Faster than we might have anticipated, we found ourselves embarking on our 21st journey to Greenville Shriners. The rushed timing, while unexpected, didn’t affect our usual cocktail of stress, determination, and optimism
If I were writing a book, this chapter would have been foreshadowed a few chapters back. This casting marks cast number 14 for Harrison. Back in February, when we had the final Mehta cast, I remarked then that I didn’t know when 14 would be, but knew it was on the horizon. That same visit was when Dr. Hyer said she suspected Harrison would be walking in the next year.
Even on our last visit, just two weeks ago, we thought this visit wouldn’t be coming until sometime next month.
As we’ve learned since our very first visit with Dr. Hyer before Harrison was even a month old, she likes to strike when the iron is hot!
This visit and procedure itself was a first for us in a few ways.
This is the first time they have put Harrison in casts up past his knees in over two years. It is the first surgery he has had on his feet. The first surgery that required Harrison to have either an epidural or catheter. It is also the first time where we’ve had a procedure take something away. This latest procedure and casting has taken away his newfound independence of getting around on his knees.
As Dr. Hyer said on our last visit; she loves the knee walking, but she’s taking it away!
While a two-year-old can’t understand that you sometimes have to take a small step back to make a large stride forward, this 42-year-old dad has to remind himself of that same thing.
While I’m, of course, biased, I can’t imagine another kid at Harrison’s age being as determined as he is, after everything he’s gone through in such a short span.
We’ve gone through so many of these procedures at this point that we’re pretty well-versed on how things go. We know the nurses in the holding area before surgery. Including our nurse from Kentucky who we talk about the latest with about the football or basketball team, based on what part of the year we’re there.
They’ve seen him so often, they remember when he had his man bun, and commented on his new haircut and how much he’s grown. Of course, all this familiarity comes with learning our son has, what proved to be, a well-known reputation for biting the nurse who had previously carried him back on one of his last Mehta castings.
So on visit 21, we learned that Harrison was infamous. Not for something usual, nor for his man bun, or his “oh yeah!” from his hip surgery, but for biting. For biting the unsuspecting nurse who was just transporting him to back. Clearly, she had told the story a few times, because people knew how she was lulled into a false sense of security. She had thought he was just being sweet and adorable during the journey to the surgical room. Except, within moments, that sense of tranquillity was lost in sharp pain, the pain of Harrison’s bite, something I’m all too accustomed to.
So that’s great. With the hundreds of kids that come through that hospital every week, ours is not only known but remembered and infamous for something he did over 6 months ago. It’s nice to know our kid is memorable, but it would be nice if it wasn’t so facepalming.
So really, our first morning was pretty standard for us now. A couple of hours in the holding area before surgery. Meeting with Dr. Hyer, the anesthesiologist, and anyone else that may want to come by. Getting measurements, answering the typical questions, getting Little Man ready, before they finally come and carry him to the back.
We often get breakfast from the cafeteria just before it closes as our next move, and then rest while waiting for the nurse’s updates. If for nothing else than to take the sting away from watching strangers carry our baby away. (this time with a bit more awareness of the proximity of his mouth)
Dr. Hyer, as ever, was pretty spot on with the timeline that she gave us. When speaking to her before surgery, she said it would take about an hour to start, an hour for each foot, and then time in recovery. So around lunchtime, we had our little guy back with us, exactly when we were expecting to. This surgery was the second longest procedure he’s had, with his hip surgery being the longest to this point.
The surgery was successful, and Dr. Hyer was happy with the results. So all good things. If you consider good things being in typical Harrison fashion. Dr Hyer had to do what essentially was a hybrid approach to Harrison’s feet. She was able to get around a 15-degree flex past neutral in each foot after the tendon release, which is awesome.
The procedure required an epidural and catheter, so we had to stay at the hospital overnight. Harrison was mad once he realized he couldn’t bend his knees. Add to that, his having to lay a certain way in the hospital bed versus how he wanted to lie, made for a long night.
How mad was he? Mad enough that he was kicking his legs in full casts while having an epidural. Sufficed to say, someone rather impressed the nurses with that feat.
Once the epidural and catheter were removed, our next destination was down to casting. With this being cast number 14, this is practically a part of our Shriners routine. It may or may not be bad, that we’re able to lead the way and the nurse accompanying us, just has to walk with us. At this point, we know the way.
After splashing on a bit of color (red in honor of his older brother’s soccer senior night coming up in a few weeks), we had a quick yet diligent physical therapy session – working on our undeterred warrior bracing his weight on his newly colored casts. With all the necessary boxes checked, we were given the green light to head home.
Our drive home, which is something I rarely reference in these posts, proved to not be as bad as I had anticipated. Really, it wasn’t bad at all, considering. As always, you never can tell how this kid is going to react to things. He was as ready to be home as we were. He wasn’t happy about being in casts but was happy to no longer be at the hospital.
So what’s next? Well, we will be starting the month of October the same way we started September; in Greenville. That will just be for a cast change, however. Harrison’s contracture in his left knee was a bit more than what Dr. Hyer liked, and as determined as she was to get him on his feet, she was covering all the bases. So in two weeks, Harrison will have a cast change, just to continue progress on increasing flexion in his knees and ankles.
Fast forward a few weeks after this, and we’ll be on our next big Greenville visit. On this occasion, not only will Harrison get his casts off, but he’ll also get new AFOs, new knee braces to sleep in, but also multiple days of intense physical therapy!
This first step in reaching “the next milestone” has been one of the hardest, if not the hardest, to watch him go through. This kid has been as resilient and tenacious as any adult I’ve ever seen. Pain has rarely been something to phase him very much, and a cast has only ever proven to be a challenge, not a hindrance.
There’s no denying that he’s feeling this one. Unsettled and uncomfortable, this marks a first for us, a moment when we’ve had to take something away from him. Those echoes of sadness I glimpsed in his eyes, the ones I tried to brace myself for, have swiftly shattered my resolve more than once. Yet, I stand here, his father, the grown-up in the room, reminding myself that this is all part of the process and that while it doesn’t feel like it now, we are still moving forward.
Truth be told, in light of things yet to come our way in the years ahead, this is merely a single droplet in the ocean. But make no mistake, being cognizant of this truth has done little to lessen the heartache of witnessing him having to go through this.
Despite the challenges, I eagerly anticipate his progress. I am eager to see him strive to stand and perhaps walk independently. I look forward to the result of his effort and resolve, which will replace my sadness with incomparable pride.