Happy 9th Birthday
I was watching reruns of Saved By the Bell on TV when the phone rang.
"Hi honey, is your dad home?"
"Okay, well when he gets home, please tell him that I'm at the hospital and they ran some tests and don't want me to leave yet."
"umm, are you okay?"
"Everything's fine - just let him know, okay?"
I hung up the phone with a strange feeling in the pit of my belly. Something sounded just... off.
A few hours later, we were on our way to the hospital and my father, brother, and I were all in total panic mode. The person we all depended on the most was in the hospital and it wasn't for something routine at all...
During her stress test that afternoon, my mother was held up by a nurse, who had done chest xrays to see if she had asthma or something that could be responsible for her shortness of breath and dizziness. It had been getting worse over the years, to the point that climbing stairs or the hill down the lake road would make her completely lose her breath.
The nurse had seen something in the xray, but wasn't allowed to discuss it. She needed a doctor to come and speak with my mom, who just wanted to go home and wait for a phone call. She was increasingly more annoyed as the minutes dragged on (the doctor is a Muslim and was at Mosque that day), which finally led the nurse to admitting that it was something potentially serious and that she couldn't allow her to leave.
I don't remember the technical term for what was wrong, because to my 19 year old self, all I remember hearing was "your mom has a tumour inside her heart". This tumour was non-cancerous, but had grown to the size of a golf ball, and had pretty much blocked the entire left ventricle, only allowing millimeters of blood to flow through.
No wonder she was getting winded.
The three of us stood in her hospital room, scared out of our minds as the incredibly kind Dr. Mathur explained what was going on and what was going to happen. In a daze, we heard him say "open heart surgery tomorrow morning..."
Nothing makes something feel as serious as emergency open-heart surgery to remove a gigantic tumour from inside your mom's heart. At least it didn't to us.
Of course, we were very lucky that it wasn't cancer, it wasn't terminal, it was very operable (despite the scariness), and the prognosis was good.
My little brother, then 17, looked like his 3 year old self, scared to leave his mom and wanting to know every possible detail about what was happening. Dr. Mathur was great with him, and at the end had given us all a lot of comfort.
None of us slept much that night.
The next morning, I woke up feeling sick and exhausted and worried. My dad and I wandered around the cottage without speaking, just praying over and over "please let her be okay".
There was nothing we could do except wait.
The phone rang...
"Hi, I'm calling from the hospital about Mary Peterson. Just to let you know that the surgery went very well and she's doing just fine. You can come and visit her later on today."
I looked up at my dad with tears swimming in my eyes.
"She's okay", I whispered.
We both burst into tears. I've never seen my father so worried or upset before or since that day, and I hope never to see him like that again.
Later on, we visited Mom at the hospital. I remember being relieved that she was okay, but still pretty scared of the wires and tubes and the sight of her in a hospital bed looking so tired.
She told us funny stories about the nurses and how the doctors were so fascinated by the size of her tumour that they were running around showing people what it looked like inside a glass jar. I never thought about it until now, but yet again, she was comforting US. Even after open heart surgery, my mom was still determined to make her family feel better.
She had a long recovery, missing school for several months and dealing with the pain and having a scar on her chest. But she wore her survivor's sweater with great pride, and began to refer to Oct 3, 1998 as "her other birthday".
The next summer, she proudly walked up the hill near our camp and smiled as she said "I don't feel out of breath at all!"
Definitely something worth celebrating.
Today, we celebrate my mom's life and the second chance that she was given. If you consider how close she came to losing her life, and how very lucky we are that things happened the way they did, it's pretty obvious that she's meant for great things.
So I'd like to wish my mom a very happy 9th birthday! Thank God for the miracle that saved your life, and for all of the years that we've had since then. And just think! You're the only middle-aged 9 year old on the planet!
Just another reason to call her special...