The perspective was daunting.
There, in the cafeteria of Arkansas Children’s Hospital, behind tinted windows, gazing out over I630 I counted the endless number of cars that passed and wondered, “Do any of these drivers know what’s going on in here?”
With my well earned cafeteria bucks (earned from endless hours in the NICU pumping station), I took my breaks and ate and weeped and pondered the future of my newborn son, and cursed the passing drivers for not having anything more pressing to accomplish other than getting home.
At 5 weeks of age my baby boy was in a hospital bed in the CVICU, two floors above me, with his chest cracked open. After successful open heart surgery to correct a congenital heart defect, his immediate post operative recovery did not go as planned. My husband and I had ventured out of the ACH “biosphere” for the first time in three days, and were sitting in a booth at La Hacienda savoring a plate of refried beans and enchiladas, when we were texted to return immediately with nothing more than, “something is wrong.”
Upon arrival at the doors of the CVICU we were met by an Intensivist, who kept us out of the now Code Blue CVICU. With an entire squadron of medical professional surrounding his bed, my only vision was of his cardiologist standing above him performing some kind of life saving intervention. Numbly I asked, “Is he going to die?” “I don’t think so…” was his reply. How comforting.
In the hours that followed we were advised of his condition with words like, “unexpected”, “abnormal heart beat” “worst case scenario” “ECMO” “heart transplant.” None of which had been uttered to us prior to surgery. The most serious outcome from his repair, we were told, was the now mandatory use of antibiotics prior to any future dental work. Funny to think that his teeth were to be our biggest worry.
As dusk gathered around the hospital, hours after his surgery, my husband and I were forced to make the decision – do we stay the night? Or go home to our other two young children? A gentle-hearted Attending “talked us off the cliff” by advising us to “go home, hug your kids, and get some rest.”
After a restless night, pumping every three hours to manage my milk supply, with many phone calls to check on “Warrior” (our appropriately chosen code name), dawn broke, and he was still alive. The drive back to the hospital was agitated. What would we encounter when we crossed the threshold? As we cautiously approached the doors we were met by a guardian angel, I mean a nurse who said, “I think we’ve turned a corner.” Words that, should I ever get a tattoo, would be prominently etched on my skin.
In the days and weeks that followed, as I sat, watched, and waited, for monitors, tubes, and lines to be removed, I marveled at the compassion and competency of those who cared for my son. Gratitude outpouring from a simple mom who had entrusted his care to so many whom I had never met.
In the years since his surgery, we celebrate his life by eating dinner at the ACH cafeteria on the anniversary of his surgical date. Our normal dining spot is by those same tinted windows, where I still wonder why everyone is in such a hurry, and if any of the drivers, as they zoom by this grand temple dedicated to care and healing, ever stops to think of the thousands of lives behind the façade, families like ours who have a story.
The next time you are driving down the highway – take a look, a brief look, and say a prayer that you are on your way home.
Melissa McCurdy is a mother of 3; wife of 1; daughter, sister, friend, aunt; lover of football, politics, food, travel, walking, theatre and all things literary. She’s without talent in most normal Mormon activities – she doesn’t paint, sew, craft, scrapbook or quilt. She shelves and reads books and for a living, and could spend hours staring at bookshelves. Her youngest was born with a congenital heart defect and had open heart surgery at 5 weeks. She knows more about Children’s Hospitals than she ever wanted too. One of the highlights of her life was attending the first inauguration of President Barack Obama, primarily because she had better seats than Oprah. And when she grows up, she wants to be the first female commissioner of the NFL.