The Big Day

The big day was roughly eight days after Micah was born. In that time he had gone from being a normal infant to struggling for his life. From breathing and crying to being intubated and sedated. From struggling to get the hang of breast feeding to getting his nutrition intravenously. From getting his first dose of the world to being in darkness again. We had spent the last seven days in the hospital, going from the original birth hospital to Cook’s, with a trip home in between to get clothes and prepare for a significantly longer stay than had originally been planned for. We had seen many family and many friends. We had spent a lot of time talking to a lot of people about what was going to happen and how the surgery and the future from there was supposed to go. Micah had been baptized. We were as prepared, I supposed, as a person could be prepared for their child’s heart to be cut open and re-arranged.

Originally his surgery was scheduled for the morning of that day, but an emergency had come up with another child and Micah had been pushed back, being basically stable. We were told 11:00 am. So we had the morning with Micah. My mom came to share the time with us. My dad came over too. Janel’s parents as well, but unfortunately Maria wasn’t allowed back into the NICU so Janel’s folks had to take care of her, while we sat with Micah, waiting for him to go to surgery. We talked some, but we didn’t really talk.

The nurse asked us if we wanted to hold Micah. It was a shock to me, honestly, to realize that I hadn’t held him since that second day. Since that morning when he turned blue and got taken to the NICU we hadn’t had him in our hands. It was honestly not an easy task to accomplish. He had a tube in his throat breathing for him. He had about eight other tubes going in and out of him with medicine and food. He had probably twenty wires attached to him that fed to one monitor or another. We stammered out a “yes” and she set about setting us up. In the mean time we prayed.

I had, with me in my travel bag, a booklet from an annual retreat I attend. Among a lot of other good things in the book, there was a list of prayers for a variety of occasions. Prayers for the sick, prayers for children, prayers for family. We might have said them all. Plus some improvised ones. Eventually the chaplain came by and we said some more prayers. Then we got to hold our son. It was a sublime feeling. Real but not real. It was easy to see Micah as not really Micah while he was like that. Sleeping, never crying, not needing to eat, being kept alive by the various machines around him. Real but not real. Like the whole “parenthood” thing was in stasis, waiting on the outcome of that day. Waiting on the surgery. Waiting to see if Micah would survive.

Eventually the anesthesiologist team came by and prepped him for travel. All those cords and tubes got shuffled around or moved or even unplugged. We met the nurse who would be updating us on the surgery progress. She would call us when the preparation work was done and then every hour after that. She was a very positive person, cheerful even. It was good talking to her. Then we were in motion with him and the nurses. Navigating through a hospital is always a challenge, when you add the “back roads” to it, it gets even stranger. I quickly lost where we were and where we were going. I wasn’t really concerned with it either. Then we separated ways, we said our goodbyes to Micah, told him we loved him, and said another prayer, and then they wheeled his bed away.

Now the waiting began. By the time he was taken for surgery it was well after lunch and we hadn’t eaten so that is what we did. We watched Maria play outside. We watched TV. We played on our phones. We played on our computers. We colored in coloring books. We played with Maria inside the waiting rooms. We did anything we could to not be present in our own heads.

We got phone calls. Preparation is done and he’s going to the operating room. Dr. Tam is now working. He’s on the heart and lung bypass machine. Dr. Tam is still working. Dr. Tam is done, everything went well. He’s being weaned off the heart and bypass machine. He’s bleeding a lot more than normal. Dr. Tam is back at the table. Then it was 8pm and everyone else had to go home. Every sentence above represented about an hour of waiting. He was taken back in the early afternoon. He was still not out by the time visiting hours were over. Slowly everyone left. My mom took Maria home. My dad and step mom went to their hotel. My in-laws went home. We went back to the cardiac surgery waiting room. It was a small waiting room in comparison to many of the other rooms. There were two other families, who were breaking the immediate family only rule by about six people each. Eventually those not-so-immediate family members filtered out after visiting hours were over. Then we watched the doctor’s come and get the other parents. Then we were alone. Just me, my wife, and a Christmas season Hallmark movie playing on the TV. Micah was still bleeding too much.

I can’t remember a single thing about that movie, but I remember watching it intently. The kind of watching you do when you aren’t actually paying any attention, but not because you are thinking about something else, but because you are desperately trying not to think of something else. The elephant was in the room, it made that tiny waiting room with its wall mounted CRT TV with the missing remote and the other broken TV connected to the Nintendo 64 hot and stuffy and almost unbearable. But there was nowhere else to go. So the options were to entertain the elephant or watch the TV movie. Entertaining the elephant meant playing an unwinnable mental game of “trace the logic”.

Why was it taking so long. Because of the bleeding. Why is there so much bleeding. We don’t know. Well what could it be? Maybe something went wrong with the surgery. Maybe something got cut. Maybe he isn’t reacting right to the platelets and coagulants. Maybe they got the wrong blood type. What if they got the wrong blood type? Would his heart work correctly? Would he get enough oxygen to his organs?…Why was it taking so long? I didn’t want to play with the elephant. So I watched the movie. Whatever it was about.

Then he was done. The bleeding had stopped. They had put the mesh over his chest opening and prepped him for travel to the CICU. Dr. Tam came and talked to us. It wasn’t much of a conversation really. The surgery went well, he put a Sano shunt in, Micah kept bleeding longer than usual but they never figured out why before he stopped. We shook hands and then he left. Then we waited for Micah to get rolled past on his way to the CICU. We had been warned by many people that he was going to be very swollen looking and it was going to be strange. He wasn’t. He had been swollen before so what we saw now wasn’t new. He did have more tubes and more wire, a feat I didn’t know was possible until then. We each kissed him and then he was gone again. We moved to the CICU waiting room to wait for him to be set up there.

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