On surgery day I had a million words running through my dizzy head (that I actually got to blow dry!) on how to describe the emotions of it all. There wasn’t enough time on Day 1 to get the script to her saga all down on paper….well, digital screen. I had to revisit the feelings once we were in the safe haven of home so that I could divert all of my mama attention in the ICU to the non-sleeping infant in the caged bed coping with coming out of anesthesia with some scary breathing patterns.
The common question of how I was feeling that week leading up to the ubiquitous moment was asked frequently. The only way I can relate the anguish for someone that hasn’t laid their child on an operating table, is to think of it as a speech you need to give for a public speaking class. We’ve all been there.
The dreaded class that no one wants to take. You hesitantly walk into your inaugural class and learn your very first speech will be one day soon. Before you get your D-day, the calm teacher prepares the group in every way that he can. Teaches you the basics, plays former Presidents addressing the nation in a goose bump brilliant way, suggests mock pitches with your classmate sitting next to you.
Then the assignment comes for your first speaking debut, and you’ve been randomly chosen to go first. Holy crap that’s so soon! I’m not ready!
You start to write out the words you want everyone to hear – not too long or you’ll never remember it all, not too short or you won’t get a good grade. Next is mental preparation for the sole-attention that will be focused on your trembling face. You must stay strong. The nerves start to set in as you realize how many people will be watching, and you don’t want to screw it up.
The hysteria is building as the big day arrives. But wait – there was a fluke snow storm and school is cancelled. Relief that you get to store the stress away, anger because you just wanted to get it over with. Rip it off like a Band-Aid. Your speech must be rescheduled as the last one instead of the first. Great, more time to dread the moment.
Time passes quickly. Before you know it it’s D-day again. Teacher calls you up to the unfamiliar place at the front of the room. Whole different view from up here. Beads of sweat start to form on your hairline you fixed so nicely that morning. Palms are so clammy against the note cards there to bail you out. There’s that stomach-drop feeling racing through your mid-section. Tears are welling up behind the lens of your eyes to crack open a spontaneous cry to say you really don’t want to do this. But you force them to stay in. And then you begin with that first slicing word cutting the silent air.
Your introduction is memorized and words start to just pour out of your mouth without even thinking about the sentences written on those note cards that are now smudged with sweat. You’re doing it. It’s working. You double-check your confidence with a quick glance to the teacher, who gives you a slight nod in return that says “Doing great. A little bit longer.”
Half-way through your act you fumble your routine and are unsure of how to keep going. Your mind goes blank, all the words are gone.
Think. Think. Don’t cry. You can do this.
It’s not what you’ve rehearsed, but you continue on with a brilliant message. A little improvising and you’ve gotten yourself to the conclusion. Wrapping up your words with a smile on your face knowing it’s complete. And you know you did a good job. It’s over! The best feeling in the world. Elation is soaring through your veins, so overwhelming that you want to go to the nearest bar and celebrate with some pints. Hold up lush, it’s 11:00am on a Wednesday – maybe that can wait till the weekend. And when you’re not sleeping in a hospital room.
A couple of days go by and the grades on the assignment are returned. Assured you’ve done your part, but not confident of your performance compared to others that had gone before you. The papers are passed out one by one to the parents…I mean students. And before you lies a big fat A+ in red marker as bold as Mars.
…Now multiply all of these feelings times 1000 – that’s surgery on your child.
The class is Surgery 201 – an advanced course for the risky procedure of opening the heart. You the student have this “Yeah, I got this” poker face that’s all but a front to the true scared-shitless mom deep within. The teacher is the intelligent surgeon guiding you through. My classmate is a dear new friend that showed me the ropes after her daughter was healed just months prior. The classroom is the awkward surgical waiting area, bad cobalt blue leather furniture and all. The speech is your racing mind while the operation is underway. And the grade is the doctors making rounds on Day 4 to tell you “She’s great. We rarely see anyone recover this fast. Go on home.”
I didn’t snap any pictures on Day 1 for a reason. The drugged little one’s half-open eyes, her puffiness swelling her lips, all of the wires making her as delicate as a missile's electrical configuration, the O2 tube in her little button nose – not a sight to remember one by. It was the happiest moment to hear that surgery was a success, but I underestimated the tougher part spelled out in the name itself - the Intensive Care Unit. Intense. Constant caring. A lifeline unit. The dedicated 1:1 ICU nurses encourage the parents to go home for a much-needed good night’s rest after their marathon surgery day. But I get it now, that’s not really why they shell out that advice. The experienced bed-side nurses know it’s a sight only for strong eyes to see your child coming to grips with open heart surgery. They know the first sleepless night will be the worst, trying to spare the memories of your baby struggling, making you as a mom feel nothing but helpless. The gut-wrenching sight of her respiratory rate dipping down to 9…let’s just say it was 43 when Lyla left the Intense, Constant caring, lifeline Unit.
But it’s over now. We’re back home and performing surgeries of our own. Some days when your baby has the biggest explosion of a diaper you have ever seen, one has no choice but grasp the orange-handled Fiskars to gingerly cut the poop-laden onesie off to be thrown into the Diaper Genie. There’s a reason why those things are 5 for $4. And she laughs the whole time like it’s a game. I love it.