Thursday, May 15, 2014

Heart: Mine and His

On April 8 I sat in my OB-GYN's waiting area holding three ultrasound pictures and trying not to break down sobbing.  The last forty minutes I had spent in with the ultrasound tech--I thought it was a routine ultrasound to make sure everything was normal because I had been have some heart palpitation and felt that my heart was racing the week before.  During the ultrasound the tech went back again and again to my little baby boy's heart.  Picture after picture. Measurement after measurement.  I knew she couldn't answer any questions so I stayed silent.  And began to pray.  At one point she gave me the three ultrasound pictures and had me lay on my left side to get a different measurement of his heart and as I held those pictures I prayed and prayed and tried very hard not to cry.  Sometimes was wrong with my baby's heart and I didn't know what.

Sitting in the waiting area I texted Matthew--

Me: The whole ultrasound they looked at his heart :( please pray I feel close to tears.
But they did say he has hair.

Can you see it?

Matthew: Were they concerned? Will they tell you more?

Me: The ultrasound person can't say anything. Waiting to see Dr. Pham.  She [the ultrasound tech] asked me what lotion I used on my belly and if I drank caffeine :( and I don't know wy.

Matthew: Text or call when you're done please.

And as I sat there I thought, "This is why parenting is so hard."

It isn't about the late nights, or temper tantrums necessarily.  It isn't about long nights of school projects or battle of wills.

Parenting is hard because my heart is this little boy.  This little boy who I want all the best in the world for, who I want to protect and keep safe, and who I will always love more than myself--but who I cannot keep completely safe.  He was inside of me growing and all of a sudden there was something wrong with his heart, and I couldn't do anything about it.  And if I got to see him born and raise this child I loved so much, I realized then that it would always be hard because he was my heart walking around on legs.

When I was called back to see Dr. Pham she asked if she could listen to his heart and so I laid back on the table and she listened carefully for a few minutes.  She then shared with me that they had detected a heart arrhythmia.  His heart rate would change from one beat to another and while that is somewhat normal, his heart did it too much and too quickly.  She was going to have me see a specialist to look at his heart with another ultrasound before they made any recommendations or decisions on what to do.

I called Matthew as I left the doctor's office.  I cried.  And cried.

We began calling and texting people, asking them to pray.  So began the prayers that would cover our baby boy through out the process.

The specialist we were referred to has an outpatient site in our town, but their main office is 2 hours away in Chattanooga.  But the outpatient site only runs Thursday and Monday.  We wanted to get in as soon as possible, so after talking to the receptionist at my OB-GYN's office she said she would try to get an appointment tomorrow, Wednesday, down in Chattanooga--but would have to call me back in the morning because the other office was already closed.  The receptionist said she came in at 8:30am and would call the office right away and get back to me.

I knew right away that I needed Matthew to come with me.  I couldn't go down there to have another ultrasound of our baby's heart by myself.  I prayed that the news would be that everything was alright, but I didn't know.

Wednesday, April 9 Matthew went in to work and I waited for the phone call to see if we could drive to Chattanooga that day.  At 8:40ish the receptionist called to tell me that we had an appointment.  She gave me the time and I called Matthew to tell him I was on my way to pick him up so we could make it in time to the appointment.  I was relieved that we would know what was going on, but nervous about what we would see.

At the specialist we got into the ultrasound room, and at least this time I knew it was going to be all about the heart.  And Matthew was there with me.  After the tech finished doing all of her scans she said that the doctor would be with us in a few minutes.  When the doctor came in he looked at the ultrasound.  He explained to us that our baby boy had a very high heartbeat.  It was hovering around 205/210 bpm when it should have been 150/160.  He said that if I was earlier in my pregnancy that they would admit me to the hospital and try to slow down the baby's heart-rate, but at 38 weeks it was 6/half dozen one way or the other about what to do.  He called Dr. Pham and they both agreed to admit me to Erlanger and try to slow down the hear-rate using digoxin and if that didn't work then they would deliver the baby by cesarean.

When the doctor said that they would admit me to the hospital and deliver that baby I asked, "Today?"  He smiled and said yes.  Matthew later told me that he thought it was a silly question for me to ask, until the doctor responded with a 'yes'.  We were both in shock.

The doctor told us that like any muscle, if the heart is overworked, it can give out.  That was terrifying to hear, and all I wanted was for them to take out baby boy out of me and fix the problem.

In a daze we left the office and drove the few block to the hospital.  Parked, walked toward Labor & Delivery, signed in, and were admitted to a room.  There were more phone calls, more prayers, and the love and support just poured forth.

We had made all of our plans and preparations for having our baby back home, and this was a little difficult not having Dr. Pham there, who I totally trust and has been with me through my pregnancy.  Our church family and school family were all two hours away, one who was going to do my epidural if I needed one.  Thankfully, and I believe ordained by God, we were at a hospital near where many of our friends were and where one of our dearest friends worked in the NICU.

We were not alone.  Soon after we were admitted one of our friends came in and through out that day friends came in.  Some brought food, others flowers, all brought love, prayers, and support.

Matthew and I waited anxiously to have them put the medicine in my IV to see if it would slow down our baby boy's heart-rate.  Hours passed.  Apparently there was some difficulty with getting the medicine from the pharmacy.  Meanwhile, we continued to watch the glowing red numbers that showed our son's racing heart.  190, 205, 200, 210--the numbers fluctuated but remained high.

An amazing friend from home brought us our "hospital bag" and other items we would need.  How blessed are we to have such friends?  And at the school Matthew's sub stayed on to take the days he would have to stay at the hospital.  We are richly blessed.  Everyone was supportive and praying.

It was early afternoon when we were admitted and it was late evening when I finally got the first dose of medicine in my IV.  Then came the long stretch of waiting through the night to see if there would be any changes to our son's heart-rate.

The elastic straps that held the heart monitor to my large belly tracked his heart-rate, and another tracked mine.  I was also hooked up to a special heart monitor to make sure I stayed okay during the night with the medicine. I had two EKGs done, the second one because my heart kept changing speeds.

Throughout the long night I tried to get comfortable, but when I would lay on my side the monitor tracking our baby's heart would slip and the nurse would try to come quietly in and move it, but I always woke up.  And almost every time I would ask if the heart-rate had slowed down.  Each time it had not.  The nurses were wonderful.  Seriously wonderful. I could not have asked for better and kinder nurses.

Finally morning came.  I was relieved after very little sleep and lots of anxiety.  I spoke to one of the resident doctors who said that I was scheduled to have one last dose of medicine at 9:00 am and if that didn't work in 30 minutes then at 9:30 am I was scheduled for a cesarean.

The medicine came.  No changes.  We were brought to have another ultrasound.  Dr. Torres was the doctor who saw us there and was very kind and informative.  The heart-rate was not changed by the medicine and for the health and safety of the baby he would be delivered cesarean so they could more easily monitor his heart.  We went back to the room expecting to be prepped for surgery, but then it was delayed to 10:30 am, then delayed again to 11:00 am.  Each time the nurses or anyone came into the room my anxiety rose.  Were we going now?  Was my baby about the be born?  Would he be okay?  

Thankfully three friends were there to wait with us and we chatted to keep me calm.

Then suddenly they came to prep me.  They scrubbed my belly and talked me through a few things and then left to get the final thing ready.

That's when I started to become terrified.  All that anxiety and fear and stress had built up and now it was crashing over me.  I felt hot and scared and like I couldn't breathe.  Matthew rubbed my back, read the Bible to me, and kept holding me close to Jesus.  If I could have dreamed up a more patient, strong, brave, compassionate husband I could not have done better than what God has given me in Matthew.

I kept thinking, What if I can't go through with this?  What if I can't because I'm so afraid? But I kept reminding myself that so many people were praying and I had to go through this.

One of the verses Matthew read to me was Psalm 27, which he had also read the night before.  The last verse in Psalm 27 is this:

Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!

I didn't feel that it was a coincidence in the wording of that verse.  God would strengthen our son's heart.  I just had to wait on the Lord.  His timing and ways.

My nurse, Alex came back to wheel me to the operating room but before she took me my friends and Matthew gathered around to pray--and Alex joined her hands with ours and prayed.

I was taken into the OR room and Matthew was to wait outside, get dressed in scrubs, and wait to be called in.  I sat on the table, which was smaller than I thought it would be, and the CRNA, Elisha and her assistant began to put in my spinal tap.  It burned and the pressure sensation made me feel intense pressure and some pain.  I felt alone, but Alex was standing to my left and I reached out and held onto her hand.  I would squeeze it when the pain was great and she just stood with me and was such an incredible comfort.  Once it was completed they laid me back on the table and began to put up the divider so we wouldn't be able to see the surgery.  They did a "test" and asked if I could feel anything, I couldn't -- and I was relieved.  I didn't want to feel any part of that operation.

I began to feel very nauseated and dizzy.  Sweat broke out and I felt awful.  Quickly Elisha worked to stabilize my dropping blood pressure and Dr. Torres walked in.  "There is a guy outside who is anxious to come in," he said.  "Should we let him?"  "Yes," I replied, weak but needing Matthew more than ever.

There were sounds of the nurses and doctors getting ready to operate.  I heard someone say, "Scalpel."  And I was afraid that they weren't going to let Matthew in, in time.  "Bring in her husband." I heard Dr. Torres say, and then there was Matthew.  My arms were each spread out like a cross and I reach my right hand to Matthew and said, "I'm glad you're here."  He held my hand and the surgery began.  Through out the surgery Matthew and I quoted Bible verses, hymn lyrics, and spiritual songs.  He continued a funny story about Mei Mei and Nani (our bassets) that he began when I was panicking in the room before. I focused on Matthew and the words he was saying, not on the surgery.  Yet, I waited--waited to hear our son's first cry.

Then I was told I was going to feel a lot of pressure.  I felt, what I think, was two nurses pressing on me, right by my rib-cage.  Elisha said, "They are pushing because you can't."  And I knew that soon our baby would be born.  Matthew kept talking with me and then I heard a cry.  Then silence.  I looked at Matthew silently praying for another cry.  To know our son was okay.  Then the beautiful sound of cry after cry.  I looked at Matthew with tears in my eyes and saw his eyes were filled with tears.  There are no words to describe hearing the first cries of your child.  We were parents.  We were a family.

Dr. Torres came over to the side and showed us our son all fresh from the womb and crying.  Then whisked him back over to the NICU nurses who were there to assess him and get him ready.  Matthew was able to go over and see him and came back to sit with me.  Still holding my hand.  He was so amazing the whole time.

Alex, my nurse came over and said, "I'm dying to know his name."  I said, "Edmund."  She smiled and looked like it reminded her of something.  So I said, "From the Chronicles of Narnia."  "That's what I was thinking!" she said.

Someone came over to tell us that his heart-rate was still high and they would be taking him to the NICU.  I continued to pray for Edmund's heart.  Achingly wishing I could do something to help him, but so thankful he was safely delivered and that the medical staff would do whatever they could to help him.

Then came the precious moment when they brought Edmund over to me.  I couldn't hold him, oh how I ached to hold our precious boy.  Matthew stood up and took Edmund in his arms.  And then he bent down to me.  And there was my perfect boy.  The baby I had seen in ultrasounds and felt inside me.  I kissed his cap covered head and whispered that I loved him.  He wasn't crying and was just quietly swaddled and in his Daddy's arms.  One of the nurses offered to take our picture and so we got our first family picture.

Matthew then went with the NICU people and Edmund.  I began shaking and Elisha asked if I wanted a blanket, and I said I thought it was nerves, but I kept shaking.  She was very kind and explained that they were sewing me up and it wouldn't be too long now.  Then they would take me to recovery.   As they began to take down the divider I looked at the board where Edmund's stats were and saw that his Apgar was 9/9.  I felt happy and continued to pray for his heart.

The operating room staff rolled me onto a bed and pulled these wonderful warm covers over me.  It felt amazing.  They wheeled me into recovery where Matthew was waiting for me.  I was so happy to see him.  Once they settled me in Matthew and I called our parents and siblings to let them know that Edmund had been born and I was through surgery.

Matthew showed me pictures of our son that he had taken in the NICU and explained that he had gone with them but could only stay for a little and then was told he could go back in 45 minutes.  Matthew went back and forth between Edmund and I.  Caring and watching over us both.  Each time he came back I hungrily looked at pictures and videos.  Never tiring he took care of both of us as well as he could and created this atmosphere of love and security that cannot be valued enough.

These are some of the pictures Matthew showed me.

Once when Matthew left I asked for water, because I hadn't been able to eat or drink anything since midnight but then I was really nauseated -- mostly likely from the spinal tap medicine.  But I could tell it was a different nausea than I had been dealing with for the last 9 months.

After being in recovery for about an hour I was wheeled to my new room where friends had been waiting.  I wasn't allowed to go and see Edmund until I could move myself into a wheelchair.

One of the doctors came in from the NICU to brief Matthew and I on Edmund's progress.  I don't remember how the exact conversation went but they said once he had been delivered and they re-examined his heart that he had atrial flutter.  They told me that everything they were telling me had already been done.  After that is when they told Matthew and I that they had shocked Edmund's heart and that it was not beating normally.  I was glad they hadn't told me before that did that.  I don't think I could have stood knowing that was going to happen.  At the same time, hearing from the doctor that Edmund's heart was now beating normally and that they didn't expect any other problems was a relief I cannot express.

Edmund's tiny heart was strengthened.  I praised and thanked God in my heart--knowing that He had answered our prayers.

Slowly I could feel my lower stomach, and then which leg was being squeezed in the leg compressor.  Finally I could wiggle my toes, so Matthew and I asked the nurses if I could go to see Edmund.

 Seeing and holding Edmund for the first time was a sweet peace of feeling that all was now right.  It was not an adrenaline rush.  It was almost exactly like when Matthew and I kissed on our wedding day for the first time.  When we kissed, it was like this knowing.  Complete peace that this was right.

When Edmund was placed in my arms.  Bundled up with wires and tubes.  I felt a sense of knowing.  Knowing him, even though I'd never held him, I knew him--and I knew this was our family.  That he was my son.  It is hard to explain this knowing feeling but it is that all is right in the world at that moment.  Sweet perfect peace.

Since then my love for him has only grown.  With that love, the knowledge that he is my heart, outside my body and my life has forever been changed.  There is part of a stanza in a poem that says, "Before I was a Mother, I didn't know the feeling of having my heart outside my body."

My heart is Edmund.  And thanks to God and the many prayers and wonderful medical staff at Erlanger Hospital, his heart is now beating normally.