We may have all heard of the expression, “having a cross to bear”, and perhaps many of us have lived through that adage as a result of a personal tragedy or difficult life circumstances. If you know what the moniker “Zipper Club” means, then I am sorry. Sorry, because I understand much of what you may have gone through. Although I did not undergo open heart surgery myself, I watched it happen to my six year-old daughter and know how emotionally stressful this experience can be.
Last summer, my husband and I moved just outside of Charleston, South Carolina to escape the traffic of the big-city and head to the beach. Though we did not know it at the time, Charleston happens to be the home of MUSC–the Medical University of South Carolina–one of the leading hospitals for pediatric cardiology in the nation, both in patient reviews and surgical statistics. Their doctors are renowned, their reputation is practically unequalled, and once we discovered our daughter’s condition, it was apparent that we could not have relocated to a more ideal place.
This July, a primary care doctor who saw our daughter for something so benign as swimmer’s ear, suggested that we have her heart murmur checked out–it was a condition that we had always been told was “nothing to be concerned about”. One week later, she and I were sitting in a pediatric office, waiting for the specialist to see us after what would be the first of many echocardiograms she would have over the next six weeks. When I heard the pediatric cardiologist say the dreaded words, “your daughter needs open heart surgery, or her condition will eventually cause her heart to give out and she will die”, I was blindsided. In an instant, my body felt numb and my world seemed to shift from the seismic force of his words.
As time seemed to drag by over the following weeks, we all waited for her scheduled surgery. I did my best to allow my faith in God to give me peace. Yet, through my Master’s in Health Care, spending years working near doctors and a knowledge of surgical complications, mistakes, and MERSA, my own heart gasped in fear at the ‘what-ifs’ of her operation. By the date of surgery, an eerie calmness had settled over me–a calmness that faintly hid a swirling cesspool of worry, anxiety and loss inside for something that hadn’t even happened to our family.
Now, we are almost two weeks after a very, successful open-heart surgery at MUSC where I stood face-to-face with the smiling surgeon who saw a side of my daughter that I will never see, and one who subsequently saved her life. I am finally remembering how to smile, laugh and simply breathe. My daughter is growing stronger every day, and she is once again becoming the witty, playful little girl whom I so dearly love.
Equally as important, though, is that through this experience I have learned once again that in every tragedy and in pain there is still hope, grace and love. For our friends and neighbors–people here who we have known only for a year–helped us, fed us, and prayed for us during this time. One friend stayed by my side as my husband and I sat in the waiting room outside of ICU. I told her later that I was Linus and she was my security blanket–a blanket that I desperately wanted to hide under and try to escape. Yet, through it all, I have never felt more grateful and honored to be a part of a true community on Daniel Island through the gifts we were bestowed.
Now, as a lifelong member of the “Zipper Club”, my daughter has proven how strong she is and perhaps so have I. Just as important, my faith in people and humanity has been raised through the graciousness and kindness we received. Though not personally in the Zipper club, I certainly feel a kindred spirit to anyone who has suffered through this experience, and I hope that I will someday be able to ‘pay forward’ such love…
To someone else who will have no choice but to bear the cross of worry and pain, and someone who will need to be reminded that even in the darkness, there can still be light.