Tetralogy of Fallot: When The Words “Thank You” Aren’t Enough
A Letter To My Son’s Heart Surgeon:
I passed you in the hall today. I recognized you immediately, even though we’ve only spoken a few times.
Your face and your hands are emblazoned in my memory. You held my son’s heart in your hands.
You had business clothes on and a briefcase slung over your shoulder; different than the operating room scrubs and cap you wore when you told us our son’s surgery went well, and it would just be a few hours until we got to see him.
Your hands were the same though. I remember staring at your hands as your calming voice reviewed the risks of open heart surgery for Tetralogy of Fallott. I listened to the litany of potential complications you are obligated to share with parents, fighting mightily to allow the scariest words to flow quickly through my thoughts. The whole time I focused on your capable, experienced hands, allowing myself to be comforted by the fact that they’ve operated on the tiniest and the most complicated hearts.
We were both walking quickly today, in opposite directions, in a hurry to get to our respective destinations. There wasn’t time to stop and tell you a simple thank you for the life you’ve given our son, but I thought about you the rest of the day.
I wondered if you know how often families like ours think of you with gratitude. I wondered about the weight you must carry, the weight of thousands of little hearts, and the hearts of their mommies and daddies, too. I wondered about the weight of those you weren’t able to save; wondered if the energy of those you’ve sustained life for can carry you through the hardest moments.
I wondered if you know that we have a thriving, rambunctious, loving four year old because of you; that when we celebrate how well he is learning his letters, and marvel at how much information he retains about bugs and plants, and as we laugh at his quirks, that we also think of you.
I wondered if you know when we talk about our son and his special heart, that we say your name and the names of the other members of his care team with pride. We chose you, after all. We chose you, after careful consideration, and after speaking with other families and colleagues to learn about your outcomes and your interactions. We chose you, and no one else, to save our son.
There wasn’t time for a simple thank you, but a simple thank you really isn’t enough. Instead, I hope you know that we will honor the life you’ve given our son, by giving him every opportunity we are able. That we will encourage his hands to seek out meaningful ways to help other people, as a tribute to your hands that mended his little heart.
We hope not to see you again in your surgical scrubs; hope that his future interventions are not in your operating room; hope not to again give our son and his heart over to your skilled hands; but we would choose you without fail if that day came.
Every night, when I tuck my son in to bed, I rest my hand on his chest, a ritual of gratitude as his heart gently beats underneath my palm. It’s a reminder to let the stresses of the day melt away, to be present in that quiet moment, and to feel grateful for my family.
Do you feel the magnitude of much your hands have given us? That’s far too heavy a question to ask you in a quick passing in a hallway, but if these words ever reach you, I hope you know that these are the thoughts and feelings behind those firm handshakes and teary “thank yous” when the words just don’t seem enough.
Just one of your many grateful families