Wednesday, December 9, 2009

looking back tonight...

three years ago tonight, asher was dying, although i didn't realize it at the time. one year later, i wrote a letter to his first cardiologist, the one who diagnosed him. i thought i'd share the letter one more time.

dear Dr Pepelassis,

i'm looking back tonight, and i want to share this with you. we've never really talked about it; just kind of survived it and moved on. that's healthy, i suppose. but i'm looking back tonight. anniversaries have that effect....

i thought he was just "waking up." you know, the third baby, you get kind of... i don't know... complacent about newborn stuff. you know what to expect.

he'd been a good sleeper all week, but that night - one year ago tonight - he wouldn't sleep. and he was fussy. also normal, i thought. so i tried nursing him, to help him settle. he vomitted everything back up. and then he started crying. so i tried nursing him again. again, vomit. so i thought he must have some gas. no burps. i figured he just didn't want to nurse right then; i'd wait till he wanted it. i walked with him for about an hour or so.

but i was tired. a week post-partum​, with 2 other kids. the 2 year-old still was not sleeping through the night, and both of them (4 yrs and 2 yrs) still nursing (that's right - i tandem nursed 3 kids). i was so tired. my mother offered to walk with Asher for a while so i could rest. then an hour later, we traded. we did that most of the night, until, as our absolute last resort, we bundled him back up and put him in bed with me.

i worried a bit about the extra blankets for him. see, all evening and right up till morning, he would sweat. our house is old, so it's a bit drafty. so i had him bundled, covered with a couple extra blankets, and of course a hat. but then he'd get hot, so i'd unwrap him, let him cool off a bit. but then he'd get cold. so i'd bundle him again. then unwrap him because he was sweating. all night that went on. but it was winter and our house is drafty. (it wasn't too bad, though. but we were trying to account for the cold and sweats, and that's what we came up with. it just never occured to us that anything was wrong...)

wh​en i woke up, just before 6am, Asher was in bed lying beside me, but he wasn't crying anymore. but he was breathing fast and grunty. and his face... i'll never forget his face. he was looking into my eyes. he looked scared. he looked desperate. "mommy, help me!"

i took him to emerg around 6am. they rushed us in. that scared me (STEGH has a bit of a reputation). the nurse ran out of the room, dragging others in to help. and doctors! at one point, there were 3 doctors, one IV guy, 6 nurses and me, all freaking out over my baby. (well, i don't know how much i was freaking, to be honest. i think i was in shock. a gift from God, shock is, let me tell you!). i remember the doc came over to me and said, "we have to send him to London. they can help him there." i said, "but he just needs oxygen, and then he'll be fine." "no, this is bad." "it's just a little murmur," i said, "just give him some oxygen and he'll be fine!" he said, "oxygen can't fix this." i said, "yes it can! he just has a little murmur, he'll be fine, he just needs oxygen." "this is not a murmur. oxygen can't fix this. we have to send him to London right now."

i drove myself. not the best idea. i know that now. but there was no room for me in the ambulance, and there was no one i could think of to drive me. i cried at every stop, because it was delaying me, and i needed to get to London. i truly believed that they would "fix" Asher there. as i got over the 401, and the ambulance flew past me, i bawled and yelled at other drivers to get out of the way. i had no idea what was wrong with Asher, but i knew we were racing against the clock.

Asher was already curtained off and surrounded by nurses by the time i got to emerg. the doctor was nice, though i don't remember her name (was it Dr G? she always looks familiar, but again, shock. it's wonderful, in a horrifying kind of way.)

i don't remember when you got there. i know at one point i wondered why you would be looking at his heart. i still had no clue what was going on. i don't remember when you introduced yourself, though i'm sure you did (in fact, i never did catch your name that day. Paula told me when Asher was up in step-down.) i don't remember if you told me about Asher's condition or what it was called. but i will never forget what you said to me next: "usually babies with this condition are operated on right after birth. he's 8 days old now. it's too late. he's going to die."

is that when i burst into tears? or was i already crying? i don't remember. but i do remember how i felt at that moment. all i felt was the most venemous hatred i have ever known. never before (or since) had i despised someone so thoroughly or passionatel​y as i hated you at that moment. and yet you kept talking! something about calming down in that little room (you know the one i mean. yeah. i hate that room) and then coming back out to say my good-byes. i remember wishing someone would drag you away, why were you still talking to me i hate this man someone make him stop talking to me someone make him go away i hate him! that's all i could think. (don't worry. i changed my mind about you pretty soon. just keep reading.)

i don't remember much until you came to talk to me some time later (still no concept of time; still shock). you said, "i just talked to the guy in Toronto, and it may not be too late. they're going to try. but your son needs surgeries. 3 surgeries over the next 2 years. i'm so sorry that it's 3 surgeries, i wish it could just be one." there you were apologizing that Asher would need 3 surgeries in 2 years, and all i could think was "you just told me my baby was going to die! i will take the 3 surgeries, thank-you very much!" if i hadn't been weeping (for joy this time), i would have hugged you. i have never loved a complete stranger (or even most people i know, for that matter) so intensely or joyfully as i loved you at that moment. (see, i told you i changed my mind).

the rest of the day was a blur (again, thank the good Lord for shock!). i remember bits here and there. i remember our pastors coming to see us. i remember Dr A coming in dressed very casually (plaid shirt, jeans, what looked like workboots) and putting a line in Asher's belly button because they had run out of places for IVs. so many lines - wires, tubes, catheter... Asher was more technology than baby. horrifying.​

but mostly, as i look back, i remember you. i watched you very closely that day. for one thing, you were the man who was saving my baby's life, so i had a vested interest in everything you did. but also, you are delightfull​y (and horrifyingl​y) expressive. so many doctors that i've met over the last year aren't. but you... because of you, i had hope. yes, i was still more terrified than i have ever been, before or since. but you gave me hope.

once, i walked in while you were echo-ing Asher and i heard you say, "oh, thank-you, God!" i cried.

at another point, i mentioned our family doctor. you said, "Tracy O? she's our doctor, too. she's really good." (if a doctor can make chit-chat while he's working, things aren't so bad. at least a mom can breathe, if only for that moment.)

ano​ther doctor was checking on Asher and you were joking around with him and laughing. i have no idea who the other doctor was or what you were talking about. i just remember your laughter.

as​her and i (and the rest of our family) have been through a lot over the last year. we've met a lot of cardiologis​ts (most of whom i like) and other specialists. but, in all honesty, you are far and away the best and my favourite doctor i've met thus far. if it weren't for you, Asher would have never made it past 8 days. and so, i can honestly and sincerely say that i love you from the bottom of my heart. i don't know if you believe in God, but i do, and i thank Him often for you, for the amazing mind and heart He gave you, and for the gracious gift of you that He gave to all of us, and especially to Asher. you are a wonderful doctor and a wonderful human being, and you are an absolute blessing to your patients and their families. i simply cannot say enough good things about you (which says something, because i talk a lot!) and i rave about you every chance i get.

sure, dr caldarone and dr buffo also hold special places in my heart, and they, too, will get letters in turn as our anniversari​es with them roll around. i am also deeply grateful for them and to them. but you... you are the most wonderful blessing to our family. without you and your determinati​on and skill one year ago, i would have lost my little baby. i would never have gotten to see his beautiful smile, hear his delightful laugh, hold him as he sleeps, cuddle him close, watch him play with his brother and sister, or enjoy him as he grows.

i know Asher isn't "out of the woods" yet, and he may never be. but i know that he's in good hands as long as you're his doctor.

than​k-you, dr p, for everything you have done and continue to do for Asher. you truly are a gift from God.


(if you click the title of this post, it will take you to asher's first blog, with the first 15 months of his story.)

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