Heart day

Heart day

A square piece of paper with a heart drawn on it, attached by a peg to string hung across a plain wall

Content note: discussion of hospital, medical issues, baby illness

Today is the first anniversary of baby’s heart surgery.

It’s a very weird sentence to type. It’s probably a revelation to a lot of people reading this – even the ones who know me offline. I ran into someone just over the weekend, where I was MCing a pole competition, who had no idea that the reason I’d missed the same show a year ago was that we were all flown, with about 48 hours’ notice, to Auckland for our eight-week-old baby to have open heart surgery.

The technical term is ventricular septal defect. A hole in the heart. Big, but not so big they had to fix it immediately; we were sent home, under close observation by the absolutely goddamn phenomenal people at the Wellington Hospital NICU, with instructions to get some weight on that baby. If we could get her to five kilos, before any of the side effects of a heart pumping blood in the wrong direction became too serious, it would make things much, much easier for everyone involved. But outside those two metrics – one simple vital statistic and one terrifyingly vague, “her breathing will get steadily worse, get in the car and call us if she turns blue” fail condition – there was no timeline. No certainty.

It was the longest eight weeks of our life. And then one day we finally got the tick to take her down to the operating theatre, and hand her over to the anaethetists, and I sobbed my heart out for a good half hour. You can have all the reassurance in the world that it’s a very common defect, a regular procedure, an incredibly safe operation, but your child is in a room far away being put on bypass. For a few hours, her little heart isn’t going to beat, while someone tries to fix it.

And now, it’s a year later.

If that felt like a swerve … it’s a swerve.

I’ll have a lot more to write later – especially once I find where I kept my darn notes, because unsurprisingly, those two or three weeks are a bit of a blur – but for today I’m holding on to the happy ever after we got. She’s so happy and bouncy and independent and strong that no one who doesn’t know can even believe what she went through, when she was so small. And so many other things happened that year – her birth! My gall bladder surgery! Multiple job changes! Buying a new house! – that I frequently forget to even include it on the list. You get some funny looks when you’re talking about this beautiful healthy almost irritatingly energetic child and the phrase “after the surgery” just casually drops out of your mouth.

It’s not that I feel nothing – I’ve had a good long cry this evening (the day before), snuggling her to sleep, vividly remembering so many terrifying, anxious moments, how difficult it was to hold everything together, how much we can never repay the many friends and whānau who were so completely generous with their time and resources and homes.

But it’s nice to start with the happy ever after sometimes.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash