48 hours ago just about now, the transplant team wheeled my son, Sterling, out of the CICU pod and down to the operating room for his long awaited heart transplant. It has been an amazing whirlwind – and in “Transplant Time,” the doctors and nurses are calling the day we are entering “Day Two.” We had Day Zero, Day One, and today.
This morning, I am sitting a genuine Naugahyde recliner in Sterling’s CICU pod, and thinking of all the blessings of this week. Here’s my wee hours update. I will eventually gussy it up and write an essay. – but here is the stream of consciousness. For now.
Some of you know how much I have sought a sign from Mark that he is on the other side, or the Rainbow Bridge, or wherever people go. A real sign. That it’s going to be okay.
Not a tails-up penny in the parking lot – but a genuine sign – that could be argued to be more than a coincidence.
And for the most part, I had pretty much given up on A Sign.
Day Zero was a Tuesday. August 1st. The early morning hours. Sitting in a straight back chair in the Critical Care Waiting Room, watching a loop tape of the local cable news channel (because they evidently lock up the remote at a decent hour and the channel cannot be changed without it), I had plenty of time to think – and connect dots.
On Tuesday morning, time to think about this year – and the fact that here we were. Marking yet another dreaded Tuesday milestone in this never-ending year since Mark died – thirty Tuesdays ago.
But wait. Here is something good happening on a Tuesday – maybe our luck is changing. And a less particular person might take this as A Sign from Mark. After all, I had come to dread Tuesdays – and this particular Tuesday marked seven months of Tuesdays since The Day.
And so, I gave a nod and passing commitment to stop grumbling about Tuesdays. Perhaps this was a stretch in “a sign from beyond.” Maybe a nice coincidence, but it gave me a smile.
I was more than a little anxious as I sat waiting and watching the clock – and local cable news. Our daughter, DeLynn had sent me a text that said “It’s underway. It’s okay. Dad’s got this,” signed with a smiling face emoticon with a halo. It was going to be seamless. Hmmm.
Seamless.That was always Mark’s favorite word to remind me to stop worrying – and that things are going to work out.
And the transplant went like clockwork. Tina, the transplant coordinator and Michael, the OR nurse, updated me every hour during the transplant surgery. Two hours before the anticipated end time, Dr, Kessler, the transplant surgeon came out and told me that it was, indeed, seamless. A success.
In fact, he said, as soon as he had stitched the last ventricle, this really strong heart began pumping so hard that it nearly knocked an instrument from his hand!
The transplant team, the clinic staff, and others stopped by throughout the day, telling us they heard how well he as doing – and Sterling knew every staffer from the heart institute by name. After all, he has been in their office every week since June of 2015. Many of the medical professionals who stopped by had tears in their eyes as they obligatorily Purelled® their hands and came to pat his leg and give him a thumbs up.
Sometime later on Day Zero, Leslie, the Transplant Team Social Worker came by and we visited as Sterling dozed.
“How long have you been here,” I asked,
“Since the beginning – 1986,” she said.
“How many heart transplants has your clinic done?” I asked,
“Over 400,” she said, adding, “I used to know exactly – and knew them by name and number, Sterling is in the 400s, but I don’t know the exact number. I will go back to my office and look it up.”
Day Zero passed in a blur as people came and went – testing and poking and prodding.
As I played a few hundred domino games on my phone.
And then I got a text from an unidentified number.
The text read: 417
I had no idea who it was from – or what it meant. I wrote back:
My text tone blinged immediately and the message read:
“Sterling is the #417th heart transplant for Seton Heart.”
Leslie had gone back to her office and looked it up.
Granted I was tired.
And more than a little grateful for all of this.
But with that text, my knees buckled and my eyes welled up.
Just three numbers. Unless…
It’s a sign.
Mark and I were married on April 17.
Sterling’s heart is #417.
I am going to take this “sign.” This afternoon, I told Sterling that if I were ever to get a tattoo, I now know it would be the number 417. But where? And does it hurt? What color tattoo is a good all-season accessory?
My friend, Johanna, offered another suggestion.
Maybe I could do with a nice, simple, James Avery bracelet with 417 engraved on it.
I would never take it off.
Listening to The Lucky One by Raul Malo