It’s been a year. I can’t believe it’s been a year since Ellie’s heart was made whole. Since months of waiting finally came to an end. I remember the day I received the date for Ellie’s heart surgery. In the middle of February we had been given a surgery date towards the end of March but were told dates can always change. I had wanted a surgery date for so long. A day to mark on the calendar, a day to move towards. The feeling of waiting for a surgery that will save your child’s life is an interesting dichotomy. You dread and look forward to that day at the same time. That day will save your child, but there is a chance it will be too much for her and you will lose her. But if you wait too long or avoid the surgery, you will lose her without a fight. Excited to finally have a day, yet terrified, I penciled our surgery date in my calendar and began to prepare. I’m a list maker. I began to make lists on what to bring, plans for Mya, fears and hopes. On Friday, February 28th, I took the girls with me to return books at the library and get a car wash. While driving through the car wash I received a call from an unknown phone number. It was the surgery coordinator at the hospital. She asked if we could come in for pre-op on Monday, March 3rd with surgery on Wednesday, March 5th. Less than a week from that moment. My hands felt hot, my mouth became dry. Okay, I responded, somewhat apprehensive. The woman in charge of coordinating surgeries at the busiest children’s hospital in Canada has little time for consoling parents with small talk. She asked if I was okay, said she knows this is hard, and then concluded with telling me I’d receive an email with details shortly. I hung up the phone and didn’t know how to react. I called Travis. I started crying, and then I started laughing, then I thought of my lists, that weren’t ready, and then I looked back at Ellie who was asleep in her car seat, she’d been having trouble eating, her face was pale, her fingers cold, and I thought, Ellie is ready, we are ready. The next few days went so fast I barely had time to react, an appointment with Ellie’s doctor, confirmation of a thyroid condition that could push back surgery, Travis was to be away for training that week so had to cancel his trip, scheduling a Baptism for Ellie in which our amazing minister agreed to come to our house to baptize Ellie before surgery, my mother coming in town to care for Mya. Then Monday arrived, pre-op. It was real, although I still believed Ellie’s recent thyroid condition would postpone everything. Ellie had blood taken, a chest X-ray, an EKG. Then for the next several hours we sat in a small room at the hospital where every doctor involved in her surgery met with us. We saw pictures of babies in the ICU, we signed forms in which phrases like “your child may die” appeared several times. The doctors were amazing and kind and understanding and gave us every detail we would need, but I feel as though I didn’t hear any of them. I felt as though I was hanging on to the ceiling watching, feeling scared for the family I saw holding hands and looking overwhelmed. At 3pm, after being at the hospital since 6am, they told us Ellie’s surgery was set for Wednesday morning at 8. On the way home I let my mind organize lists of things I needed to do, overflowing my thoughts with details so I wouldn’t think about heart surgery. As we arrived home, as we are walking through the door, my phone rings. It’s the surgery coordinator, they switched our date again, to the next day. I haven’t thought about those days in a long time, but I can see myself standing in our kitchen. My mother was making enchiladas, and I was crying, and I was shaking, but I was also so relieved. It was here. The day was here and it was tomorrow. In 24 hours from that moment, my daughter’s life would be saved, but with the same sigh of relief, I was completely terrified. And then, before I knew it, Travis and I were scrubbing Ellie down with antibacterial soap, and putting her in a hospital gown, walking her around dark hospital hallways so she wouldn’t cry, being led to the surgical floor by a nurse who had walked so many families through those same steps. And then, we were handing Ellie to a surgical nurse in blue scrubs and saying goodbye. And we cried, we cried in an empty room while nurses and doctors rushed through the halls, and we worried, and we made stupid jokes in the waiting room, and we talked with other parents, and when the time came for surgery to be over I stared at that surgery door with an anxious severity I felt within my bones. Then, almost suddenly, it was over. Six months of waiting and worrying, and it was over, just like that. Her heart was fixed and I was hugging her surgeon. As we went back into the waiting room to grab our things, to go see our baby girl in the ICU, I fell into my husband’s arms and I cried, and I gave a thumbs up to my father and the other scared parents in the waiting room, and then they started crying, and it was the happiest I had been in a long time. I haven’t looked at the picture below in many months, I have said goodbye to worrying about heart surgery. With this being our very first heart day, I am saying goodbye to the scars of the past. I am letting go of myself during those months of fear and those days leading up to surgery and I am looking at this picture with pride. I am taking this day, March 4, and putting aside how scared we really were and remembering us when we heard Ellie was okay. And we are celebrating. We are celebrating Ellie’s strength and power, our family’s perseverance and love, the surgeon’s delicate hands and courage to save her life, and the countless staff at the hospital who fought during her surgery and recovery. Happy heart day Eloise, every year on this day I will continue to let go of the fear and focus on the triumph, because truly, there was an abundance of triumph.
Today we celebrated with Ellie’s last RSV shot, cupcakes with red icing in the shape of a heart, and so many hugs.