That was the word I choked on as I tried to repeat the anesthesiologist's telephone report to my husband. It's a ridiculous word, one we don't usually use, one you're certainly not supposed to hear applied to your child. He'd called and asked me to repeat Josiah's birthdate to confirm my identity, and then calmly said, "The first incision was made at 10:01. Your next update is scheduled for 11:30." As if that were a normal thing to say, and the earth hadn't just stopped under my feet; as if I could breathe in a hospital cafeteria while my baby was cut open down the hall.
We'd all done well that morning; a 5:20 alarm urging us out of bed, packing bags, brushing teeth, letting the dog out.
It was the first day in a week that we'd had rain, and I nodded at the sympathetic sky.
In effort to avoid falling apart in a waiting room filled with curious eyes, we'd gathered to talk and pray and cry a bit in our own quiet living room before making the drive to Vanderbilt and starting the routine: Leave the car with the valet. Sign in. Repeat the birthdate a zillion times. Put on bracelets with his name on them. Wait to be called in, handed a hospital gown (he calls his dad from the bathroom to say, "how *does* this thing go on, anyway?"), then get in a bed and wait some more.
The staff was amazing. They asked Josiah about his plans for the fall and he said, "Africa. I'm going to Africa on a mission trip." We kept things light, and were all laughing as they rolled him away toward surgery at 8:30, already loopy on medication just starting to kick in.
My plan to get the crying part over at home had worked well, I thought.
Until that 10:02 call.
Remember what Simeon said to Mary, when she came to present the infant Jesus at the temple?
"And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." Luke 2:34-35
It is a great and grave thing to be a mother. I'd wondered if it might be like this; if I might feel the blade from the waiting room. I'd been taught these words of Simeon were a foreshadowing of the future; a warning to Mary of the pain she would go through at watching the crucifixion of Jesus. Now I believe it was more.
Now, especially, I think Mary, watching, felt in her soul the sword that pierced Christ's side as only a mother could.
It felt like a weight, an elephant, a pain in my chest unable to be resisted, forcing tears to the surface.
For the rest of the day, the calls came every hour and a half.
11:30 "Everything's going well. We're going on bypass now."
Ah yes. Now his heart has stopped beating; now blood is being pumped out of his body and chilled and sent back through the system but skipping the heart so that this amazing work can be done through a six inch incision.
I finger their names around my neck.
We try to eat lunch with minimal success, move from one room to another, waiting.
1:00 "We're getting to the nitty-gritty of the surgery now; the homograft is thawing and the doctor is preparing to sew it in."
His broken aortic valve is removed and set aside for research; his pulmonary valve is removed and then sewn in place of the aortic valve, and now, whose loss has been miraculously changed into gain on our behalf?
2:30 "Things are good, but when we went off bypass, we saw a slight leak so we had to go back onto bypass to repair it."
This should have been the call that the process was over. Instead we learn they've done this crazy thing of stopping and restarting his heart, not once, but twice, and it wasn't perfect, yet. I frown til the next call comes.
4:00 "Things look good. We're closing up now, and the doctor will come out and talk to you when he's done."
I breathe more deeply than I have in the past eight hours. The exhausted doctor meets us in the waiting room to report a job well finished; the leaks repaired, valves in place and an expected full recovery. He puts his hand out, and I hug him instead.
There is more waiting ahead; it's three hours before he's finally settled in his room in intensive care. I tell Rob I'm nervous, he says he's only excited, then proceeds to almost faint when we walk in the room and are confronted with tubes and wires and an IV pole that looks like it could power all of Nashville. There's something here for every function of his body, it seems, while it learns to live again.
Three hours later, twelve after the call that turned me into a poor copy of the sky, my baby returned to the world, opened his eyes.
They were watery, blinking, having a difficult time focusing under all the bright lights--just as they'd been as I watched them open seventeen years before. This time, they were beautifully deep brown rather than murky baby blue. It was like he'd come back to life, come back to us, and when I put my hand on his he moved his thumb over mine and squeezed. It was 10:02 pm, Wednesday, May 24th, 2017, and one of the best moments of my life.
The incision was closed.