|Life is exactly what you make of it|
2003 Journal Links
It is Tuesday morning. Amanda is switching out Archie’s i.v. lines and John is changing the baby’s CD,
exchanging a collection of lullabies for a compilation sent from one of his coworkers. Today Dr. McQuinn
will attempt to extubate Archie.
Yesterday morning John and I were at Archie’s bedside when Dr. Bradley assessed the baby. He touched Archie’s foot, feeling for the baby’s pulse. Satisfied with Archie’s heart rate, he moved his hand to rest of on the baby’s thigh. He placed his other hand on Archie’s head before he retracted his reach and placed both hands in his pockets.
“He looks great,” John offered as a compliment.
“He’s pink!” I chimed in.
Dr. Bradley smiled. “That was the idea,” he said. The surgeon’s smile seemed to grow as he pushed his hands deeper into his pockets, lifting his chin higher as he inhaled deeply.
John nodded as I smiled at Dr. Bradley. “Thank you,” I offered as he walked away. I wanted to say more, but didn’t know where to begin. What do you say to the man who saved your infant son’s life? What do you say to the surgeon who didn’t give up when a lesser doctor may have? What do you say to the person who sustained hope for Archie’s life when I, the baby’s mother, let him go?
On Friday John and I arrived at the hospital hours before sunrise. We wanted to spend time with Archie before the aestheticians came to take him to the operating room. Archie greeted us with wide eyes. Sucking on his ventilator tube, the baby blinked when John and I spoke to him as if he were responding to us. We touched Archie’s head and stroked his skin as we told him how much we loved him and how thankful we are that he is our son. John got out his camera and took some photos of the baby. John and I noticed the plastic bags in the corner of the room that had been filled with Archie’s belongings. I dug through the bags for Archie’s blue and white blanket and the brown bear his nurse Judie gave him the night he first went on the ventilator.
Dr. Bradley met with John and me Thursday afternoon. We sat in three chairs in front of Archie’s bed. Dr. Bradley reviewed his plans for the surgery with us. He asked us if we had any questions. “And of course there’s always the very slim risk of death or stroke,” he said, his voice trailing off someplace else. He began to fill out the permission slip for the surgery.
“We’ve heard great things about you,” I said. Dr. Bradley thanked me sheepishly.
John nervously launched into his own version of the events that brought Archie to Charleston. “The doctors said, ‘Take him to Charleston. We’re out of our depth, but they can help him there,’” John explained.
“Well, we can’t promise that he’ll come off the ventilator after surgery, but we certainly can take one piece out of the puzzle,” Dr. Bradley commented.
“One very large piece,” I noted. Dr. Bradley nodded. John laughed nervously.
“Who wants to sign this?” Dr. Bradley asked, motioning to the permission slip. John held out his hand to take the paper and pen from the surgeon.
A man in a white coat came into the PCICU with another slip of paper Friday morning. He spoke with Brent, Archie’s nurse, and confirmed the surgical procedure planned for Archie. The man introduced himself to John and me as he checked the new identification bands placed on the baby, one on his left wrist and one on his right ankle. “I can’t see the last name on this one,” the man told Brent, pointing to Archie’s wrist with his pen. “It needs to be changed.”
The man in the white coat left. Brent cut the identification band off Archie’s wrist. I picked it up and placed it in my pocket. “My wife would do the same thing,” the nurse said in acknowledgement.
The door to the unit opened and I began to fight back tears. A man and woman walked in dressed in surgical scrubs. I knew that they were the anesthicians before they introduced themselves to us. The man asked us if we had any questions and we shook our heads no. I liked the way he looked, noting his professional appearance and the calm confidence with which he spoke. With Brent’s help, the woman unhooked Archie from the ventilator and bagged him. “Take good care of him,” I ordered.
“We will,” the man answered as he and the woman began to wheel the baby out of the unit. “Will you walk with us?” he asked.
“Can we?” I asked.
“You and Dad can walk with us to the end of the hall.” I nodded. The anesthicians maneuvered the baby’s bed out of his room, out of the unit, and took off at a break-neck speed. Brent followed as did John and I. The wheels of Archie’s bed clanged against the floor, echoing down the long, white hall. I clutched the baby’s blanket and bear in my hands, my arms crossed over my chest.
Archie’s bed bounced over a slight rise in the floor at the end of the hall. The baby’s eyes opened wide as he flung his arms out to his sides. He looked around himself as if he were surprised to discover a world outside of his small space in the PCICU. The anesthicians turned right toward the entrance to the operating suites. The woman moved to open the large, sliding glass doors. “Wait,” the man commanded as he stopped and put down the side slats of the baby’s crib. “Let them give sugar.”
The man took the oxygen bag away from the baby’s face. I touched Archie head. “I love you very much. I’ll see you soon.” I told him as I fought back tears. “Be strong,” I ordered my son.
John touched Archie, too, and spoke to him. “See you soon,” I repeated as the man bagged the baby again. John and I wiped our eyes and noses as the man and woman slid our baby behind the large glass doors. Brent hugged both John and I as we turned away from the operating room suites and walked toward the waiting room. John touched my back. I felt empty-handed.
John and I sat in the waiting room. John played Solitaire as I stroked Archie’s bear. My mother, father and brother arrived, pulling up chairs to sit beside us. Our first update from the OR came at 9:30 a.m. Robin and Cathy pulled John and me out of the waiting room to let us know that Archie was on the heart-lung machine and the surgery was progressing. Robin dropped by the waiting room to deliver another update around 10 a.m. “They’re about a third finished,” she said. “Maybe half finished.” She offered to move us to a private room away from the waiting room, but I declined.
John’s father arrived. John’s brother, James, and sister-in-law, Tanzy, weren’t far behind. Sister-in-law Karen soon joined us, too. My head was in my lap when Robin walked into the room to summon John and me for the 11 a.m. update from the OR. “Anne,” John commanded, his arm held out to me, as he walked toward the hall outside the waiting room.
I caught a glimpse of Robin’s face before she disappeared outside the waiting room door. She looked concerned. She wasn’t smiling and she was looking at the floor. My hands began to shake.
I saw Dr. Atz and Dr. Hlavacek as soon as I turned the bend outside of the waiting room. They were standing shoulder to shoulder, their arms crossed over their chests. Dr. Atz was leaning against the wall. It was obvious they had just come from the operating room. The shaking moved from my hands to my chest. I couldn’t swallow. Something was desperately wrong. The doctors weren’t supposed to speak with us until the surgery was completed. I looked at Robin and saw that her eyes were red. I breathed deeply, my chest shaking during the exhale.
“Well, things aren’t going as we had planned,” Dr. Atz said, his voice punctuated by emotion. He exhaled deeply, too. Dr. Atz’s eyes were red like Robin’s.
Dr. Atz explained that Dr. Bradley had repaired Archie’s heart as planned, but when the baby was taken off the heart-lung machine, his mitral valve leaked profusely and his heart did not work well enough on its own to sustain life. “We’ve had to put him back on the heart-lung machine and go back in to try to build a functional valve.”
I nodded and looked from Dr. Atz, to Robin, to Dr. Hlavacek. I locked eyes with Dr. Hlavacek the longest as he had spent the most time with my baby boy. I could hardly breathe.
“But you said one valve may leak…” John offered hopefully.
“Not this one,” Dr. Atz responded, shaking his head. “This valve has to work.”
“But you can pace it with a pacemaker…” John suggested. I shook my head no and looked at Robin. My ears were ringing.
“There’s nothing wrong with the heart’s pacing,” she explained.
Dr. Atz began to talk again. He explained that they could replace the valve with an artificial one, but such a valve rarely worked in adults let alone in an infant of Archie’s size. He talked about the fine balance Dr. Bradley needed to achieve in repairing the valve. Too loose or too tight and it wouldn’t work. Although he didn’t say so outright, Dr. Atz was telling us that Archie wasn’t expected to survive the surgery. My knees began to feel weak. I wondered if I would pass out. John slipped his arm around my waist. I nodded as Dr. Atz spoke.
“We’ve put him back on the heart-lung machine,” the doctor explained, exhaling as deeply as I was. “He’s already been on it too long. There are risks associated with the machine…”
I waved my left hand in the space in front of my face. Dr. Atz stopped talking. “O.K.,” I said.
“O.K.,” he echoed. Dr. Hlavacek nodded at me and I nodded at him. “We’ll update you in an hour,” Dr. Atz added.
I turned to Robin and said, “That private room you offered? We need it now.” She shook her head in response. “And can you tell them?” I asked, gesturing to our family seated in the waiting room.
“Yes,” she answered.
I followed Robin back into the waiting room. I looked at Karen, opening my eyes wide, shaking my head from side to side. “What?” my mother called out, panic in her voice. “What is it?”
“We’re going to move to another room,” Robin stated. She took us to a private room outside of the waiting room. Everyone filed in. John and I sat in chairs against the wall. “Sit down, Dr. Moore,” Robin ordered John’s father, pointing to the chair in front of her.
“I can’t,” he responded. “I read lips.”
I buried my head in John’s neck as Robin spoke, explaining what was happening in the operating room. She promised to return with an update when she had news to share. When she finished speaking, my father asked John and me if we’d like a moment alone. John nodded in response. I heard someone suggest calling a chaplain as the door closed, leaving John and I behind.
We cried together, my husband and me. “He’s going to be o.k.,” John said with conviction. “He’s strong.” I clawed at John’s neck, trying to climb inside his skin and steal some of his strength. My sobs became screams. I felt as if I were going to explode. I wondered if they would let me hold my baby again after he’d died, if they’d sew him back up. I wondered how we would get his body home.
Our family filed into the room, one by one. They all embraced us. No one spoke. I clutched Archie’s bear, staring intently at it, repeating a prayer over and over and over again that my baby boy would come back to me alive. A chaplain came by. “I’m not a priest,” he explained. “But I’d be glad to pray with you if you’d like.” Everyone joined hands and stood in a circle in the tiny room as the chaplain prayed. John was on my left side and Teresa, John’s step-mother, was on my right.
“Can we say an ‘Our Father’?” I asked as the chaplain finished. He led the prayer and everyone added their voice to his.
Time passed. I was wild. I felt as if the blood pulsating through my veins was electrified. I clutched Archie’s bear. James asked me from where the bear had come.
John and I took turns every so often cheering for our son. “Come on, Archie,” I would say. It was both a command and prayer. I was on the floor between John’s legs fighting the urge to vomit when Robin and Cathy returned. “No change,” Robin reported. “He’s still on the machine, although Dr. Bradley has called for the ICU ventilator.”
I heard James in the hall calling a priest. At some point John’s brother Lewis arrived. He was crying as he came into the room and hugged both John and I. My mother sat beside me. My father and brother filed in and out of the room. Time passed. It flew as it crawled.
I was staring at the floor when the doctors came back. “Tony and Atz are here,” John said, grabbing me. I couldn’t look up. I was afraid to see the look on their faces.
When I heard John cheer and I jumped to my feet. Dr. Atz and Dr. Hlavacek had entered the room smiling, both holding their thumbs up like Archie did when he was unloaded from the airplane on the runway. “He’s o.k.!” John yelled. Everyone cheered.
Dr. Atz explained that Dr. Bradley was able to rebuild Archie’s mitral valve, that Archie’s heart had begun beating again, although slowly, when he was taken off the heart-lung machine the second time. He explained that the repair looked flawless and that Archie was doing surprisingly well. I was ecstatic. I hugged Dr. Atz and Dr. Hlavacek. Robin explained that Archie was on a lot of maintenance medicines and that we still had a long row to hoe. I nodded in response and then I hugged her, too. She said that it would still be some time until we could see the baby, that Dr. Bradley was in the obsessive “dab and wait” phase of the surgery. “He can dab and wait all day!” I exclaimed, laughing.
John and I hugged. We hugged all of our family members. Everyone began making cell phone calls, updating family and friends. My brother and Lewis went down to the cafeteria to bring back lunch. The priest who married John and me, Father Parker, arrived. John and I hugged again and again.
“Here he comes,” I heard someone say. I turned to see Dr. Bradley walking toward us. He was flanked by Dr. Atz, Dr. Hlavacek, Robin and Cathy. Dr. Bradley smiled at John and me. His surgical cap had left a mark across his forehead. He looked so pleased with himself, so relieved.
“He’s doing well,” the surgeon said. “The repair was more difficult than expected. He has a lot of chords that I had to work around.” Dr. Bradley explained how he patched the baby’s holes, how he repaired Archie’s mitral valve, nearly crafting it from scratch. John shook the surgeon’s hand. I hugged him. Everyone laughed. I wanted to tell Dr. Bradley that he had just become my most favorite person in the entire world, that I would be grateful to him always, but all I could say was “thank you.”
When we were finally able to see the baby after surgery, I reprimanded my son. “You scared the shit out of your momma,” I told him. Everyone laughed again.
Dr. Hlavacek joined us at Archie’s bedside. “I whispered in his ear in the OR,” he told us. “I told him I was going on vacation and he needed to straighten up.” I smiled at the doctor. He seemed just about as happy as John and I were.
When we got back from lunch this afternoon we were excited to see that Archie had been extubated. The baby’s nurses and respiratory therapists smiled at John and me, sharing our joy. Dr. Bradley, Dr. Atz, Dr. McQuinn, Robin and Cathy stopped by to be a part of the happy moment.
Dr. McQuinn studied Archie’s face. “All he needs is a pair of glasses…” he said, gesturing toward John.
“He does look like me,” John acknowledged, his chest puffed up proudly.
Archie’s face is pink and chubby. His lips are cherry red. I look at my son and find it hard to believe that he’s the same baby we sent into surgery Friday morning. A year ago I didn’t believe that miracles were possible. Now I know that they do happen.