As anyone with a CHD child in their life knows, good news is always fully embraced, while the fear of new potential health risks and dangers lurk, never far from conscious thought. In the McClurg family however, we have come to expect bad news to be but a wrinkle in our day, from which we gather ourselves, do what needs to be done, and move forward.
For example, on July 3rd, 2001, my father was told he had renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer), and should return to the hospital on July 5th to have his kidney removed. It was (blessedly) the first major, devastating news in our family. The outcome from surgery was that the cancer had been fully contained within the walls of the kidney and none would remain in his body. He continues to be checked regularly and has been healthy as a horse ever since. I jokingly call him the 2 day cancer survivor.
My mother learned in August of 2007 that she had breast cancer. One month, a lumpectomy and 5 days of accelerated radiation later, she’s been cancer-free ever since.
And so this is the pattern we tend to expect. Bad news, brief treatment, back to full health and normalcy. The news that my youngest brother William’s son Matthew had HLHS hit the family hard, however. This is a new level of health complications, much bigger and more scary than any we’ve had so far. We’ve spent several terrified months since learning of the CHD (Congenital Heart Defect), awaiting Matthew’s arrival.
We’ve all watched as Matthew arrived much earlier than expected, fully developed and looking amazing, and as he flew off to Boston to get care for his rare and very serious heart problem. None of us have been surprised that his surgery was flawless, and each time we get the news that he’s ahead of schedule for healing or how well he is doing we just nod – of course he is. He’s a McClurg.
So two days ago when the doctor said a routine echo revealed Matthew had an enlarged heart, with fluid around the back of it, I could hear the screeching halt in my brain, which had already moved well past Matthew’s full recovery. When my brother William said that, unless we achieve the small chance that Matthew’s left heart can be recruited to function, he will eventually need a heart transplant, in spite of the 3 surgery process that will save his life as a baby, my brain hit a brick wall. This was exacerbated when he said “possibly as early as adolescence.”
Now it is beginning to sink in that this is not a typical “McClurg health problem” which will be a distant memory in a few months. As this reality reaches out across my brain it occurs to me that I actually prefer my former mindset and coping mechanism. Aren’t we all potentially happier and healthier if we live with the attitude that everything is going be perfect, and simply sort out the details as they arrive? I have to believe so. The routine echo repeated the next day revealed the fluid was not increasing, so no intervention was required. That’s more like it.
For this reason, I’ve decided that the doctors will find a way to recruit Matthew’s left heart, restore functioning, and that he will grow up to be a strong, healthy man, whose heart beats loudly, much longer than the rest of us will be around to hear it.
And I can’t find a darn thing wrong with that thought process. Here’s to a happy, healthy, propserous 2011 for us all!