For memory’s sake, I wanted to share some poignant moments from Luke’s heart surgery day.
We began the day early, dropped the kids off at school and arrived at the hospital just in time for them to call Luke’s name. What we weren’t expecting, however, was the arrival of two sweet friends. Both their boys were NICU buddies of Luke. These moms just “get it.” One brought Luke a fabulous toy which entertained him post-op and the other a Cars balloon that kept him occupied pre-op! It was their kind words and sweet hugs that meant the most to me.
DOCTORS AND NURSES
Once we arrived in pre-op, we met our nurse: Lourdes. I kid you not. It was, as if, at every turn God was telling me, “Kathryn, I got this. Just let me, okay?” You know me, I have a deathgrip on control so it’s hard to hand over those reins to God. Our nurses were all lovely. Cheerful, sweet and kind. Then, our anesthesiologist walked in the room and I knew God was in control. Dr. M has been on Luke’s case two times prior and he specializes in heart surgeries. When he gave Luke a dose of versad, we asked him for a triple. You know, why should Luke enjoy that good medicine?
Honestly, though, it enabled Luke to endure the handoff between me and the surgical nurse without any tears or freak outs. Dr. M’s and Dr. S’s parting words were, “We’re gonna take good care of him, Mom.” Yeah, that’s a statement I’ve heard six times too many. I knew they would, but nothing ever, ever, ever prepares your heart to hand your child to the doctor. After the handoff, I found the nearest corner and let the tears loose. Scott just put his hand on my shoulder and let me get it out.
And, in a stroke of “let’s remind Kathryn again that everything will be okay,” we opened the waiting room doors and spied two Dominican Sisters sitting there waiting for us. For the next hour and a half they were my saving grace. We prayed a rosary in the hospital chapel, ate lunch and shared some laughs and moments of understanding. I’m not sure why I was freaking out so much about this surgery. Like some of my children, I think my anxiety rises with each Dell Children’s encounter. It’s as if I brace myself for the worst, somehow thinking that will help me weather the “after.” It’s silly, I know. But, God knows and understands my anxiety and in His infinite wisdom he sends me tangible signs of peace. Every single time Luke has been critical or I have been on the verge of falling apart – every single time – in walks a Dominican Sister. I think it’s in those moments, when I’m feeling most vulnerable as a mother, he sends the next best thing to Mary, a Dominican sister. If you’ve ever been in their presence, you know they exude two things: joy and peace. Always. I love them for many reasons and Luke’s most recent surgery was yet another reason why. They are my saving grace.
After the surgeon called and gave us the all-clear, he took us back to the cath lab and showed us the results of the surgery. Man, if only I’d thought to record the video images on my phone. It was fascinating! The surgeon first measured the oxygenation of all four chambers. Everything looked pretty good on that end. What we learned is that both holes in Luke’s heart – the VSD and the PDA – are both very small. That’s good news for Luke. The PDA was so small that our original occluder device was too large, so he used a wire, fed it through the cathether, then corkscrewed it to fit the opening and block the blood flow. Worked like a charm. There’s still a chance the VSD (his other hole) could close on its own and we are holding out hope that it does.
When we finished show and tell, Dr. S looked at me and said, “You ready to go back?” Um, “Is the Pope Catholic?” It’s a good thing our doctor is Catholic. He appreciated the joke. Clearly, this is not our first rodeo because the staff usually waits a good 15-20 minutes before taking parents back to the PANDA area. The nurses don’t need fainting or freaking out parents to interfere with the care of the patient. But, since none of that stuff bothers me anymore, I got a first-class ticket back right away. Luke was snowed for a bit, but when we woke up, this is what I saw.
He wasn’t agitated or angry. There were no tears. I was prepared for so much worse based on previous experience and none of it reared its ugly head. No doubt, that was an answer to prayer. Scott came back shortly thereafter and we watched, in awe, as Luke ate an entire popsicle. Shut the front door. I texted his OT/feeding therapist immediately to share the good news!
After an hour of monitoring his vitals (they looked stellar, by the way), they sent us off to recovery. Eek. The hard part. My cousin dropped by while were in PANDA and it was yet another reminder we are blessed with an awesome family. Kambo, I love you.
So, here’s the dealio. Because the surgical entry point was through his femoral artery, Luke had to lay still and flat for SIX HOURS. Oh my sweet stars. We came prepared (the iPad, toys, swirling contraptions and a boatload of prayers) but I was still incredibly anxious about that six hours. For the first three, I had Scott, then I was on my own. Did I mention John Paul had a flag football game, his last, and Scott was the coach? Yeah, another reminder that life goes on even on the day your son has heart surgery.
No lie. This is how Luke laid for the six hours post-op. He never moved his legs once, never cried, never fussed, never got agitated. He just laid there and watched show after show, watched the toys do funny things on the table, ate an ENTIRE bowl of mashed potatoes (another excited text to the OT) and drank half his Boost/supplement. At one point during the afternoon I asked him if he wanted more to drink. His reply, complete with hand wave? “No, I am fine.” That was an immediate text to Scott.
For the sake of the picture above, I flipped on the light, but for the better part of the day, we kept the lights mostly off and stimulation to a minimum. With about an hour left to go before discharge , the nurse administered his final dose of antibiotics and then we took a field trip down to x-ray. They wanted to confirm the placement of the wire coil before discharging us. Luke did phenomenal. Again. It was at this point I started pinching myself wondering, could it really be this easy? I almost felt guilty for being worried.
When we arrived back in the room, our nurse told us to start packing up and he began filling out discharge papers. We arrived home at 7:45. That is just pure crazy talk.
The most daunting, and difficult, part of Luke’s recovery was keeping him in “take it easy” mode. Yeah right. You try keeping a three-year-old from running, jumping and exerting himself. FOR FIVE DAYS. It was mostly precaution, but I probably erred on the conservative side. Momma wasn’t about to readmit anybody to the hospital. Too much exertion could’ve started bleeding in his arteries again (not good) or moved the wire coil (even worse). So, suffice it to say, we watched a lot of TV. I can pretty much recite “Brave” and “The Incredibles” by heart now.
Today, Luke is 100% recovered. We have our post-op check with the heart surgeon in two weeks to confirm the placement of the wire and check his vitals and clinical appearance. I think he’s going to pass with flying colors. Surgery number six: check, check, check.
I am grateful to the many people who cooked us meals, prayed for us, sent us sweet cards and messages and brought us gifts. You are such a gift to our family. Each and every one of you. I’ll come calling on you again next summer, but until then, know that you are loved and appreciated.