Wednesday. 16th December 2009, otherwise known as ‘The Worst Day of My Life.’
Barely catching 40 winks, I made my way to the bathroom at about 6.30. Ramli had woken up earlier to watch her sleep. Tried to sober myself up as much as possible, as it definitely would be a very long day. Possibly a day that would never end. The little angel was still asleep when I returned from the bathroom, and my family had already reached the hospital, waiting for her to wake up. The mood was sombre, and everyone tried to pretend that everything was perfectly normal. Of course it was not. Everyone was like a truck loaded up with gasoline, waiting for a tiny spark to blow up.
She woke up nearly at 8am. Finally at about 8.20am, a few nurses came to her bed and informed us the Operating Theatre has called for her to be brought down. The staff nurse asked if I’d like to give her a bath as she probably would not be bathed for pretty much 2-3 days after the surgery. I wanted the nurse to bathe her, but they conveniently pushed that task to me. I didn’t want to, not this morning. I know I sound morbid and so full of negativity, but at that point, I swear- I couldn’t stop thinking and wondering if that would be the last time I’ll bathe her.
It was as if she knew what would happen to her little body. That’s what I kept thinking as I carried her to the baby’s bathroom. She didn’t ask any question at all (so unlike her). She was calm. Quiet. And the one thing that astounded me- she didn’t even refuse when I took of her pyjamas and told her I was going to bathe her. This was extraordinary, because for as long as I can remember, from the day she was born, she dislikes bathing. She’ll put up a fight, until the very end. If there is ONE challenge in a day of caring for her, it would be BATH TIME. But not this time. She was quiet all the way. It was as if she knew…
In the same bathroom, another baby of about 2 years old was being bathed by her grandma. Poor baby, she too would probably suffer the same fate as Ooyah. She was crying and struggling, pretty much how I expected Ooyah to be. But not today.
I brought her back to her bed, dried her with the towel, put on her diaper. The nurses were waiting by her bed, and this didn’t help me at all. As I combed her wet hair, I couldn’t hold it back anymore. I just burst out crying till I shook all over. Ooyah knew that I cried, even if I turned my back to her and tried to control my sobs, hoping that the rest could take over dressing her up. But apparently my crying was just a cue for everyone else. Ramli, my mom and my sisters started to sob uncontrollably as well. Surprisingly, she was unperturbed looking at all of us in tears. She was QUIET. No questions asked. She didn’t even look frightened or curious. Just calm and quiet.
As we wheeled her out on a wheelchair, we tried very hard not to cry. As it is, the parents and patients in the ward were looking at us sympathetically. It was dramatic, I know, but it was a very trying moment for all of us. Even though her condition is one of the most common heart defect in children, not many parents are willing to let their child undergo the surgery because of the risks. It is a major operation, and in a case where the heart-lung bypass machine is involved, her life is basically hanging on a tether.
At the operating theatre’s reception area, we were asked who would be accompanying her in. That would be me, the one who birthed her. I would like to be the last person she sees before she is knocked unconscious and before the machine takes over, thank you. I was told to put on the scrubs, she had to put on a surgery gown, and we were told to proceed to a waiting area. My family members and Ramli took turns to kiss her, tears streaming down their faces. By this time I had stopped crying because I told myself, I HAD TO BE STRONG, THIS LAST LAP, just for HER.
In the waiting area, there were two other kids. One boy, who’s about 2, and a girl who’s about 13, both with their mom or dad. As I looked at Ooyah and the boy sitting amongst the many toys provided to countereact the negative energy that was in the room, I couldn’t help but think of sheep waiting to be slaughtered. Yeah, just like that. Let’s make them happy and delude them before they go under and we fiddle with their little hearts/ lungs/ whatnot.
After 15min of nerve-wrecking waiting, the anesthetist came in to brief me about what to expect. I couldn’t focus and what came out from her mouth, to me, was just verbatim without meaning. Remain calm/ Support her head/ Inject anesthesia through the plug on her hand/ Distract her / 30 seconds and she’s out /After surgery, wait at ICU waiting area / She’ll be wheeled in directly.
The teenager in the same room was due for a surgery on her arm for a fracture. Her mom was sobbing. Wimp. Give me a fracture any day, please.
And the young boy, short 1-hr day surgery (faeces got stuck in rectum and needs to be removed?) . The parents looked at my tear-stained face like I’m some weakling, and I felt like screaming into their faces, blardy a-holes, my girl’s going for a HEART surgery okay, not like your son who’s going in to remove his shit out of his ass! Her chest will be cut open, her sternum sawed apart, they will plug in a heart-lung bypass machine through her chest and the side of her tummy, they will STOP HER HEART, cut open that heart, get to the hole-in-wall (the atria), strip off the lining of her heart to cover up that huge hole, sew it up, then sew up the heart, then fix back the sternum with stainless steel wires, and remove the machine and start up the heart, and FINALLY, sew up her chest. SO DON’T YOU DARE give me that ‘stronger-than-thou’ look!
Almost half an hour after parting with Ramli and my family, the dreaded moment came for me to carry her to the operating theatre. Theatre 11. I entered the cold room. Okay, not too intimidating, they did try to make it seem less frightening with stickers of cartoon characters all over the room. It was brightly lit. The nurses and anesthetist led me to sit on a stool beside the operating table. This is it.
And this whole time, Ooyah was quiet. The nurses all held bottles of soapy water, to blow bubbles. They were so chirpy I wanted to smack their faces. Then they started blowing bubbles all around her. Now, Ooyah is a sucker for bubbles. She will FORCE you to get her a bottle whenever she sees one and is highly amused by them.
But this time, she didn’t give two hoots about it. She looked at them blankly. What’s more amazing- one of the nurses gave her the blower and put it near her mouth to blow and USUALLY, she’ll go wild at this point. But this time- nothing. Expressionless. The look she gave damn was as if to say, oh please- kid me not. I know what you’re up to.
They tried to distract her with all their might, but they just couldn’t stop her from looking at the anesthetist injecting the potent white liquid into her IV plug. She looked at it pensively, and the nurses were still chirping, trying to distract her. She managed to blow ONE bubble,before the anesthetist told me to hold up her chin and neck as it would go weak in a few seconds. I watched that liquid go into her body. I did as was told, said a prayer in her ear, and whispered ‘I love you’ in between sobs before she lost consciousness. The nurses took away her small, limp body from my arms and put her on the operating table. I stood up and wanted to go up to her and kiss her again, but was quickly guided out of the room.
Oh mighty Allah, please spare my child’s life, and keep her away from any harm or danger… please, I beg of you.
If I could sell my soul and switch places with her, I would. This would be the moment.
I walked out to where everyone was waiting. They were all crying, and that made me sob again. I described to them how it went, further aggravating their anguish.
It was like a scene out of a movie. Us waiting outside the operating theatres. There were about 6 other families waiting. And we saw many being wheeled in. One by one, the doctors came out bearing good news to the parents, and then we saw the patients, all who went in after Ooyah, wheeled out, conscious and smiling. Some were even handed over to the parents (including the one who had shit stuck in his ass). Such trivial surgeries. The wait was torturous, as everytime a doctor came out, we jumped to our toes, hoping he/she would tell us the op is done and she is in good condition. But it was NEVER her doctor.
And this went on for almost 6 hours. The doctors told us the surgery would take 3, 4 hours max. But by the fifth hour, we were going mad. I went into the OT reception and asked the nurses to check on the progress. She came back after a few minutes, telling me the correcting of the heart is finished, but they ‘haven’t closed her up yet’. Meaning, her chest is still gaping open. Apparently, the doctors are ensuring that all systems are back to normal so that they needn’t open her up again. Point taken.
What was worse during the break was there were a bunch of people who were so insensitive, laughing out loud in the waiting area, playing music loudly… budak taik young parents with their friends. The mother was all dolled up at laughing hysterically like a hyena while her child was inside the op theatre. This was the same parent who left their barely one-year old daughter unaccompanied the night before in the same ward. The baby caused a ruckus the whole night while the nurses tried frantically to contact the parents, THEM, but to no avail. And can you believe it, just after Ooyah, the baby was wheeled in for her op WITHOUT her parents, least of all her mother. Where we they? At the park, taking pictures and enjoying themselves (according to Ramli who went to the park to cry think.) At one point, while they took a break from laughing in the waiting area, the nurses came out carrying her groggy child and asked ME, is this your baby?
It angers me to think how such people exist- I’m sure even animals care for their young. These are monsters; they wouldn’t care less if their child dies. They’d probably just screw someone else and pop out another one!
… and even THEIR child came out of the theatre before Ooyah!
FINALLY, after 6 hours, Ramli came to us- he was waiting in the ICU waiting area. As I expected, they didn’t pass by the operating theatre waiting area as Ooyah had to be wheeled straight into ICU. I made my way to ICU, only to be told that I can only see her half an hour later as they were ‘setting her up’. Ramli said that Ooyah looks fine, unconscious though, but her face didn’t seem swollen.
The Japanese doctor came up to us and assured us that the surgery went very well. He then mentioned all the risks again, and the possibility of it happening after the surgery. The only thing that was ruled out at that point was the accidental, DISASTROUS cutting of the major artery. That, he assured us, is clearly out of the question. The rest: brain damage, kidney damage, liver failure, leakage- well, he’d just have to prolong our agony and tell us that we can only tell 24 hours after the surgery. Thanks a lot doc. But the prognosis is very good, as Ooyah’s organs were able to be revived promptly after removing the heart-lung bypass machine, and that was a good sign. So good that the feeding tube could be removed before she left the operating theatre.
At long last, we were able to go in to see Ooyah. A nurse came out and said Ooyah was screaming for her PUTING (pacifier!) I found this quite funny, as it gave me a huge sense of relief. From the outside of her room, we could hear her! She was groaning and could only manage stifled cries. I braced myself, hoping not to be taken aback by the tubes and all. There she was, awake, groggy, but she was groaning in pain. It was heart-wrenching to see her in a state of immobility- there was an ugly portacath (central venous line) on the side of her neck- to deliver the pain-relief medication (one of them morphine), an arterial IV line on her left hand, and another IV line on her right. She had an oxygen mask on, and most definitely she was on a urinary catheter. The moment she saw me she started to weep and beg me to carry her! It was heartbreaking, and again, I cried. She asked for her ‘puting’ and we put the oxygen mask over her puting.
But the most saddening part was seeing her writhing in pain… her lips were trembling, tears didn’t stop streaming from her eyes but she didn’t have the energy to cry out loud. She kept on saying, “My hands’ stuck, mama! Help me!” (both her hands were tied to the cot rail to prevent her from pulling out the lines) She kept on asking for water… “Nak air, mama…. haus!!!” but I couldn’t give any to her. The doctors say she can’t have any fluid as she may vomit and this may affect her lungs badly. The most I could do was wet her pacifier and it killed me to see her thirstily slurping out every drop dripping from it!
Soon after, she went in and out of sleep. The morphine was timed to intraveneously enter her bloodstream every five minutes. In her moments of semi-consciousness, she actually started hallucinating, I think, and talked about all sorts of weird things.
“Help! I’m stuck! I’m stuck in the anemone!” (this must be from Finding Nemo, although no such scene/ line exists in the actual movie)
“Mama, helang, lang kat owang-kawi! Moink, moink, moink! Macam Nemo!” (combination of her eagle-watching memory at Langkawi, and the seagull scene from Finding Nemo)
“Daaaaaadddd!!!! Save me!” (Again, from Finding Nemo)
It was poignant, yet funny at the same time. She was grumbling and grumbling, and saying so many funny things that made the nurses in the ICU laugh. At one point, she was SO desperate to get the tubes off her that she begged us to BATHE her- thinking that if we were to bathe her, we’d have to remove the tubes! Knowing how much she hates bathing, I would say she was pretty much desperate to be free from the tubes. My mom and Fizah sobbed uncontrollably when they saw her, especially when she pleaded with them to give her water. I was a bit stronger I must say, taking comfort in the fact that she had regained consciousness and her talkative nature was kicking back in full force!
A few hours later, Ooyah was visited by my two cousins, whose mother is being warded at SGH for a heart surgery as well. They cried when they saw her and Ooyah didn’t give up trying, begging them to release her. By 7pm, all our family members had the chance to see her. Ooyah had also managed to strike a deal with nurses; they would give her a few drops of water if she promised to be quiet and close her eyes after that, and she actually complied!
By 10pm, when the doctor visited her, she was allowed to drink controlled amounts of glucose water. But not much, only 20ml for the whole night in doses of 5ml. That’s like a teaspoon each time. But it was important not to overfeed her with water, in view of her recovering lungs and heart.
The nurses and doctor told us that they have actually given her medications that cause drowsiness, but she is so strong-willed that she refuses to sleep. The doctor also added that most patients would actually succumb to the post-surgery pain and lethargy and eventually fall asleep, but for Ooyah, her threshold for pain is rather high. It was only close to 11pm that she finally couldn’t take the tiredness anymore and fell asleep. It was time for my folks to go home and rest. As for me and Ramli, we went to our $50 per day rented parent room a few floors up to clean up, take a shower and start our night vigil. My shift was from 12pm to 3am, while Ramli’s was from 3am to 6am. She pretty much slept through the night, with a few whines and grimacing in between.
It was a tiring day, mentally, emotionally and physically. We were relieved, and gave thanks to the Almighty for answering our prayers. As we walked in and out of ICU, we couldn’t help but feel more thankful to Allah, and also felt like we were so much luckier than others; the regulars every night in the waiting area include parents of a cancer-stricken 1 1/2 year old baby, parents of a 7 year old boy trauma victim who has a skull fracture and needs multiple surgeries, a girl, comatose from liver, lung failure and on dialysis, a girl barely 3 years old, in an isolated room, whose parents kept on weeping (she’s in critical condition). Ramli even saw a dead body of a child wheeled out right before Ooyah went into ICU. We also had the chance to read the cards and letters of appreciation by ex-patients, and even parents of many patients who didn’t even make it out of ICU. It was a reminder to all of us, of how fragile life is. And it made me more thankful to Allah for protecting our angel from harm.
At this point, 24 hours is still not up, so we are still praying…