Monday, May 3, 2010

Going under (by Billy Coffey)

image courtesy of

A postscript concerning my son’s tonsillectomy last week:

Upon further reflection—and when you’re awake all night like I was, there is plenty of time for reflection—it wasn’t the visit to the hospital that worried him. He was okay with the hospital. And it wasn’t even the pain. What worried him the most was the very thing he most looked forward to.

The happy gas.

It’s tough trying to explain a medical procedure to a six-year-old, especially when the ins and outs are pretty vague to his father. I didn’t really know what tonsils and adenoids were, what function they served, or why they were giving him such trouble. But the anesthesia part I knew.
So I told him he got to wear a mask like Batman did and that the air would smell like cotton candy and he’d fall asleep. And while he was asleep the doctors would do their business and make him better.

“You won’t feel a thing,” I told him. “Promise.”

He didn’t believe me.

Experience had taught him otherwise. He’d slept before, and he’d either done things or had things happen that he not only remembered, but felt.

He fell out of the bed twice. Felt that. Bopped his face against the headboard. Felt that, too. He’s also awakened himself by burping, talking, snoring, and coughing. Sometimes all at once.

No way, he thought, no way, would he be able to sleep through someone operating on him.

So I explained that the happy gas wouldn’t just put him asleep, it would put him really asleep, and that the doctor would make sure he stayed that way until everything was finished.

Afterward, once we were home and he was safely on the sofa with his ice cream, I asked him about it.

“I didn’t feel anything,” he said. “I can’t even remember anything.”

And then he said this—“I wish I could have some of that for when I go to school. That way I could just wake up when I got home and I wouldn’t remember any of it.”

Funny, yes. And that definitely pegged him as my son. But he really had a great idea there, at least on the surface. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have some advance warning to the less than perfect things we have to face? And wouldn’t it be great if just before we could put on a Batman mask, breathe some cotton-candy air, and fall asleep through the whole thing?

Yes. It would.

I’ll admit for a while I did my best not to try and poke holes in his Happy Gas Theory. I knew there were some and most likely many. But sometimes we take comfort in those things that aren’t and can never be. That’s what I did while sitting on the sofa with him. I reveled.

But the truth of course was that we had to go through our painful things sometimes. We could slide around some and jump over others, but sooner or later a storm would come that we couldn’t outrun or take cover from, and we were left to stand there in the open under the pour.

Sometimes, that didn’t seem right to me.

It would make more sense to say that if God was there and if God was good, He would take better care of the ones who loved Him. He would make sure our paths were clear. He would prevent the pain and the pour and the doubt. He would take away the fear.

If there was such a thing as everyday happy gas, I thought, then shouldn’t it be God?

Maybe. But maybe that pain and pour and doubt served a purpose that outweighed the need for our happiness. Maybe we needed fear so we could know the value of faith.


I didn’t know for sure, but I thought the odds were good that He’d spared me from a great many troubles in my life without me knowing it. Not happy gas, but maybe something better. And as I looked down and saw my son wince when he tried to swallow, I knew that all the happy gas in the world couldn’t take away all the pain. Some still lingered.

That was true for all of us, I supposed. We were all a collection of bruises and cuts. We all had our tender places.

And I thought that in the end, it was our pain and not our happiness that brought us nearer to heaven.


To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at at his website and follow him on the twitter at @billycoffey.


Shark Bait said...

Just because you make perfect sense, doesn't mean I am going to stop praying for Happy Gas.

I'm just saying.

Sandra Heska King said...

"And I thought that in the end, it was our pain and not our happiness that brought us nearer to heaven."

Amen. If we can look at pain as a gift and press in instead of pull away. Lying down and looking up gives such a narrow view.

Maureen said...

Beautifully written.

Btw, "Happy Gas" is a great title for a book.

Melissa_Rae said...

Love the last thought there. It's so true!

Cherie Hill said...

As usual...LOVED this post! Anything that brings us closer to God is good for us...ANYTHING. Praying for your son's recovery...I hear day 2 and 3 can be real doosies. YOU might need some happy gas! LOL
With joy,

Graceful said...

I have to say, it's sort of sucky when you are in the midst of it -- all that pain. But in retrospect, it's been during times of deepest pain that I found God...or he found me.

Andrea said... has been those painful times in my life that have drawn me so much closer to heaven.

jasonS said...

Great post Billy. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

Heather Sunseri said...

Glad young Coffey is recovering! And, I agree that sometimes our pain and the times we would like to live through without memory just might be the growing times we need to get closer to our Creator.

Beth in NC said...

Great post Billy. You're right, God provides the peace that surpasses all understanding -- so He dupes Happy Gas. :o)

I pray your son is moving on -- enjoying loads of ice cream.


Beth E. said...

Hahaha...I like Shark Bait's comment! I feel the same way.

Our youngest son (a freshman in college) is getting an education right now from The School of Hard Knocks. I wish he didn't have to go through it, but he hasn't learned from any other methods.

Sometimes, lessons learned well are the ones we've had to work the hardest for.

Hope your son feels better soon!

Anonymous said...

how long before you had to cut off the ice cream supply?

Jake said...

I struggle with laughing and happiness as a band-aid for things that suck; I've sometimes felt that I shouldn't be happy or joy-filled if things weren't as I wanted them. I know better, but what motivation is there to improve a bloody thing if I'm content, right?

Your son sounds like a smart guy! I hope he heals up well, wonderful reflections!