of the Heart
For the last few weeks, Sophie’s been doing something a little strange, something she’s never done before. It happens when we cuddle. She snuggles in, like usual, then she takes my hand and carefully places it over her chest, right on the bump her bones made when they knit themselves back together. She leans back against me and sighs a happy sigh, sticking her forbidden thumb in her mouth.
I think that maybe she already knew.
Sophie is four-years-old; she had open heart surgery when she was four months old. The surgeon called it a success. Yes, she had a small leak, the hole the surgery was meant to seal didn’t close entirely, but she could live like that, all the doctors said (and the nurses, too -- I asked everyone I could think of to ask) , as long as the leak didn’t get worse.
And it didn’t. We took Sophie to check up after check up, 'til the appointments were boring, 'til we were cocky.
Last Wednesday, on the morning of Sophie’s most recent appointment, Annabelle, her six-year-old sister, asked, “What doctor is Sophie going to today?”
“Heart,” I answered.
“Huh,” Annabelle replied, looking at Sophie. “Maybe you should take her to the eye doctor.”
She had a point. Along with the heart surgery, Sophie’s had three operations to fix blocked tear ducts, a relatively minor problem and a relatively minor procedure. All efforts have failed, so while you wouldn’t know anything was ever wrong with her heart by looking at her, you know something’s up with her eyes as soon as you meet Sophie. They’re teary and crusty; people think she’s sad, which is ironic because, as is characteristic in Down syndrome, Sophie’s generally pretty happy.
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I agreed that yeah, it was probably time to take Sophie to the eye doctor again, too. “This is just a check up for her heart,” I told Annabelle. “No biggie.” She turned back to the mirror, investigating a loose tooth.
Later that morning, I was in traffic, balancing cupcakes with one hand, driving with the other. My cell rang. I picked it up, not noticing the four calls I’d missed during my dash into the grocery store. “Where are you?” Ray asked, tersely.
“Why does it matter?” I answered, annoyed by the heat and the fact that at 11 am I still hadn’t made it to the office. The cupcakes were for a co-worker’s birthday. Didn’t that count? And why was Ray bugging me? Sophie’s appointment couldn’t be over yet; the cardiologist was famous for keeping patients waiting. I figured Ray was bored, hanging out in the exam room.
But Ray had already left the doctor’s office.
“Sophie needs open heart surgery again,” he said.
And just like that, I had something more important than lead paint on toys and illicit thumb-sucking to worry about. To freak about.
The medication the cardiologist prescribed to stave off symptoms isn’t the kind of stuff you can get at Walgreens, so Ray drove to a fancy apothecary and brought home a bottle and a tiny syringe. The last time Sophie took anything other than tasty cherry children's Tylenol, she was just a few months old. We stuck the syringe in her mouth, and she swallowed, no questions asked. Which was good, because at one point she took three different medications, several times a day. I had a chart.
I took a deep breath, loaded the syringe, and made my approach, gingerly. Sophie looked at it. “Medicine?” she asked. “Yes,” I answered. “It’s yummy.” I’d checked it out; it smelled vaguely like fruit.
Sophie opened her mouth and took a taste. Her eyes lit up. “Chocolate!” she announced. I started to contradict her, thought better of it, and gave her the rest.
Then Sophie reached up for a hug, all smiles, and said, “All better, Mommy!”
“Someday,” I whispered into her hair.
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