Image via WikipediaAs I shopped this weekend for Halloween goodies, I noticed the Christmas decorations right next to the costumes at Target.
Although most everyone says it's way too early to think about Christmas in October, I was thankful because it reminded me of one of the best Christmases our family had in the year 2000.
In the ICU Children's Hospital of Los Angeles on an early December morning, Dr. Winfield Wells strolled into my daughter Holly's room.
His street clothes looked like Pat Boone circa 1962: polo shirt, plaid golf pants and white shoes. Holly's cardiologist said he was the best pediatric cardiac surgeon on the planet and I think he knew it.
His team of doctors clamored around him like an entourage with their clipboards and white coats. He said, "It looks like we don't need to put in a pacemaker after all!" A few days earlier he easily patched up Holly's 15-month-old heart with Dacron like a piece of fabric on a rag doll.
She was born with a large ventricular septal defect. After the surgery, it was doubtful Holly's heart would ever beat on its own hence the need for a pacemaker. I talked to God the night before and said if she needs a pacemaker then she needs one.
My husband Tim and I will deal with it. When Holly was born there was never any doubt that Holly wouldn't survive, she just needed extra care. My parents helped us out with that for the first 10 months of her life.
My mom said she would never leave me to take care of Holly by myself. And I think I knew why. My grandmother died from something similar - a leaky heart valve at age 39.
When I told Mom the news about Holly, she immediately put her hands over her face and wailed, no doubt remembering how she watched her young mother pass away.
It took Holly 15 months to gain enough weight for the operation. When she was ready, Dr. Wells said he could wait until after the holidays but we said no, we wanted it done right away.
If she was in the hospital on Christmas day then so be it. There will be more Christmases to celebrate the regular way if there is a such a thing. Most people find the antiseptic smell of hospital rooms annoying but to me it's comforting.
That smell reminds me that we are in the hands of God and that He sends us angels in the bodies of doctors and nurses clad in white to fix whatever needs fixing. The morning Holly went in, a tall nurse with perfect makeup and a bright smile with a Christmas bow on her surgical cap told us,
"Now is the time for hugs and kisses," right before they took her into OR. She gave Holly a teddy bear with a tiny green surgical mask.
When Holly came to, she was attached to tubes and wires when she opened her mouth to cry but no sound came out. My husband left the room but I stayed for her to hear my voice and feel my hand on hers. She had such a small soft hand which gripped my fingers, scarred from surgical tape and IV tubes. Holly was too little to understand the concept of Santa Claus.
I was glad I didn't have to explain that Santa also delivers gifts to hospitals on Christmas Eve. But I wrote her a letter on memo pad paper answering any questions if she was old enough to ask them.
She might ask, "If I'm not allowed to have a Christmas tree in ICU, where does Santa put the presents?" I'd say, "He delivers them to the doctors and nurses and mommies and daddies to bring them to you."
Or she might ask, "Hospitals don't have chimneys, how does he get in?" I'd say, "The nice workers let him in through the front doors."
But there was no need for explanation. The night before her scheduled second surgery to insert a pacemaker, her little heart started beating on her own.
The nurses checked and rechecked the long strips of paper that printed out the rhythm of her heart beats. Doctors upon doctors came into her room looking at the monitors, then at her, then at us. They all said the same thing: "We didn't expect this."
Within a day, Holly began sitting up, dancing in her seat to Disney cartoons. We left the hospital on Christmas Eve. I got to hold her while a nurse wheeled us out which I was robbed of after she was born since Holly had to stay in neonatal ICU.
When Holly saw the sunlight as the doors opened, she smiled, giggled and clapped at it like she just found her favorite toy. On the way home we stopped at McDonald's and tasted those salty and crispy French fries while she chomped away. No more baby hospital food!
There were dark circles under her eyes as we unwrapped presents by the tree that night. But her hazel eyes lit up as she saw the orange teddy bear named Ojo from the TV show Bear in the Big Blue House.
Today, as a ten-year-old, she wants nothing to do with that bear but I keep it up on my dresser, ready with a patch and thread if it ever needs them.