i wonder if i'll ever be able to sit through one of bella's cardiology appointments and not tear up. seriously. i've just kind of accepted the fact that i wear waterproof - or no - mascara and bring tissues. lots of them.
i am always amazed.
i'll never forget the appointment back in atlanta, when her first pediatric cardiologist got choked up with emotion and began to quietly weep while explaining her story to a group of medical students there to observe. from some things he had said at earlier visits, i was pretty sure this doctor wasn't a believer in Jesus. but how could he not be? how could he do what he did with such passion and love and brilliance, and not believe? i wondered that so many times when we went in to visit him. how could he look at what had been done in bella's heart, how could he see the miracle from his trained medical eyes and not see the presence and power of God?
i'll never get that.
today we had our first appointment in minnesota. okay, so that part was different. different state, different hospital, different doctor, but i felt exactly the same watching the doctors study her echocardiogram results and look over her little body. (just about 30 lbs now!) tears were right there ready to bubble up and out except that bella kept things light. she talked, almost nonstop, to the technician doing her echo, like they had been pals forever. lying perfectly still, she watched cinderella and provided a running commentary on the film. "those mice are getting into trouble...cinderella's dress is so beautiful...i don't like that cat with the ugly eyes...those mean girls tore cinderella's dress. why did they tear her dress, mama?..." on an on, she chattered. she was hooked up to that machine for over an hour and a half, but my girl never flinched. never complained. never argued.
i was a little thrown off when i realized that the mayo clinic was a two hour drive from our house. the clinic and this new cardiologist had come highly recommended, but i have to tell you, my practical side wondered if there wasn't a highly qualified doctor just a tad bit closer. and as i drove passing nothing but cornfields and farms all the way from minneapolis to rochester, i continued to question my decision. except we were going to the world renown mayo clinic - the best of the best, right? i kept driving, wishing all the while i had at least brought my camera to snap some roadside photos of barns and silos (galore)!
once inside mayo, it didn't take long to realize it is a place as special as we'd heard. it just is. i was so impressed with absolutely every facet. everything felt friendly and accessible, even the parking garage -- (is it is possible for a parking garage to feel friendly and accessible? yes, yes it is). the medical personnel were exceptional. the cardio technician who walked us from the waiting room to the echo lab jumped over patterns in the carpet with bella, pretending they were stones and the carpet a pit of hot lava. by the time he had hooked her up to the machine, they were fast friends.
but even being inside the halls of this prestigious clinic wasn't exactly easy. it's clear, really sick people come there for help. the corridors were bustling, like a busy mall on black friday. between appointments, bella and i wandered down to the main atrium. an older man was playing the grand piano and singing well known hymns at the top of his lungs. he had an audience of the seriously ill, the weak, the wasting. the people leaning in and listening to him were in wheel chairs or hunched over in seats. some held the hands of caretakers or family members. some sat alone holding their pain and their tired with loose hands -- ready to let go soon. at one point, bella climbed out of her stroller and began to weave through the crowd of patients. she was sort of skipping and dancing to this man's music and i could see that she wanted to get closer to his piano. i know she wanted to watch his fingers fly across the keys. she is always curious. i started after her, but let her go when i noticed the looks on the faces of these older, sicker, more somber men and women. their mouths began to turn upward in tiny smiles...faces grew brighter...eyes followed bella around the room. she had no idea how her dancing little body in striped leggings and purple dress was cheering up the scene.
and from there she continued to do her little four year old magic everywhere she went. every room we went in. every medical person we met. every person we passed. she had a smile or a wave or a funny comment for them all. even the people on the various elevators. at one point, i thought a man from one elevator ride might just get off at our floor and follow us down to cardiology. that sounds creepy, but it wasn't. just in the few minutes on that elevator this older gentleman clearly became enchanted with bella's joy.
okay, so this post, so far, sounds like a gloating mama. perhaps. but really what i am writing to say is that this tiny girl with her back pack and her bitty baby just didn't quite fit the scene. she is the picture of health. and yet, we all know she's got this incredibly complex heart inside her. a heart which i have no control over. i can't tidy it up or deck it out with a pretty bow. i can't tell it to behave or keep it in line. it is what it is. and today we were heading into a series of appointments to hear more about what the future looked like for bella's little heart. we knew that a second surgery for bella was going to be necessary. what they were able to do in china 2 1/2 years ago, was amazing and wonderful, but another surgery was absolutely on the horizon. we were here today to see just how close that horizon might be. back in atlanta, our cardiologist was thinking it might be sooner than originally thought. today we were to find out what the professionals at mayo thought. we were going to hear what a new cardiologist had to say.
bella was born with VSD (a hole in her heart), pulmonary stenosis (a narrowing of the pulmonary valve) and transposition (her main arteries are switched/transposed). pretty big stuff for such a tiny little girl. in july of 2009, she had major heart surgery in china, the very same month we found her file and began her adoption. needless to say, bella's heart looks different from yours and mine. she's got this crazy little tunnel right through the center, her wiring is kind of flip flopped, and, at this point, she doesn't have a pulmonary valve. (that's what she'll need in a future surgery). to top it off, she even has part of a cow's peracardium inside her, not many of us can boast that! confusing isn't it? and remember, i am the mama who struggles to find bandaids and tylenol. how many times have i sat in different doctor's offices hearing them explain the intricacies of her heart and been overwhelmed. each time! every time! i am always overwhelmed by what they are saying and i am even more overwhelmed by what God has been busy doing! it is all way beyond me...way beyond my comprehension. but that's they way it goes with God sometimes, doesn't it? He works in ways beyond what we can even imagine or understand.
so here we were today --- an almost two hour echocardiogram and consult appointment and then off to another meeting with our new cardiologist, dr. chabalka. all of it smooth and amazing. all of it top notch. but even as great as it was going, i began to feel a bit anxious as i watched the technician's ultra sound screen. i could tell that there was an awful lot of blue and red color exploding on his black screen. i knew from previous appointments, that was leakage. and it worried me.
our long day ended sitting in dr. cabalka's office. she was wonderful with bella, taking the time to ask a whole lot of questions that didn't seem to be pertinent to her heart, but were evidence she wanted to know more about bella and our family. she wanted the whole picture. bella danced around the room, up and down from the examining table, a pigtailed ball of energy, a really wound up four year old. finally, i scooped her onto my lap and in less than two minutes she was sound asleep -- completely conked out from her big day. the bounce and chatter and enchantment all finally quiet. the doctor and i continued to talk. i learned that she is not only a believer, but that she had also spent a good deal of time in china. she has a soft spot in her own heart for chinese kids with CHD. just last month she was in nepal with a medical mission's team working on children with heart disease. we could have talked for hours. she told me a lot about bella's heart, making it clear for my medically challenged brain. the best thing she told me was that it looked like bella's next heart surgery could be pushed off until maybe even double digits. there are no guarantees, but she really felt like bella was doing exceptionally well and all that leakage in the ultra sound was okay. she wasn't worried about it. her heart may be functioning a little differently than most people's, but it was working well and, in its own way, it was giving her everything she needed. dr. chalbalka said, "let's get this gal a little bigger and stronger before we attempt to go back into that amazing heart of hers." it was a big day filled with big things, but that news was the biggest and best part of all those hours: we have time. maybe even more time than we originally thought walking in today.
we drove home from mayo at the edge of dark, passing those same barns and silos now shadows against the red of western sky. bella, half asleep in the backseat and me, driving, praying, thinking and thanking. tomorrow we would prepare for thanksgiving -- just two days away. preparing our food. preparing our table. preparing our hearts.
but tonight, giving thanks for today.
thanksgiving came a couple days early.