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Grinning at G-d: Thoughts on My Daughter’s Heart Surgery

Grinning at G-d: Thoughts on My Daughter’s Heart Surgery


Two years ago. A bubble of time in Boston Children’s Hospital.

I woke her up early on the day of her surgery that had somehow finally arrived. We bundled her into a taxi before she could insist upon her usual fruit platter for breakfast, a little grateful and surprised that she was in good spirits. We drove along towards the hospital as if it was just an awesome early-morning adventure. As if it was normal and even fun to get up and head straight to the hospital where we had spent the two previous days. When we arrived, we probably looked at the fish tanks on the ground floor before making our way up to the ward that prepares kids for heart surgery.

I Did she sense something?remember the head-down focus it took to chat lightly to her. I remember her being sweet and charismatic and undemanding. She had a faraway look in her black eyes before she made things “easy” by cooperating with us. Did she sense something?

I was dressed in a strange assortment of my fanciest clothes. (We had just finished “The Nine Days” that culminate with Tisha B’Av, a time period when we don’t wash our clothes as a sign of mourning, so I was short on clean laundry.) I squeezed into the children’s hospital gown in order to make it look like a fun thing to do. The plan worked, and she lifted her hands up to remove what she was wearing in order to also put on the colorful hospital “dress” that she had taken to. Step One completed of the many steps to come in the days that would follow. And then we did “slides” down the hospital bed as if that’s just what we do.

I can picture her smooth, tanned chest, now marred by a faint scar. We played our part in helping to anesthetize her as quickly and effectively as possible. I remember the absolute broken feeling as they wheeled her off towards the operating theater. A huge cry, and then relief.

I could let go now, something I had not done for a long while. I had irrationally carried responsibility for her heart condition, and had tried to keep her as healthy as possible in the years and months and days and hours and seconds leading up to that moment. I was exhausted.

After a long process, we were at peace with our decision to go ahead with the surgery, and I could exhale, knowing she was in the hands of the best doctors, and ultimately in the hands of G‑d.

We headed outside. There was music and green grass in this place that they try to make so cheerful for kids. We ate, and my husband prayed, before we headed to the official waiting room, where I tried to muster up focus and energy to offer up prayers too. But I found myself in a bit of a daze as I gazed at all the other parents also awaiting news of how their child’s heart surgery had gone. There was so much at stake in that room. And I found myself staring out the huge glass windows at the world that seemed so normal and so far away.

And then, before I knew it, before I really managed to pour my heart out to G‑d, the legendary surgeon appeared before us. Quietly and confidently, he told us that Noa’s surgery had gone well.

Noa’s. Surgery. Had. Gone. Well.

We were on the other side, and G‑d had made it go well. Could it have all been a challenge tailor-made for all of us? Noa came into this world with her heart condition, but no apparent symptoms for the most part. Could it be that everything that had led up to the surgery, as well as the surgery itself, was meant for her, meant to bring out her dynamism and strength and probably a whole lot of other stuff too? I found myself grinning at G‑d. And for me, a tailor-made opportunity to confront and challenge my mistaken fears and beliefs and my wanting to be in control? For me? Seriously? Another grin, and probably a mutter of deep thanks.

And then, before I had time to really breathe and digest it all and appreciate the time I could remain in “let go” mode, we were summoned to the ICU. I remember her lying there, unconscious, looking like she’d had a rough time, but for the most part the same, surrounded by so many machines and being monitored by a nurse taking her critical job so seriously.

Before long, it was time to wake her up. Her body was blue as they disconnected her from the life-support machines, and she seemed to sputter to life. Oh my goodness, the fragility of existence. It was almost unbearable to watch. “Is that what is supposed to be happening? Are they getting it right?” Slow, agonizing seconds of panic as I could not, but had to, look.

Whew. We got to see firsthand one of today’s genuine medical advancements. We got to be one of the blessed ones to be on the other side of successful heart surgery. We got the privilege of being cared for by the most expert and refined doctors in the field. We got to enjoy the extreme kindness of nurses who knew how to make things feel better. We got to feel so much love and prayers that poured from all directions, from family and friends and strangers alike. And we got to grin at G‑d.

The days after were filled with trying to sweeten the experience for Noa as much as possible. A blur of toys and balloons and smiles and apple juice and, of course, being on top of her body temperature and her medication doses and water intake and monitors and tests. And after just four days in the recovery ward, we were out of there.

How do I express gratitude? How do I express gratitude?How do I feel the appropriate amount? How do I make sense of the fact that two years later I don’t hold her close often enough, or feel sufficient thanks in her presence? Perhaps it is the challenge of being a human being, so quickly taking things for granted. These days, I choose to focus on the way she triggers me and leaves me fumbling as a mom and person, but I want to hold my gratitude again and carry it with me through my days. Look her in the eyes and thank her for forcing me to stretch and grow. I want to abolish that voice within that insists I’m not a good enough mom. I want to turn down the volume of all the insignificant stuff that tries to pretend it’s so all-important, and to remember the truly big things. And I want to always grin at G‑d.

We are here. Noa is here. We are blessed with life. We have everything.

Loren is a writer who is passionate about figuring out life and sharing the lessons she learns in a real and honest way. An avid magazine reader and writer, she also posts regularly on her blog in the hope that readers will be left feeling heard, less alone and inspired. Originally from South Africa, she now lives in Jerusalem with her husband and daughters.
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Harold Golden PhD Butler April 16, 2016

Baruch Hashem! Reply

Mickey September 22, 2015

I have an adopted son Michael. He is a most remarkable 36 year old man. He went through surgery to identify a growth that turned out to be benign. The 36 hours before we knew the results were the hardest of my life. Thank you all for posting your adventures with your little ones. I hope each story can be told for many years with the same joy you feel today. Israel Forever! Reply

Loren September 18, 2015

Amen. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. May we all know only health and simcha! Reply

Anonymous israel September 18, 2015

yes yes!! we just celebrated the 10th birthday of our precious, amazing, bli ayin hara, grandaughter who underwent heart surgery at 2 1/2 months of age. yes, there are amazing medical miracles. the doctors at schneider hospital were totally Hashem's most professional shlichim. Baruch Hashem Baruch Hashem. Moshiach Now!!!! Reply

Anonymous September 18, 2015

Wow. So beautiful. You expressed all that I have in my heart as the mother of a Preemi. Thank you Hashem for everything!! Reply

Anonymous rbs, israel September 17, 2015

been there when our grnddtr was five mos old she had open heart surgery in miami childrens hospital she was a little bit of a girl 7lbs at five mos because she couldnt gain weight The surgery was on monday and the nightmare of waiting and davening for hatzlacha was overwhelming Of course her parents were there the grndparents as well No talking just quiet thoughts and prayers And then the dr emerged and spoke only to the parents b'H she was fine
Fast forward.....26 yrs later three precious girls, a wonderful husband and all living in Israel so we can watch them grow up Forever grateful to the Healer of all mankind every day in every way....and may u see the same blessing from your daughter ad 120!! Reply