And this was a minor operation, and of our choice - nothing life-threatening or even "serious", so I do not for a moment pretend our experience compares to others who have been through far, far worse.
M. has had a strawberry mark since birth, on her abdomen. It grew to about 3cm in diameter, raised about 1cm, and has been a charming part of her forever.
Every six to twelve months we would trot off to the paediatrician or plastic surgeon, who would examine it and assure us it would gradually reduce and eventually disappear, perhaps leaving a small amount left to be removed leaving minor scar tissue by the time she was around ten.
All fine with us. The thing was having no impact, it was not causing any problems, and M didn't mind it - she was too young to notice initially, then too young to mind, then had a sort of proprietary affection for it, until fairly recently.
Our paediatrician had recommended removing it before school, to avoid teasing.
Our plastic surgeon recommended leaving it as late as possible, to give it a chance to reduce as much as possible and reduce the size of the incision and resulting scar, after operating.
By last year's visit, things had changed. M was starting to be a bit self-conscious about her strawberry mark, no longer allowing her sister to touch it and asking me sometimes when she was going to get it removed (yes we had briefly discussed it with her after doctor visits to explain what she was hearing). And I was no longer convinced this thing was going anywhere.
Now obviously I am not a doctor and heaven forbid I should query what two doctors were telling us, but dammit, I knew what my eyes were telling me, and this birthmark had not reduced one iota in the three years since it grew to the size it was. When I mentioned this the doctors disagreed with me and told me that I couldn't tell because her body had grown around it. Hmmmmm.
They MIGHT have been right, but in any case I was quite pleased when our new plastic surgeon took one look last month and agreed with me, that from the photos he had seen, it had not reduced much, and was not going to get any smaller.
Apparently a small percentage of strawberry marks are not re-absorbed in the body and unluckily M had one of those. (Not that I consider her unlucky - other kids have them on their face, or have worse).
The timing was perfect for the operation.
M had just started school, and was not yet attending full time; was not yet changing into bathers for school swimming lessons, she had become self-conscious of the mark and wanted it gone, and she understood everything we or the doctor told her.
Pretty quickly we decided to get it done, and M was very happy and excited from that day. Sounds silly to say "she wanted it" but honestly she really did. I was NOT bothered about the mark myself and would have happily left it longer if there was any benefit to doing so, but there was not.
However.... it is a truly horrible feeling on operation day to think what risks you are exposing your child to, for the sake of removing a birthmark. What if the anaesthetic affected her and things went wrong? Would you ever in a million years forgive yourself? For a birthmark??
M was calm and happy as we got her prepped for the operation, but when she was lying on the trolley bed in the theatre surrounded by masked (if friendly) faces and weird equipment, she was a little nervous. She kept up a small, uncertain smile and kept her eyes locked on my face as I held her hand and the nurse and I talked to her and asked her questions about school and friends and favourite lunches and what movie we would watch when we got home.
I will never forget her face locked on mine and that uncertain smile.
Then she counted to five, coughed a little from the gas and then fell suddenly and horribly deep asleep, her hand went limp in mine and I choked back tears as the nurse bundled me out; I was crying then as I returned to the waiting room, peeling off scrubs as I went, to wait it out with my husband who was struggling against tears himself, and my mother who had taken our other daughter to school.
Of course, as these things usually do, everything went perfectly. The doctors and nurses were amazing, as they always, always are. The anaesthetist took photos on his iPhone to email to me. Everyone was full of praise and caring for our little girl. And she awoke calm and well, though groggy and very very clingy against me, without a complaint or a tear (which is due to the doctors' techniques and the nurses' care - I know my daughter is stoic but hey, she is only five - and I know how good surgical techniques are these days).
As she pulled the blanket around her and snuggled her face in my arm, M mumbled proudly, "Mum, I was brave and stuff."
"Yes you were!" I said, and wanted to add "And bloody so were we!!"
|Image: pareerica at Flickr Creative Commons|