Thursday, May 9, 2013

One year

It has been one year since your transplant.

One year ago from this moment, I was sitting with your Dad in the OR waiting room. You were almost two hours into surgery, so you were almost definitely on the heart-lung machine, and the heart was on it's way. In fact, there is a good chance that right now is almost exactly a year from when I looked out the window and saw the truck that I am certain was carrying your new heart. Your Dad had run to Boloco, the amazing burrito place across the street from the hospital, to get a Nutella milkshake, a mango smoothie, and a Nutella "snack wrap" (which is simply a whole wheat tortilla filled with about a quarter cup of warm Nutella: an amazing, yet unholy thing), and he had swung by the cafeteria to get french fries and a handful of other unhealthy foods in hopes of tempting me to eat something - anything - while we waited. The chairs in the waiting room were actually incredibly comfortable, and we were able to more or less take over a little nook of four chairs and a few low tables; it was pretty brutally clear who was waiting for a child having a BIG operation, even though no one really talked to anyone else.

Waiting rooms are funny things. Most often, they are fluorescent-lit, sterile, cramped, and populated exclusively with uncomfortable furniture that often bears suspicious stains and tears, often marks clearly left by bored children. You usually have to sit practically in the lap of someone who you want nothing to do with, often even someone with whom you feel awkward even sharing air. As with many of the facilities at Children's Hospital, this one was not the norm; the lighting was mellow, the space was very open, and privacy was easily found by simply sitting a little ways away from anyone else and speaking softly. We eavesdropped on a few doctors' reports to other families - nothing dire or dramatic - but generally just wrote, stared off into space, and volleyed email and phone messages from people we were actually willing to talk to. I remember feeling like I should have been in more of a panic, or at least not in a state of eerie calm. I couldn't eat the Nutella wrap, or finish my fries, but that might have owed at least a little to the fact that it was a Nutella wrap and a tepid pile of fries.

That afternoon, I had a tough time settling in to really thinking about you. Part of me refused to process the reality that when I had snuggled, hugged, and handed you off to that insanely over-enthusiastic, baby-happy anesthesiologist, it could have been the last time I held you. A well-meaning nurse just doing her job made it abundantly clear that if things went bad, we would have a chance to say goodbye. (I still don't know what that means, and I really don't want to.) I focused on the moment as much as I could, and on mundane things I could control. Your Dad and I wrote on our blogs. We chatted with friends and family. We made it a project to make each other eat and drink. I had a lot of coffee. We mostly stayed a lot calmer than I think anyone expected, but then again, we were so far into being creepily okay with horrible shit that maybe it was on par.

I didn't think about a month after the operation. I definitely didn't think about a year, or two years, or five, or ten, or thirty later. I couldn't let myself get excited about the possibility of actually having you in my life permanently because every moment up to then had felt almost stolen. (I guess there's some irony to the fact that we only really got moments after then because of a lost life, but that's a whole other can of worms.) All I could let myself think about was the next time a doctor or nurse came to give us a progress report, and what drama was happening in the clusters of chairs near us until then. We were told when the heart arrived. We were told when it was in and working. We were told - by your surgeon - when everything was done and you were heading up to the ICU to get settled in. In the meantime, almost everyone else in the waiting room got their news, was escorted to a recovery room, or wandered off for food or sleep or some other basic need to be met.

When we got to see you in the ICU, hours from now and a year backwards in time, the first thing I noticed was your perfectly pink toes. They were cool, because you were still coming up to a normal temperature after they dropped it way down during surgery, but they were the healthiest color a foot could ever be. That was the moment I started to let myself believe that you were actually going to be here for longer than some hypothetical, medicalized amount of time. Your cardiologists would tease me, for sure, but of course, my eyes next shot to your monitors where the numbers - totally normal numbers for a child your age and size - looked foreign and bizarre in place of the totally abnormal numbers we'd come to accept. 100%, not 80%. 128, not 152. Pink, not a bluish purple that I never realized was wrong.

Even now, when I see the scars from any of the lines or tubes that went in or out of you, or when I feel the bumpy protrusion on your ribcage where things didn't quite heal evenly, I'm rattled back to the feeling that you are not guaranteed. That's a reality, and a horrifying one. A year ago, I couldn't let myself believe that I would be sitting here - a year from then - thinking about that almost unbelievable day. How many parents can say they were starting their third coffee of the day at the moment their child's heart was removed and likely jarred up to join a medical research library?

Right now, I'm sitting at my desk at school, abusing the good will of the students in the Poetry Club to get some personal writing done. I'm in a fairly comfy desk chair, there's a somewhat damp but pleasant current of air trickling through the window, and I have a few students in the room writing alongside me. You're home with your Dad, who I imagine is probably fairly burned out by this point in the day. His knees have been pretty terrible lately, but I know you made it grocery shopping this morning, so you've had a more or less normal day. I guess I did, too. Normal is finally normal again, as much as it ever can be.

Part of me feels like we should do SOMETHING about the fact that today is the day it is, but any kind of celebration feels unjust. What kind of sociopath celebrates the day that one child's life was saved because of the loss of another? I've had a handful of people already tell me that today is a "happy day," and it's made me flat-out nauseous. I'm not happy that this had to happen. I'm sure happy that I will get to scoop you up as soon as I get home, give you a big hug, and then probably have your saliva-wet hand shoved into my mouth (because you think that's hilarious). I'm happy that you will hurl books at me until I read them to you, not that I take much persuading. I'm happy that if we go out later, you will inevitably flirt with anyone who makes eye contact with you and probably garner tons of compliments and flirtations back. I'm happy that you will fall asleep snuggled up with me, chuffling softly and possibly drooling just a bit into my armpit. I'm not happy that I get to do this, and someone else doesn't who at one point just over a year ago, perhaps could have.

This is a strange day, Hudson. I just started training for a 5K this week, and I'm supposed to go running tonight, but I'm feeling like being even .6 miles away from you - like I was at work all day - is somehow insulting to the memory of that other little life that transmogrified into yours. We were supposed to go out tonight, too, but I'm pretty sure you and I are staying home and chucking books at one another (rather, I imagine you'll do most of the chucking and I'll catch them and read them to you). It's been a strange year, Hudson, and I'm glad I'm in a place where I can actually accept looking ahead to more of them.


  1. Sarah, this is one of the most profound and moving things I've ever read. I am so proud of you three.
    Love, Dad

  2. This made me cry so hard. I think you rock.

  3. You know something was said perfectly when it renders you utterly speechless. Thank you so much for sharing this.