"I'm Dr. Rice Krispies," said the woman dressed in the green scrub-suit. "I'm the 'sleepy doctor' that's going to help you go to sleep. How does that sound to you, Rob?"
Rob Belli glared. For two weeks, he had known he was going to have hernia surgery at Children's Hospital. But it was one thing to be telling Sam the cat about it back home in Northwest. It was very much another to be standing before Dr. Linda Rice in the surgical "prep" room, at 10:55 Friday morning, just five minutes before time for anesthesia.
"Rob doesn't look like he wants much part of this," Dr. Rice commented to Rob's parents, David and Cathey. They smiled knowingly. They knew their 4-year-old son was nervous.
"It hit this morning when he asked for Cheerios and we had to tell him he couldn't have any because the doctors told us not to," said Cathey Belli. "He's addicted to Cheerios."
And now a Cheerio fan had to suffer the indignity of staring at a Rice Krispie -- and a green one at that. Rob Belli's face was curled into a grumpy frown. Were hospitals always so tough to take?, his face seemed to ask.
Not Friday. Dr. Rice Krispies put Rob to sleep in a matter of seconds in a room decorated with astronauts, as he clutched his two toy race cars in his hand. Surgery to repair his hernia took a mere 42 minutes. By 11:58 a.m., the surgeon, Dr. Judson Randolph, was standing in a hallway, reassuring the parents. And exactly three hours later, at 2:58 p.m., David Belli fired up the family's brown Pontiac station wagon and took Rob and his mother home.
We first looked in on Rob Belli and his hernia in last Thursday's column. As I noted then, his case seemed to be the kind that separates the men from the boys among hospitals. Many of them seem to do fine with the "headliner" procedures, such as open heart surgery. But what about the garden varieties? Does Children's do them carefully, thoroughly and skillfully?
If Rob Belli's case is any indication, Children's does just fine. Rob was walking around a third-floor playroom within 2 1/2 hours of the end of his operation. Dr. Randolph said he could return to school Tuesday, and could even go skiing in two weeks if he wants.
And how did Rob feel? "Fine," he replied, to all those who asked, as he sat in his mother's lap in a post-operative recovery suite.
But many kids say they're fine just because they think that's what adults want to hear. The evidence that Rob really did feel fine came when his father asked how he wanted to celebrate the success of the surgery. No 4-year-old has ever said "moo-shi pork," a Chinese entree, with more certainty.
Rob Belli's road back to full recovery will not necessarily be smooth. Dr. Randolph warned that he will "be walkin' bent over like a little old man for a couple of days" because of soreness. He will not be able to ride his tricycle for a week. He may be numb for a while, and there is still the chance of complications.
But when I asked him where he was going at 2:58 p.m. Friday, as his father was putting him into the car, there was nothing complicated about Rob's answer.
"Home," he said.
We'll be visiting him there later this week.