It was a hot and humid Wednesday afternoon last year, around 4 o’clock. I was very tired, driving to Grasmere from my office in Meiers Corners to pick up my three children after a long day of drilling teeth. Half-way to my in-laws’ house, my cell phone chirped.
It was my one of my tennis buddies, Mary, an obstetrician-gynecologist, and when I pressed the little speaker-phone button on my steering wheel, she commanded me to pull over. She had just read the radiologist’s report of the sonogram she ordered the night before for my 11-year-old and the news was not good. She didn’t want me driving for the conversation.
My daughter, Charista, had been complaining about her stomach for about two months. I had dismissed her intermittent and dull pain for a few weeks, thinking she was trying to make excuses to not go to her daily, early-morning swim practice. Even the pediatrician said it was probably nothing, but Mary disagreed and told me to take her to Regional Radiology to get it checked out.
At that moment, with my hazards blinking on the side of the service road near the Verrazano Bridge, I listened intently to Mary’s voice, as she slowly and clearly told me that Charista had a large cyst in her abdomen. The world stopped. Everything became silent. My universe was suspended for a few seconds. I focused my brain on Mary’s voice but, weirdly, a vivid memory of newborn, baby Charista being handed to me by my labor and delivery nurse flashed before my eyes.
Eight minutes seemed like eight hours on the phone with Mary. I reminded myself to breathe when she told me the cyst’s unusually large dimensions. I pushed down the panic that was emerging in my throat, controlling my emotions and organizing my mental to-do list when she told me the cyst was about to burst and Charista needed to have surgery, the sooner the better.
By that evening, Charista was in wretched pain, curled up in a fetal position on my bed, trying to massage it away with the palms of her hand, closing her eyes, willing it away. I felt hopeless. Wasn’t there anything I could do as her mother besides give her Motrin?
I was on the phone till about midnight with my brother-in-law, Kenny, a prominent, Manhattan orthopedic surgeon, who gave me the cell phone number of one of the best pediatric surgeons in New York City. He had spent hours getting recommendations from his medical colleagues in the Northeast Region and her name kept coming up. And upon speaking to her on the phone that night, I knew it was in God’s hands. And hers. I trusted her implicitly. I had to.
“Mommy, what are they going to do tomorrow?” my 11-year-old asked me that night, as I was stroking her hair to help her fall asleep. I lied and told her that we were going to New York University Langone early the next morning and that they would stick a little needle in her tummy to take out a teeny, tiny pimple that was causing her so much pain. “Will it hurt?” she mumbled, as she started to drift off to sleep. I lied again and said no, reassuring her she’d feel so much better when the doctors work their magic.
Charista was admitted the next morning at 6 o’clock. She was writhing in pain at that point, yet still completely and utterly trusting us adults, keeping calm beyond her years. She watched a Justin Bieber movie on her iPod. I pushed her wheelchair to and from radiology, helped her into her hospital gown, onto her hospital bed. Our O.R. time was delayed to 2:30 PM because of a kidney transplant.
The consent form frightened me. Essentially, the document gave surgeons permission to remove my 11-year-old daughter’s sizable abdominal cyst. Or perform a bowel resection. Or partial or full hysterectomy. Or adjoining organs. Or whatever they saw fit. As a dentist, I know about the head, neck and mouth. I jotted down some unfamiliar medical jargon blurted to me to look up later. Then I steadied my hand and signed on the dotted line and wrote “Mother” on the adjoining one.
Charista and I held hands as she was wheeled into O.R. #3. I kissed her forehead as she whispered, “Thank you, Mommy. I love you,” as the pediatric anesthesiologist placed the gas mask over her face. I smiled and told her I’d be waiting for her when she woke up. When the double doors swung closed behind me as I exited the cold, deadly serious room filled with a dozen sterile medical personnel, I wandered the halls till I found a ladies’ room far away enough from anyone hearing my uncontrollable sobbing for the next forty-five minutes.
Six and a half hours later, her eyes opened in recovery and the very real nightmare ended. At that moment the image of newborn Charista faded away. Instead, a vivid one of her as a young woman I imagine she would become someday suddenly flashed before my eyes. ♥