Books – Hope and the struggle for life

2011-05-27 14:55

Gradually the city begins to come to life. The volume of traffic on the N1 increases, there are lights coming on in the townhouses and office blocks, the nurses ready themselves for changeover. I take a deep breath. I think of the wooden worry beads that I used to wear all the time even in the shower and smile to myself. I am facing this with nothing more than rescue remedy and two hours of broken sleep. But there is more than that. Somewhere inside me – I don’t know if I can exactly call it faith for I am still searching for that – there is a resolve that feels new. I tell myself that Zack is a strong boy, a happy boy and he has been through much worse. This time I will not forsake him.

When Zack wakes up I have to give him another antiseptic bath. In the glare of the bathroom lights he looks so small, so vulnerable, at only three his little chest is already crisscrossed with so many ugly scars. Finally, at about a quarter past seven, the orderlies arrive to take Zack into theatre. This is it. In the place of excitement is a kind of strange air of anticipation; the waiting is over for what I have dreaded so long; what I’d hoped we could avoid is now here.

What happens with Zack is odd. He has been flopping around, giggling and laughing in a way that is almost annoying. When he sees the orderlies and the bed his manner changes immediately. He starts to fight me. He looks wild and scared. We decide that I will have to carry him to the theatre. This is difficult. Zack is doing his best to fling himself out of my arms. I don’t want it to be like this, by the time we arrive outside the operating theatres in the basement I am drenched with sweat, panting with exertion. I don’t know if Zack suddenly sensed our fear, or could it just be that somewhere deep in the recesses of his memory he remembers this place? Does he know what’s happening?

I have to get into surgical scrubs, those hideous green pants and jacket and funny blue shoe thingies that go over your own. I am trying to do this and disinfect my hands. Zack has to be pried off me screaming while I do this. I am ushered towards the theatre.

“Zack stop it!” I yell as he nearly flings himself out of my arms.

It feels like the situation is getting out of control and I am trying my damndest to keep my composure. I wanted to be calm and collected. I leave Stew behind looking helpless. Carrying Zack kicking and screaming, I enter the double doors of the theatre, tears are streaming down my face. A nurse looks up at me and signals to a chair. I sit down with Zack on my lap. So far there is just the nurse here and the anaesthetist. I look around me. The operating room is so brightly lit that everything looks weird and washed out. Next to the operating table is the big heart-lung machine, this piece of equipment will sustain my precious boy while his heart is out of commission; it’s operation overseen by a highly skilled perfusionist. I wonder briefly, could it ever malfunction? Could it stop working? I try quash the thought. The nurse grabs a mask and passes it to me. I need to put it over Zack’s mouth and nose. The mask makes a hissing sound and I can smell the sickly, nauseating smell of ether. The nurse has a reassuring manner. She indicates that it is time.

Zack struggles, fights to retain consciousness. He doesn’t want to surrender. Finally his little body goes limp on my lap; gradually his little hand loosens it’s grip on mine. I can feel him slipping away and I don’t like it. I stroke the hair on his forehead. He looks peaceful. “It’s time for you to leave,” the nurse says gently.

» Mending a Broken Heart is published by Jacana

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