After 2 months in traction, the time came for Daniel's final surgery to correct the scoliosis - this surgery would involve placing rods on either side of his spine, screws in the vertebrae, fusing the vertebrae together, and of course, removing the halo. The fusion was necessary to prevent Daniel's spine from reverting back to its old shape. Daniel was ready to be done with it all, so he faced the impending surgery as calmly and stoically as ever.
Nursing students are a constant presence in the hospital. We befriended a few during our stay. One male nursing student asked if he could interview Daniel and me for a research paper. He was struck by how well our family seemed to be coping with all we'd been through and how close our family was. We got to know another nursing student, named Bonnie, during our stay. I recall once when I had contracted a bad case of strep throat, that she asked if she could pray for me. She prayed with us on a few different occasions. Bonnie had requested to be present during the entirety of Daniel's surgery. I believe she was required to observe a surgical procedure and she chose his. She told Daniel, "I will be with you when you go to sleep, when you wake up and will be praying for you throughout." What a comfort this was to us. The surgery ended up taking so many hours that she had to leave before the end to attend a class, but we so appreciated her being there, and for praying.
The day came for the surgery, we said our goodbyes to Daniel, and proceeded to wait. I am pretty sure many other families would be waiting on pins and needles in this situation, but we had been down this road so many times before - with much more serious and life-threatening implications - so we were not feeling the usual nerves or fear, although we prayed a great deal. The surgery lasted for MANY hours - I think around 12. We really had no idea how difficult the recovery would be this time. Although several of his previous surgeries involved tumor removal and were extremely risky, this surgery was the most physically invasive one he'd ever had. He was under anesthesia for 12 hours, which brings its own set of difficulties during the recovery process.
Daniel, of course, was in a great deal of pain afterwards. He couldn't move on his own, so he had to be rotated by us or by the nurses, from one side, to his back, to his other side, continually, to prevent bed sores. The anesthesia affected his stomach, so he felt constantly nauseous. Even after the nausea wore off, he was not allowed to eat for 4 days. He craved Cocoa Crispies, and talked about them all the time. When he was finally given the go-ahead to eat some solid food, we made sure we had Cocoa Crispies on hand J. Daniel weighed only 60 pounds before the surgery, and lost 10 by the time he left the hospital. He was skin and bones, and it took many months for him to gain back that 10 pounds. After several days, Daniel was finally able to try sitting up in a chair, but any movement was still very difficult and painful. Daniel had already been in the hospital as an inpatient for 2 months. He just wanted to feel better so he could go home. The recovery was painfully slow – too slow, it seemed, his his mind. We had to encourage him to keep fighting and working hard- that he WOULD get better and it would get easier.
On one particularly difficult day, a music therapist dropped by. She wanted to sing for Daniel. At the time she walked in, Daniel’s Shriners teacher, Eric, was in the room visiting, Elijah was there, and me. We were all gathered around Daniel’s bed. The music therapist had a list of songs, but Daniel hardly recognized any of them. But he did recognize one - “Lean On Me”, and so asked her to sing that one. She began to sing and play her guitar – it was beautiful. We all joined in. Soon tears began to flow down Daniel’s cheeks as he took in the words being sung right to him – “Lean on me, when you’re not strong – I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on….” By the end of the song, all of us were crying. Music is a powerful tool for healing, and music was a special gift to Daniel that day.
Eventually, Daniel did grow stronger and began to walk around a little. This lifted his spirits and his recovery started to pick up speed. He was so happy (we all were) the day he was told he could go home. Finally, he could see his house, his room, his friends, and his cat, Benny. Overall, the doctors expressed a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction with the improvement to Daniel’s spine. It was more than they had even expected. Praise the Lord. We are so grateful to God for taking care of Daniel during this time, and for the progress that was made. One thing I forgot to mention: the entire stay, surgery, everything was free. Shriners is a donation-based hospital, and the surgeons, the best in the business, volunteer their expertise. We are so grateful to the Shriners organization – they do amazing work for children who need special procedures, not normally covered by insurance. God is good and we give him the praise for graciously bringing us through to the other side of yet another trial!