Sammy’s surgery. Or, trusting your heart.

Part one because this is a long story and I’m too emotional about it to do a proper editing job. So grab a snack and settle in. Part two is linked on the bottom of this page. 

Well, if you follow me on any social media platforms, then you probably know that the baby had emergency surgery last weekend. It’s been the longest few days, but also I can’t really believe everything that happened so quickly. It seems like a dream that any of it happened at all. Here’s what happened; also, fair warning, there are some sad/sort of graphic photos in here.

The last month has been full of sickness for my kids and pretty much everyone we know, so when Sammy got sick a few weeks ago I didn’t think too much of it. I’m not normally one to rush my kids to the doctor for every cough or cold (OK OK that’s not true, but my sisters usually talk some sense into me) but earlier in December I knew that Clara had strep. Her cousins had it, her aunt and uncle had it, and eventually a bunch of her little friends had it too. So I took her into our doctor and got her on medicine, and she felt better a few days later. We didn’t test the baby because he’s too young to worry about strep- they normally don’t swab or treat that in babies under two. Then a few weeks later, right around Christmas, baby Sammy and I both caught a bad flu, with sore throats and coughs that lasted for over a week. In other news, I haven’t slept since 2011.

Our family went to Washington on New Years Eve to celebrate Christmas with Sam’s family, and while we were driving I thought the baby’s cough sounded worse. I was feeling much better after 9 days of being sick, but he was getting sicker. We decided that if he sounded worse in the morning, we would take him to see a doctor in Moses Lake. He woke up the next day with a high fever, and still coughing. No matter what I did for his fever I could not get it to drop below 102. I was alternating Tylenol and Motrin every 3 hours, giving him cool baths, breastfeeding like crazy, and he just seemed off.

We put him down for a nap that afternoon, and while looking through pictures from our “Christmas” that morning, we all laughed at how chubby he looked. He’s kind of a chubbers anyways, but for some reason his face just looked ridiculously fat that day. The family gathered downstairs to watch football and eat lunch, and after his very short nap we heard Sammy crying. Sam went up to get him and as he came into the basement carrying the baby, I laughed again and, in a moment that I will never ever forget because I feel SO BAD I COULD DIE, I said,

“Man, that kid is getting fatter by the minute!”

Then I stopped short. His face didn’t just look chubby; it looked swollen. Disproportionate, even. I grabbed him from his dad and felt his cheeks, then ran my fingers under his chin. The left side of his neck had a bulge in it, rock hard and the size of a bouncy ball. I felt it again, felt the fever on his forehead, and stood up in a panic.

“We’re going to the emergency room. NOW.”
Sam looked at me like I was crazy and tried to calm me down, but I left my lunch and root beer right where it was on the coffee table, ran up the stairs to put on my jeans and coat, and tried to quell the rising panic in my throat. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I knew that a lump in a baby’s neck is not a good thing. Especially one that practically appeared out of nowhere.

The pictures from that morning make me so sad now. I wish I had noticed how sick he looked and what was happening on his neck. It’s so obvious, in hindsight.


As we drove to the ER, Sam did his best to assure me that everything would be ok. “He probably just needs some medicine,” we kept saying to each other, hoping that there was a good doctor in the hospital that day. Moses Lake is a small town of about 20,000 people, which means rural medicine by most standards, and we found out later that there was only one doctor on call, and he had seen over 60 patients that shift. We waited awhile, then the doctor spent a few minutes with us, did a quick examination, and said that Sammy had a swollen gland.

“It’s either a salivary gland or a lymph node, but either way amoxicillin should treat it.” He felt the knot in the baby’s throat, checked his vitals, and seemed sure about his diagnosis. So we picked up the medicine and got two doses in Sammy before he went to bed.

All that night, he burned with fever. I had him stripped down to his diaper, was giving him medicine the moment enough time had passed for another dose, and in the morning his temp was still 103. On top of that, the lump in his neck was twice the size.

What it looked like the first afternoon.
What it looked like the next morning.


I sent a picture of it to my sister-in-law Malia, who is an Ear, Nose and Throat nurse practitioner at a big hospital in Boston. We had spoken a few times the day before when I was at the hospital with Sammy, and she wasn’t thrilled that they hadn’t done any further testing on the lump or referred us elsewhere. When I sent her the picture of his neck that next morning, she called me immediately. She and her friend, an ENT Pediatric specialist, both agreed that we needed to take Sammy to one of the big hospitals a few hours away and get him seen as soon as possible. The lump could cut off his airway, the infection could spread even further, he will just keep getting sicker by the minute; they both agreed that this thing on his neck was very bad news. Their urgency buried itself in my already worried head and I felt sick about what to do.

Sam and I debated all morning about whose advice to take; the ER doctor who had actually seen Sammy in person, or the two ENT specialists across the country who only knew information from us and a few picture texts. I wanted to get him to a children’s hospital, NOW. The way his swollen face looked, the way his fever would not drop, and the way he was acting all sent buzzes of panic through my bones, like electricity in my knees and elbows. The thing was, the ER doctor had told us that the lump would get bigger, and not to be surprised if it took up to a week to get better. Sam wanted to let the amoxicillin get in his system, and wait until we knew he wasn’t getting better until we took further action. I wanted to get the hell out of dodge and make sure my baby was ok. Sam thought I was being ridiculous; and maybe I was, maybe I was assuming the worst without enough information, but in my heart of hearts I knew that something was desperately wrong with my little boy.

IMG_0746My mom and my mother in law have both always told me, from the moment I was pregnant with Clara, to trust my mother’s instinct. You will know better than anyone if something is wrong with your child, they tell me, and you have to trust that in yourself. Even when other people think you’re crazy, even when you feel crazy, you have to hone that instinct and respect the discernment God gives to moms.

Now, I’m sure some of you are reading this thinking how very sexist it is of me to make all these claims about moms and not dads, but listen. Number one: I’m a mom. I can only speak from my perspective. And number two: I really don’t think dads have this sense in them. I don’t. I’ve never seen it, from all of the incredible and wonderful fathers I know, I’ve never seen them know something about their child the way a mother knows in her heart. Sometimes we’re wrong, of course, sometimes we take babies to the doctor for no reason at all because moms are also completely insane; but after a few kids, that instinct sharpens and is rarely off.

As the morning went on and I texted Malia, called my sisters and my mom, and had endless discussions about what to do with our family in Washington, Sam eventually called me into the kitchen. He was buying me a plane ticket home for that evening, he said, so I could take the baby straight the children’s hospital in Boise and get some peace of mind. He still didn’t really think we needed to be so worried, but he trusted me and was sending me home to find out. I sank with relief, and felt such gratefulness for his faith in me.

We packed our bags, my father in law and Sam drove us an hour and a half to the airport in Spokane, and I prayed that it was a waste of a plane ticket and that everything was fine. We boarded a nearly empty plane and settled in for the 39 minute long flight. 39 minutes in the air, with a burning baby on my lap and a wildfire of worry taking over my mind.


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