It wasn't her fault, but at the time, I couldn't understand what the heck was wrong with my child. She was 6 and was still wetting the bed fairly often (3-4 times/week). The doctor told me to restrict her water intake in the hours before bed and that would surely clear things up. We did that, but no change. The doc said, she'll grow out of it. Fair enough.
She had twitches and she was fidgety. Oh SO fidgety. She was always touching her face, she was always blinking as if she hadn't slept in years, it drove me NUTS how often she touched her face - it was hard to talk to her because her hands were always up around her face, wiping her nose (which wasn't running) or rubbing an eye, or moving some hair, or scratching her ear, or wincing an eye, or blinking 100 times a minute.
She talked in her sleep regularly - I thought that was pretty funny, actually. She would also grind her teeth something fierce - though I didn't realize how bad it was until later.
The children's dentist said, "grinding is normal for kids, she'll grow out of it."
Then there were the meltdowns. Oh the melting down fits that were totally and completely irrational. We were walking on eggshells around her, hoping to not send her into a meltdown. I began to question all my parenting skills. I was a self taught parent after all, I had surely screwed her up. These crazy town fits she would throw were not normal (or were they?). She would throw herself on the ground, screaming, yelling, hitting, pounding feet, door slamming - all because she couldn't find the right pair of socks, or she had nothing to wear in her entire closet. That was her. Every day. Over the simplest of things.
Now, I know, kids throw fits. And kids can throw some really good fits...but her fits were so frequent, and so dramatic, we felt it was out of the norm. We. Were. Tired.
Then one morning, I went to my dentist for a regular cleaning and I was utterly exhausted. Not only had my daughter peed the bed in the middle of the night, but she had also thrown another completely irrational fit over what she would wear to school that day. I was at my wits end.
The dentist came over for my exam and asked how I was doing. Thankfully, I didn't mask my exhaustion with an "I'm fine!" No, I told him exactly how I was feeling. And then, randomly (so it seemed), he asked if my daughter has big tonsils. I remarked that yes, at my daughters recent doctor appointment, her doc had commented that she has large tonsils, but that was that, just a simple comment that they are big. My dentist asked me to describe the kinds of problems I was having with my daughter, and then he asked me a few more questions that seemed off the wall to me (i.e. does she wet the bed, does she talk in her sleep, does she have any trouble focusing, does she grind her teeth, etc). Yes, Yes, Yes, and YES! He told me that not many dentists are crossing over and looking at the whole picture of the airway relating to what's going on in the mouth, but that he had recently been to a convention where he learned a ton about how a blocked airway can cause disrupted sleep, which can cause exhaustion, which somewhere down the line, keeps the systems in the body working, thus creating pee. Then the child is overly tired, so their body doesn't wake up in time to pee, and they have ADD and ADHD symptoms, they lose it often, and they are basically functioning as if they are getting the kind of sleep I got when my children were newborn babies. He summed it up with, "She's sleep deprived, get her to an Ear, Nose, & Throat doc asap."
I somewhat reluctantly scheduled the appointment with an ENT. I wanted to believe all that my dentist said was true, but I'm not sure I bought it at that point. I mean, she'd just started 1st grade, there were a lot of changes happening in her little world, her issues could have been caused by all of these other factors...right? That's what I told myself, because I couldn't see any other reason why she was so wrecked.
When we got to the parking lot outside of the ENT, my daughter had another meltdown.
We went into the doctors office, with me carrying my oldest on my front (because she refused to walk) and her 4 year old sister on my back. We went into the exam room, and after a little bit of waiting, the doctor came in. We talked about the behavioural problems, and about what my dentist had said, and he confirmed that, yes, those symptoms are all signs of a sleep issue caused by an obstructed airway which most often are caused by large tonsils and adenoids. Finally, it was time for him to look in her throat to see if indeed these large tonsils were actually large enough to be causing a problem. After quite a while of coaxing, it became apparent that my daughter was not going to open her mouth for the doc. The doctor had to pry her mouth open with a wooden stick while I held her tightly (she was flailing around and was ready to run far far away at this point). She was screaming, she was hysterical. He looked in her throat and said, "She's a poster child for tonsil removal." He told me we could waste 3 months doing a sleep study or we could just move forward with removal and solve our problems quickly. We were released from the exam room and ushered into the waiting room, and I was told we could schedule her surgery for the following Thursday. Whoa, hold on.... this was happening fast. A little too fast. I wasn't feeling super confident in the path forward. I left that appointment feeling frustrated and tired. I still had questions.
I was still searching for answers, so I talked to some friends who'd been there, done that, and I got a referral for a doctor at Seattle Children's. We waited a whole month for an open time slot, this doctor's schedule was packed! The day finally came and we took our daughter to Dr. Sanjay Parikh at Children's.
Dr. Parikh was so personable, he explained the reasons why large tonsils and adenoids can cause sleep disruptions. He talked about the side effects of overly tired kids. We talked about how our daughter had been a finger sucker (her pointer and middle finger) since birth and he explained that her finger sucking was a sign that she couldn't breath well, so she used her fingers to push down on her tongue to make way for air. Interesting thought!
He explained the two types of surgeries he performs for removing the tonsils and went through the pros and cons of each. He uses a method called, shaving (read about partial tonsillectomy here), where basically he makes a cut, then sucks out the inside of the tonsil (whoa, totally weird, but also kind of cool!). The recovery time is around three days and is much easier than the traditional cut and cauterize method. Shorter recovery, cutting edge medicine without so much surface area to heal? Sign us up! We felt confident in the diagnosis at this point, and Dr. Parikh was clearly the right surgeon for us. He told us that our daughter's behaviour would be night and day different after surgery. We were hopeful.
Surgery day came, and I was quite nervous. This was the first time we'd ever had to put one of our kids 'under' and signing that consent form about did me in. Thankfully, my husband is solid as a rock, and he handled the whole thing like a champ. He so sweetly held our daughter as they gave her the sleeping gas. She fell asleep in his arms, then they quickly transferred her to the bed and chased us out of the room. They told us she would be done in 20 minutes, which seemed awfully fast -- before we knew it, Dr. Parikh came to the waiting room to tell us that she was done and that things were successful. He said that, yes indeed, her tonsils and adenoids were huge, and they absolutely were the cause of sleep problems - he reassured us that we'd done the right thing.
Children's Hospital is SO great, we were allowed to be in the room when she woke up, so in her mind, it was like we'd never left her side.
The recovery was perhaps more difficult for us, than it was her. She refused to take her meds after the first day and it became a battle. She was just sure it tasted terrible and wouldn't even try it - though we bribed her with popsicles and pudding and ice cream, nothing worked. Finally we just accepted that our job would now be to keep her activity level low, and to keep offering her pain meds, but to not freak out when she refused them. She really was mostly back to normal by day 4 - though we were still trying to keep her activity level low, as we didn't want any complications from her being too active too soon.
Here we are 7 months post-tonsillectomy, and I am here to tell you, my daughter was in fact a poster child for tonsil and adenoid removal! Before surgery, she would constantly stir in bed - she never seemed to get into a deep sleep. She sleeps like an angel now.
Surgery eliminated: bed wetting, twitches, fidgeting, teeth grinding, wildly irrational fits, sleep walking, and sleep talking.
If your child has similar symptoms to what I've described, please get them checked out. Lack of sleep causes so many issues for our little ones, get this handled before it's too late. Their issues could become life long habits built into their brains - don't turn a blind eye, there might be a resolution!
For us, life after surgery is sweet. Yes it was scary as heck, but the reward has been worth every single little bit. <3