My nine year old daughter Olivia recently had her second open heart surgery. Though this journey has been hard for the whole family and we have certainly had some ups and downs. I wanted to share what her scar truly means to her through her words in hopes of helping others who have an older “tween” child if you will and how this led to what we were not prepared for after surgery.
Getting to the surgery day was okay and went better than we had expected. Olivia had little questions and remained pretty calm and quiet leading up to May 8, 2012 which was surgery day. We surrounded Olivia with many family and friends to keep her mind of things the day of surgery. She met with child life specialist Stephanie, whom without I don’t know how we would have got through this whole process. She was an absolute angel to our family and to Olivia. If you have Child Life specialists in your child’s hospital, I urge you to talk with them and your child before, during and after surgery.
Olivia was a true trooper and amazes me every day with how well she handles her heart condition and all the issues that have come along with that. What we were not prepared for was depression and anxiety after her surgery. It was very scary and completely changed our child almost immediately after surgery. She was completely different and sad even though she was getting news that she was doing great and how she was amazing that only 3 days after surgery she was getting to go home. She did not smile, laugh, or even get remotely excited when friends came to the hospital to see her. I began to get very worried that something wasn’t right.
As we came home from the hospital she would cry every day and tell us it wasn’t fair that she had to go through all of this and take all this medicine. She just did not understand it. It wasn’t until she was able to take a shower that I realized what was bothering her. She began to cry the moment she got in the shower and say that she was ugly and she did not look like any of her friends with her scar. My heart began to break for her. As a nine year old girl, you begin to notice these things and as mom I sat and thought what do I say? What can I say to make her see that she is beautiful just the way she is and that God made her that way. She was special! So that is what I began to tell her. She is special and perfect in God’s eyes and my eyes and no one can ever change that. The fact of the matter is we all have scars. This is how I began to explain to Olivia when she would cry looking at her scar and saying it’s not fair because none of her friends have a scar like that. I told her that they may not have a scar that puts them in the “zipper club” but they do have scars. I began to tell her that I have scars even. I have scars on both of my feet from where I had bunion surgery. I also began to tell her a childhood story that I have a scar on my forehead from when I was little and we were at my grandmother’s house in North Carolina playing outside with this big giant black dog. We were running from it and I was not paying attention and ran right into the biggest oak tree in the world. I am still not sure how I had forgotten that the tree was there. J What I am getting at is we all have scars and we all have a story that goes along with them and they are stories that we never forget no matter how young or how old we are or what brought us to them. Whatever the story, happy or sad, they become a part of our lives, our stories. I continued to explain to Olivia, that just like hers, her scar has a story. She has begun to realize that her scar is a reminder of how strong she is and how brave she has been to get to where she is today. And that she is AMAZING! She is not afraid to let it show. She has become proud of how strong she is and it’s just a daily reminder of that as well as to others. She should be proud of her scar and what it represents.
I spoke with her doctor about all of this and how bad it was becoming. He explained that sometimes when you are on the heart and lung bypass machine that it can cause bouts of depression. He also explained that it is common for you to feel sad or depressed after you leave the hospital. These emotions may be the result of not knowing what to expector not being able to do simple tasks without becoming very tired. Temporary feelings of sadness are normal, and should gradually go away within a few weeks, as your child goes back to normal routine and activities.
So we are working through it and I wanted to share with others who are preparing their child for open heart surgery that this sometimes happens after surgery. We had no idea and we are learning as we go along. Please don’t be afraid to mention any of the signs of depression to your child’s doctor. Talking with a professional is always an option and something we are still considering with Olivia.