Friday, July 5, 2019

My Heart

I am sitting in the cramped hospital room watching the nurse keep her eye on Sky's vitals. His heart rate keeps falling and setting off an alarm. She tells me not to worry, that the medications they used during his procedure just worked a little too well.

Procedure. I've always hated this word in reference to something being done to a human body subdued by anesthesia. All week Sky and I debated the line between surgery and procedure. Now that he's a teen, we don't agree on much, but we both agree that if cutting and repairing are involved, it should be called a surgery.

"Besides," he says with a grin, "I want to be able to tell people I had heart surgery this summer."

This is out-patient, 2 or 3 hours under general anesthesia in order to thread a catheter up to his heart and put a roadblock in the spare electrical pathway that keeps causing it to race. It doesn't matter to me what they call it; the pre-op process and the time spent waiting for updates from the surgical theater are more than enough to trigger memories of so many surgeries past. Ren and I get out long enough to get some overpriced, ridiculously-healthy, oddly-paired food at the "Asian" salad bar, but soon we are back and waiting in the room that suddenly seems cavernous now that Sky's bed has been rolled away with him in it.

When the nurse calls to tell us all is fine but that they have to cross into the left atrium, I thank her for the update and then try to focus on the tiny tennis ball high on the tiny TV screen. It's the first round of Wimbledon, and we don't get cable at home. Ren wants to know who called and what they wanted. I find it hard to explain in Japanese as my anxiety rises in my chest and settles in my throat. I know that crossing to the left increases the risk of dangerous clots and stroke.

The room has no windows, and I have to traverse a maze of hallways in order to reach one. The prospect of tracing my way back to the sunlight seems particularly daunting, especially since the hospital lobby is a dizzying combination of cows and farm theme and old cars. I'm at a loss as to how to keep my shit together. This surprises me given the vast experience I have with hospitals and surgeries. Ren barely takes his eyes from his iPad. Apparently his coping strategy works better for him than mine does for me.

And, then, suddenly, it's over and the doctor comes in and explains what he did before we're asked to wait for ten minutes in the hallway while they get Sky settled in his room. Twenty minutes later, we are still waiting, so I knock on the door. The nurse says that most parents don't handle seeing their kinds on breathing support well, but she knows how many surgeries we've been through with Ren and tells us we can come in if we're ok with it. I'm more ok sitting with Sky than I am in the hallway with strangers, so I tell her we'll be fine. Like Ren, Sky comes around slowly after anesthesia, and it takes his body even longer to deal with the various meds on-boarded during the surgery.

The lighting in the room sucks--our options are a massive, blinding fluorescent ceiling light or  a depressingly dark headboard light. We wait for Sky to wake in near darkness while tennis continues on the television. When he finally opens his eyes, he wants to know if it's done. He wants to get out of bed. He wants to watch something else on TV. He switches to National Geographic, some show about the Sphinx and the Pyramids. He's still trying to watch it when they come in to do an echocardiogram.

I often wonder if I am doing right by my kids, by Sky, who is my oldest, my practice run, my test case. Every phase he enters, every new challenge he faces, I am doing it with him for the first time. Most of the time, it doesn't go smoothly and I am convinced I am blowing it. But as I watch them track his heart on the screen, I am transported back to the first time I ever saw that heartbeat. Back to that moment fifteen years ago--before I had a baby, before I learned to doubt myself so deeply--when I was simply awed to see that life growing inside of me. Watching Sky's heart beat so perfectly on the screen I am flooded with gratitude--gratitude that I've been able to hold and to love and to protect and to help grow this heart in this boy.

It's his heart, but as I look at it in the darkened hospital room, I realize that it is my heart, too. It always has been.

My heart four days post-op.