It takes something earth-shattering to make us realize how faulty our reliance on routine is. We wake up, we let the dog out, we eat breakfast, shower, and dress for the day. This is life. It’s mundane—almost insignificant—a habit we don’t develop or modify very much. We believe that within these routines is power and control. That’s a lie. What we don’t realize is that one little shift—a tiny defect in that routine, and our house of cards tumbles and flattens.
It happened to my family and me almost three weeks ago. Three weeks ago, I had no idea how frail every day was.
One Saturday night, my son, Nate, found a bump in his neck while taking a shower. It was nothing—a little large for a swollen gland, but not terribly strange. The next day, the bump had become a lump and looked as though his Adam’s apple had turned sideways.
By Monday morning, Nate could not open his mouth, turn his head, and no one could touch his neck without him wincing. Something was wrong.
We went to the doctor. The first doctor, Doctor Richards, had never seen anything like it. He ordered an X-ray reasoning that perhaps it was a sports injury? Had Nate broken his neck? Displaced his Trachea?
The X-ray showed nothing out of the ordinary. A second doctor, Doctor Coleby, was brought in. He too hadn’t seen anything like the bulbous thing sticking out of Nate’s neck, although he was certain it was a cyst.
A panel of blood work was ordered and drawn. And the doctors requested a CT-Scan that was denied by my insurance company the next day. I was sent home with a diagnosis of Nate having a weirdo-Whatchamacallit, a prescription of antibiotics to fill, a business card of where to call to schedule the CT-Scan, and a business card of an ENT.
Anyone who has had a child born during a Utah winter knows that getting into an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist in less than two months is as easy as jogging up Mount Kilimanjaro. However, Doctor Richards called in a favor and within a few days, Nate and I were sitting in an examination room of an ENT.
Doctor Taylor was a thin, early forty-something with eyeglasses and a quick smile. He used a headlamp with a pinpointed light. He used a specialized eyepiece that lowered over his glasses and magnified things. He touched and moved the ball inside Nate’s neck, but even he didn’t know what it was other than a weirdo-Whatchamacallit cyst. Doctor Taylor told us we needed a CT-Scan and wanted us to schedule one right away. Sure—because that was easier than getting into an ENT, right?
Every day the cyst grew bigger and more painful. Also, the width of Nate’s neck had started to swell and was almost the same width as his head, and his jawline looked disjointed on the left side.
The possibilities of what this thing in my child’s neck could be were endless. The calls to my insurance company, to the CT-Scan scheduling center, and to the original two doctors were also just as endless. I was trapped—paralyzed—stuck on the murky bottom of a lake with my arms bound to my sides and no way to surface.
Because I didn’t know what to do, I painted my kitchen cabinets—waiting, worried—armed with a paint roller, as well as the wrong color and kind of paint. It was a bad situation all around.
As suddenly as the cyst had grown, the cloudy CT-Scan’s denial was changed to approved by the first doctor calling and yelling at my insurance’s medical liaison—good ol’ Doctor Richards stepped up a second time!
The CT-Scan’s result confirmed that Nate had a Thyroglossal Duct Cyst. The cyst had grown along a duct in the neck that only seven percent of the population has in the first place. The growth followed his duct starting from underneath the back of his tongue, down to the tip of his thyroid.
Nate needed surgery called a Sistrunk Procedure to get it out. With the magic abilities of Doctor Taylor and his staff, surgery was scheduled immediately, on the following Friday, three days after we knew what the bulb was.
Last Friday, Bry and I drove Nate to Primary Children’s Hospital, to their satellite branch in Riverton. Primary’s is a place refined in the upbeat nature of preschool-aged children. Here, kids are placed in big red wagons, rather than pushed in wheelchairs. Here, crude drawings of suns and green trees with red apples are sketched in marker on ceiling panels down hallways.
It’s a wondrous place full of cartoon comforts if you are less than twelve years old. Otherwise, for my sixteen-year-old son who was too tall to lie flat in the hospital bed, it was crazy. Think Tim Burton’s idea of a medical setting without Johnny Depp as his nurse—loud, overtly vibrant, and disproportioned.
The procedure was slated to be outpatient and done in ninety minutes, two hours at the most. Almost four and a half hours later, Nate came out of surgery, groggy, confused, and sipping a cold can of Coke through a bendy straw.
An incision cut horizontally above Nate’s Adam’s apple was stitched back together with thick black thread, resembling the sewing talents of a kid fixing his teddy bear. I have been reassured that to the trained eye, the stitching is clean and tight and will result in a smaller scar later. I hope so!
On his neck, white gauze was stuck to Nate’s wound, held by a white mesh sling that was pulled over his head. Coming out the middle Nate was fitted with a drain that looked remarkably like the flattened end of the bendy straw he sucked on. I wondered if I should check for cut marks on that straw. I didn’t check, but I did wonder about it.
Doctor Taylor explained the reason for the lengthy surgery was that the 4 cm cyst that starred in the CT-Scan was modest. The actual thing was twice as big and long. It had grown through the Hyoid bone located beneath Nate’s tongue and was licking the top section of his thyroid—the greedy bugger!
The doctor said it was the biggest cyst of this kind that he had ever seen. Mid-surgery, Doctor Taylor was so impressed with its size that he brought in another surgeon, who was also elbowed deep in a surgery, into the room to have him take a peek.
That was almost a week ago. Nate is home now. The drain is gone as well as the gauze and sling. His stitches are already beginning to dissolve along the jagged half smile they are supposed to be holding together.
Someday this will all be a memory, a thin white hair of a scar that we will have to stop and think about in sequence to remember what happened when my son was sixteen. Truthfully, that day sounds wonderful, and I can’t wait!