If you missed Part I, you may peruse it here.
We arrived back in the CSU, empty handed and in a daze. We packed up our bags since Regina would go straight to the CICU after surgery and since we couldn’t stay with her we would have to check into our hotel. I went to the lactation room to pump while Scott went to the surgical waiting room with his laptop to attempt to get some work done. When I finished pumping, I headed to the surgical waiting room myself. Now, some of the best advice a fellow heart mama, Blair, gave me was to have a good support system of people we love and trust in the waiting room with us. The surgery was going to be 6-8 hours, and that is an agonizing length of time to wait. Reggie’s godmother, Sara, was there with my sweet goddaughter baby Scottie. My parents managed to sneak away from work and from the girls and stay with us for a while. My sister, Rachel, and my brother-in-law, Thomas, also managed to make it. One of my best friends, Christy, stopped by with her mom, who is also good friends with my mom. As is their wont, they came toting lots of goodies for me and Reggie. They also came toting Christy’s adorable baby, Mary. My friend, Leslie, called me the day before and told me she felt called to come all the way from Texas, but wanted to make sure that was alright with me. I told her to come on.
When I first arrived in the surgical waiting room, it was packed to the gills with families. It resembled a DMV. No one was allowed to eat in there as some kids were having to fast pre-surgery, and the atmosphere was overall pretty grim. There was a receptionist behind a desk with a special cell phone that would ring, and she would answer it and then call out our names. Scott and I would then rush over to the desk to take the cell phone from her and answer it. Shortly after I arrived, the cell phone rang. When Scott answered it, the nurse on the line told him that they had some trouble putting the line into Regina’s neck, but had successfully done that and were starting to put her on bypass. We sat back down and I started feeling useless and panicky. Leslie sensed that and suggested we pray a rosary. So, Leslie whipped out her phone, Sara whipped out a gorgeous rosary, and I whipped out my little wallet rosary card that my mother had given me. Maybe it was just me, but I felt like the atmosphere in the room went from grim and desperate to serene and full of hope once we started praying that rosary together. As we recited the Joyful Mysteries, I teared up at the meditation on the Visitation. “He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the length of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.”
We heard the receptionist yell, “Bass!,” and hold up the cell phone. Scott and I scampered over and I leaned in close while Scott put the phone to his ear. He listened, gave it back to the receptionist, and told me they were beginning Regina’s repair. We walked back to our tribe, and whiled away a few more hours chatting and praying. The fateful phone rang again, and after Scott listened and handed it back, he told us that the repair was done and they were going to start getting her off bypass. They said that the process of getting her off bypass, closing her up, and getting her settled in the CICU should take another 2-3 hours. It was now heading toward 2 pm, and we had had nothing to eat all day. Rachel suggested we walk to the General Muir (a restaurant I HIGHLY recommend, by the way) and have some lunch. I told the receptionist that we were going to lunch and gave her my cell phone number just in case she had any updates for us. By that time, the surgical waiting room was almost empty. It was just our group and another family group that spent most of the time chatting, crying, praying, and hugging, just like ours. I wondered what surgery their child was having, but didn’t want to bother them with my questions and curiosity, so I just settled for saying a silent prayer for them and their child.
As soon as we sat down and started eating lunch, we got the call that Regina was successfully off bypass, was closed up, and they were going to do an echo and send her to the CICU. They said we should be able to see her in about an hour. We wolfed down our lunches and speed walked back to the hospital. We went to the CICU waiting area, and I called the CICU number that they gave me. The CICU nurse said that it should be another hour and then Regina would be ready for us to come see her. We waited and I tried not to fret about what the surgeon would say about how her surgery went. There were just too many things that could have gone wrong. An hour later, I called the CICU nurse and she said everything was ready and the surgeon was waiting at Regina’s bedside to talk to us. Scott and I took a collective deep breath, held hands, and walked down the long hallway toward the double doors with “CARDIAC INTENSIVE CARE UNIT” emblazoned across the top.
We pressed the intercom button by the double doors and told the answering voice that we were Regina’s parents. (This place really was like Oz.) We walked in and scrubbed in like pros. We knew the drill from our NICU days. They told us Regina was in bed 11. She wasn’t hard to spot, as hers was the only bed with a crowd of people around it. We walked toward it apprehensively.
I won’t lie, it was a disturbing sight. Her incision was the most prominent feature, exposed as a thick purple line going down her chest. She had tubes galore sticking out all over the place. One tube down her throat that was breathing for her, a tube in her nose, a tube coming out of her chest that was draining blood, a tube sticking out of her stomach that was draining . . . . something yellow, and a tube coming out of her diaper. Her neck and her little leg were red with blood where they had stuck lines in for the surgery. She had pacing wires and monitors on her chest. Next to her were about eleven different beeping machines pushing medications into her. She was out cold. Her face was swollen and puffy. I decided to concentrate on her familiar tuft of hair and focus on stroking that. She was still my Regina.
I decided not to share publicly any images of her in this state, as I wanted give her a modicum of privacy. I wouldn’t want pictures of me in all my post op glory splashed across public forums, and I wanted to give her that same consideration. I do have pictures of her each day to show her some day how strong she is and how much she has overcome.
The surgeon shook our hands and introduced himself. He said that her common valve was “a little weird” and he started sweating when he saw it. But, he said that heart function when coming off bypass is the best indicator of whether the surgery was a success or not, and her heart function had been excellent. Scott and I tried to relax and stop our inward silent screaming. The last thing you want to hear from your child’s heart surgeon is that the surgery had got him sweating. The surgeon seemed overall very pleased with himself. He flashed us a cheeky grin, and went along his merry way while we were left trying to catch our breath. We looked at our child in awe while trying to process how very wrong things could have gone, but didn’t. I closed my eyes and said a prayer of thanksgiving.
We walked back out into the waiting room. I only had eyes for my sister. I couldn’t wait to tell her everything was ok, that Regina was ok. I ran to her, and embracing her I managed to whisper through my tears, “the surgery was a success, Rachel. She is doing great. Praise the Lord, she is doing great.”