After I had been in the recovery room for what seemed like days, the doctors finally decided that I was ready to be moved to a private room where I could begin the convalescing process…
At this point, I began to be pampered by family members and friends. My hospital room became a collection of gifts…a candy tree, stuffed animals, a fairy tale book by Mom’s bunco club lady friends, and the list goes on. Manilla, my personal nurse, taught me how to make a “mailbox” out of 2 paper plates, one of which was cut in half, horizontally and stapled to the inside of the whole one, then colored and decorated. She, then hung it on the door of my room and I was so excited when we “checked the mail each day” to find beautiful and fun get-well cards waiting for me!
It was also fun to have the family begin to come for visits. My grandparents came in from Fort Worth to spend some time with me. I remember that Grandpapa was so much fun and always joking and making us laugh, which, any other time, would be great, but not right after open-heart surgery when I was still sore. At one point, he said something funny and when I laughed, it hurt, so he decided he needed to take that part easy for a while and not make me laugh! There was another time when Mom and I asked one of the nurses how could I laugh or even cough without my chest hurting and she told us to press a pillow up against my chest whenever I felt a cough coming on. At first I thought she said a pill and I thought, “what good would it do to press a pill against my chest?” (ha ha)…but after I understood what she had said, the next time I needed to cough, I pressed a pillow up against my chest and, sure enough, that solved the problem and there were no more worries about pain when coughing! yea!!!
Another memory…there was a little boy who had come to Houston from another country in order to have Dr Cooley perform heart surgery on him. His mother came with him and she was, understandably, very anxious about the whole experience. By this time, I was getting around very easily in a wheelchair and I wanted to be with her during her son’s surgery. I remember being in the hallway with her. As she paced up and down the hall, I “rode” up and down the hall with her in my wheelchair, not really conversing too much, just being there with her. I hope that, even that small gesture, was a blessing to her.
There are a couple of stages of my recovery that I remember very well. One day, I was in my room resting, watching TV, wanting to be with my family, when the door opened and Dr McNamara came into the room with what seemed like 50 interns (I know it wasn’t that many, but to this little girl it just seemed like it) all with their starchy white lab coats and their stethoscopes around their necks, coming in to listen to my heart. I was always kind of afraid of Dr McNamara…I don’t know why, maybe it was because he always looked so serious all the time…but here he came, into the room with interns in tow. They literally stood in line to listen to my heart, and not a one of them looked friendly or smiled at me…all business! I sat there on the side of my bed, patiently (no pun intended!) letting each one of them listen to my heart and watching the expressions on their faces. (I still, to this day, get a kick out of watching the expression on a doctor’s face when he or she listens to my heart for the first time. One doctor described it as sounding like Niagara Falls)
Another part of my recovery and rehab that I remember was the stair step therapy that they had me go through in order to check my endurance level. They brought in what was probably a little 3-step stool that they would ask me to step up and step down on as many times as I could and they would monitor how much I could do before I began to get tired. I actually wouldn’t get tired very easily, which was great! The heart was fixed and pumping like it needed to in order to allow my body to exercise to their satisfaction.
Finally, the day came when I was well enough to go home. All I remember is that one day I was in the hospital, recovering, and before I knew it, I was back at home. Another thing I should share with you is…I had become so fascinated with the wheelchair (I guess I considered it a play toy of some kind) that I wanted to take it home to play with! Can you believe that? My dad, being the sweet generous man that he always was, rented the chair for me for about 2-3 days so I could wheel myself around the house with it, although, by now, I don’t think I needed it anymore. Another neat thing that happened was that, after I got home and we all got settled in, my favorite nurse, Manilla, came to visit with me. I thought that was so special. She was really precious to me and the whole family. She was an example of a “model” nurse…one who considered her job to be her ministry – to me and to all of the other children that she took care of.
Another adventure was… when the doctor released me to go home, he sent Mom and Daddy home with a prescription for some little tiny brown pills that I had to take for what seemed like a month. I was never good at swallowing pills, so Mom would crush one up in a teaspoon (I only had to take one pill every so many hours). She would add a little water and some honey to the pill, thinking that would make it a little more palatable. Not so!!! This pill must have had quinine in it. You wouldn’t believe how BITTER it was…even with the honey mixed in. Mom and I nicknamed it a “honey pill” because of the honey which was mixed with it. You would think that would make it sweet but it didn’t. Thankfully, I only had to take those pills for probably a couple of weeks. They must have been antibiotics…is my guess. From then on, I continued to get better and stronger over the ensuing days, weeks and months.
I do, however, still have the scar, due to an episode which occurred soon afterwards. I developed what is called a keloid, which is scar tissue at the incision site. Mom called the doctor and he instructed her to take me to St. Luke’s Hospital for a radiation treatment, supposedly to shrink and fade out the scar tissue. The only problem was that the technician had never given a child’s dosage of radiation before and only knew how to give an adult dosage, resulting in me receiving an overdose of radiation. This caused the site to burn. Mom called the doctor again and he instructed her to put pure lanolin on the burned area, which was supposed to help it heal. I don’t think it worked, though, because, to this day, the scar is still there. It really and truly doesn’t hurt anything and it actually has its advantages. For one thing, it has made me very modest concerning what I wear! No low, plunging necklines for me! The other good thing about the scar is that, whenever anyone does see it, it gives me an excellent opportunity to share the priceless experience of God’s amazing grace in taking such good care of me, His daughter, through the gifted hands of Dr Cooley and his medical team at Texas Children’s Hospital all those years ago. I’m a living testimony of how a child can have open heart surgery and fully recover to live a long, healthy and full life!