Pondering the Worst

>Word from doctors began two years ago that Kalista might one day need her tonsils out.

I avoided it. Not sure why. I wasn’t afraid at the time – just hoping it’d correct itself. When I was a kid, the doctor told me I might need my tonsils out. I still have them.

As time went on, things got worse. She could barely breathe at night, constantly seemed unhealthy and snored to the tune of a mountain logger. Two years later – about two weeks ago – an ear, nose and throat doctor, to whom she’d been referred by her pediatrician, said her tonsils were about as bad as they come.

How frightening it is to sift through the basic disclaimer documents that ensued. The surgery calls for general anesthesia, and some folks never wake up from that. There was also the chance she could bleed to death – not to mention the hundreds of other medical errors that seemed completely plausible as they ran through my head.

As I went through the pre-surgery paperwork and general rigmarole, here’s what I envisioned: My daughter being holding my hand as she’s wheeled off for surgery, releasing it as she looks into my eyes and the tell-tale double doors leading to the operating room swing open, and never seeing me again.

It was the damn anesthesia I was concerned with.

My mom met me at the hospital the morning of her surgery. I had said my goodbye to Kalista, stayed as strong as I could and walked back to the waiting room. Forty minutes was all the doctor said it’d take.

Poor Mom. She was talking to me, but I didn’t know what she was saying. I may as well have been sitting in the parking lot. What if Kalista doesn’t go completely under when she gets that anesthesia? I’d seen shows on TV about people who felt and recalled every moment of their surgery, but could do nothing to alert the doctors.

What if the doctor slipped during the procedure and damaged beyond repair her vocal chords?

What if they couldn’t stop the bleeding afterward?

What if I never saw Kalista alive again?

That was the one that got me. That last one. You know it’s relatively impossible – especially with such a simple surgery – for it to happen, but like a car wreck you can’t look away from, it just kept popping into my head.

What in the Hell would I do? Kalista’s the reason I’m not living alone in the far-off wilderness or a raging alcoholic. My life is over without her.

The doctor eventually called my name. I measured his face for the look of devastation, but saw none. Everything went fine, he told me, and directed me to the recovery room where Kalista had to observed for two hours before she could go home.

She was hysterical when I got there. I’d never seen her sob like that. Ever, ever, ever. She clung to one nurse while another situated her bed. She squeezed her shoulder with all her might as the nurse laid her down.

While I was struck by this, at the same time, it was practically musical to me. She was in pain, for sure – but she was going to be okay.

When I said her name and touched her shoulder, she turned to me and stopped crying, said “Daddy,” grabbed onto me, and began sobbing again. We lay in bed the whole two hours. I almost needed a bedpan for myself.

I’ve been given shit at work by my editors for wanting to spend “too much” time with my daughter. “There’s a difference between wanting to do something with your child and being able to” and “work needs to be a priority” have been sent my way. It has – and continues to – led me to ponder resignation.


There is nothing more important in life than my daughter. Nothing – not a single accolade, achievement or work “responsibility” – I put in the same solar system as the planet my relationship with Kalista is on. If I had it my way, I wouldn’t trade a second out of the most frustrating, unforgiving day of my life as a father for a Pulitzer Prize.

And neither would she.

That morning, I’d envisioned life without her, been faced with the reality it’s a possibility that could happen at any moment and remembered truly understood – there are no guarantees of anything in life. I was reminded, while holding my quivering, self-proclaimed “big girl” in the recovery room, just why I’m here: To be a father; To be a mother; To be that constant Kalista craves so desperately.

It’s probably true, consequently, that she would be nowhere without me.

But without her, where would I be?

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