'll keep reading,

  6. Samantha - Welcome and thank you for your comment. I, too, have become much more sympathetic to other cultural "anomalies" in the last two and a half years. I was getting there on my own, but my wife's death really brought things into a whole different perspective.

    And about the friendship - I won't be closing the door just yet. Something happened after I posted this that has me cautiously optimistic...

    Supa - Unfortunately my daughter does see it and I hate to see her disappointed in human kindness at such a young age. But she's too perceptive not to. My goal is to instill in her a sense that most people are good at heart and just make poor decisions sometimes and to help her handle it well when those decisions affect her.

    And thanks for the compliment. That makes me think maybe I'm on the right track with this...

    letterstoelias - Welcome and thanks for commenting to you also! I always enjoy reading other people's perspectives, hard though it may be sometimes.

    I have found that even people with the best of intentions often can't see past their own noses (myself included at times, I'm sure). And I am not one to ask for help (as I did not in this case, it was offered) unless there is really a great need. But you are right in that people don't know what it's like, don't often take the time to find out, and don't always act in the way you think they should. As I mentioned in response to a couple of the other comments, it's something I'm used to, but my daughter is five and I really hate it for her...

  7. Sorry to be late in coming here to read this. I'm delighted that your daughter's surgery went well.

    You'd mentioned something similar to this in response to a recent post of mine, so I knew it was coming. And yet, it's still shocking all the same.

    For what it's worth, I don't think you can necessarily blame the man. What you can probably blame is the unspoken assumptions and false inferences that people make, or that people are afraid others will make. It could just as easily be this woman's friends who advise her to be more 'circumspect.'

    I suppose what I'm saying is that however hard it is, it's sometimes good to avoid taking it personally, as far as that's possible. In your position, I made few allowances, and I got angry, too.

    I'm sorry that the story gets repeated, and I so wish that weren't so. But maybe just understanding why it happens is a huge learning that's worth making, if only because we have to understand the problems which arise before we can make real progress in solving them.

    Anyway, I'm behind you every inch of the way.

  8. Roads - It's not often that I let my anger get the best of me and I was surprised that it did in this situation.

    I see what you mean about the woman's friends, and I have definitely observed that with other women, careful though I may try to be in my relationships in general. Unfortunately in this instance, events over the past month have only served to confirm my initial suspicions.

    It's a tough place to stand, but recognizing it for what it is has helped me temper my responses to subsequent instances.

    Your support means a great deal to me. Thank you.

  9. SSSF - well done for being so calm (calm being a relative word of course) during the surgery. I know parents who cope less well (and they still have each other).

    I totally understand your rage and anger about your daughter being let down ... and I could feel my own contempt rising for these adults whilst reading your post. Simply not acceptable. They should be more concerned for her than their own idiosyncracies or neuroses, frankly.

    Two points that I would add here are:

    1. People who have not suffered loss simply have no comprehension of what it does to us when we are let down. To attain any sense of normalcy, personally I have to plan things and execute them. If someone upsets this, it makes my world seem even more unstable.

    2. ... and where children are concerned, you simply should not let them down. It's not cricket. Your own rationale for this is spot on.

    I wish that people who let us down or hurt us stopped to think about the effect it has ... recently I was inconsolable and felt like I went back 3 months due to someone taking advantage of my trusting them ... it devasted me. The reality is this friend is not even a poor imitation of a man (I got angry too!) and sadly, it's true - there are people who are so selfish that they don't really care.

  10. Boo - This post really seemed to resonate with people, which is a testament to how often these situations are occuring in the lives of us widow/ers. I think society in general has taken the "look out for No. 1" cliche much too literally. But there's an extra sting when it affects our children and/or hits us at an especially vulnerable time.

    In the days after posting this, I had hopes that my relationship with this couple could be salvaged, but I sense a distancing on their part and I am not going to pursue it only to be hurt again.