I watched the screen as the ultrasound technician measured my teen’s kidney. My son had endured five surgeries in as many months, and our hopes were dashed four times. I told everyone this would be the day we received good news. She moved the wand, and my heart sank when I saw the dark spot on the screen. Despite all their attempts to solve the problem, it was still there. He would need another surgery.
The urologist asked my 16-year-old son if he wanted to live with the pain or if he wanted him to correct the problem by removing a portion of his kidney. This was our worst case scenario.
When we first started this journey, the doctor told us this would be a last resort. His doctors had exhausted all other options, and this was his last hope for ending his chronic pain. My son was physically exhausted from multiple procedures and wearing a nephrostomy tube throughout the summer. The doctor cautioned him that even this option might not provide a permanent solution, but it was the only chance he had left.
My son’s doctor gave him options and allowed him to make decisions throughout the entire process. This was an important decision, and he made it alone. He opted to have a partial nephrectomy, and I had to fight back the tears. About six weeks later, my teenager had surgery to remove a calyceal diverticulum the size of a half-dollar coin. Four weeks later, he had his seventh and final surgery to remove the stent inserted during the previous surgery. We celebrated. His tiresome journey to live pain-free was finally over, and he could go back to being a kid again. It was one of the happiest moments of my life, but I was quickly reminded that he was no longer a child. He had morphed into a young man nearing adulthood, and he had skipped almost an entire year of just being a kid.
During the endless months of staying in bed and lying on the couch, I watched over him day and night. His sudden illness threw me back to the days when a child truly needed me, and I forgot he was inching toward independence. Gone were the days when he needed his mother, and I felt it happened overnight. I still wanted him to need me, and I realized how much I missed it. I long for the toddler and preschool years. Oh, how I miss those years.
I am thrilled to see my son playing basketball and skateboarding, but I miss our seemingly endless hours of conversation. In pre-op, we discussed current events. He was well-read and well-informed. My son kept me updated on world news, and his perspective amazed me. In post-op, he once engaged in a full conversation on the evolution of cellular technology. Even while he was partially sedated, he could not hide his acute intellect. I learned my son is truly brilliant.
At home, he would call for me in the middle of the night. After I attended to his needs, we talked. He showed me funny videos, and we laughed at memes. I giggled while he sang the Canadian national anthem in post-op. I learned so much more about him. My son tends to be serious, but his humorous side often surfaced throughout this ordeal. He made me laugh and helped me avoid a complete breakdown. Despite his pain, my son recognized my struggles. I learned my serious son has a softer side.
He had a team of doctors, and he became acquainted with all of them. He knew the nurses on a first-name basis and thanked them many times. The staff adored him, and he was quick to express his gratitude. During one of his hospital stays, he befriended a child waiting for his second liver transplant. He informed me he was fortunate. When I asked how he felt this way, he told me his new friend had a much more serious condition. My son is considerate of others. He has true compassion.
Time and time again, he showed me how strong he is. His doctor allowed him to take charge of decisions regarding his care. The doctors administered strong pain killers after each surgery, and he refused them as soon as he was lucid enough to do so. He knew addiction to prescription medication was a real possibility.
He returned to school just days after several surgeries because he didn’t want to get too far behind. A wheelchair was necessary when he refused pain medication, stating in a matter-of-fact manner that he could not focus while medicated. My son is wise beyond his years, and he understands consequences and responsibility.
The past few years were spent considering career choices. After spending so much time with doctors and nurses, he decided to pursue a career in the medical field. I am proud of his decision, and we are thankful for the wonderful people who took care of him. I hope they know they had a positive impact in his life. He intends to repay their kindness by paying it forward. My son is indeed a mature, young adult.
Today he is back at work and talking about college applications. It seems like we only see each other a few minutes here and there. We no longer have hours and hours of conversation, but I’m grateful we had those talks. I am thankful he is a happy, healthy teenager, but I am glad I had the opportunity to reconnect with my busy teen before college.
Throughout his illness, I wanted to know why this happened. People said this was part of some master plan. It was a tough time for all of us, but our family became closer. We all grew in different ways, and I had the opportunity to strengthen the bond with my son as he changed into an adult. I like to believe this was the plan.
Amy Pilkington is the author of numerous books. She has been published in Huffington Post and Health magazine, in addition to a number of other publications. Pilkington is married to a great guy and has four wonderful children, two spoiled dogs, and a beautiful granddaughter. She enjoys reading, photography, traveling, and a tall glass of sweet tea.