Sarah’s story

From birth I have had a heart disorder, I have a hole in my heart and my pulmonary arteries are much too small. During my life I have had many operations, one major one when I was 3 months old and lots of smaller ones. I’m going to write about the second major operation I had.

As I go for check-ups every 6 months my doctor was sure that I needed to have an operation sometime during my third year in junior school. I can’t remember exactly when he told me that I’d be having open-heart surgery, but he told me that I’d receive a letter giving me the exact date.

When the letter arrived it said I’d be going in, in April. There was a lot to do between getting the letter and April.

I was having my operation at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. When I arrived a nice nurse showed me to my bed. As I was one of the oldest children on the ward I’d been given a bed in a little room all on my own. The room was quite nice, I had my own television and there was a window from which you could see the entrance to the hospital. Later that day, when I’d unpacked and settled in, the hospital teacher came to see me. She gave me some worksheets to do, they were really easy, I finished them quickly. When she left she said if I wanted anything I just had to ask. That first day went really slowly as we had nothing to do. We met a little girl, who was also in for an operation, she was called Amy. She had Downs syndrome. Over the next few days she was very friendly.

The next day, Tuesday, I had the usual tests I have when I go to hospital. I had an E.C.G., which measures my heart beat, an X-ray and a scan. The surgeon, who was doing my operation, came to talk to me. She was a really nice lady, she made sure that I understood everything that was going to happen to me during my operation. Her name was Miss McKay, she was a large jolly lady who was a very talented and dedicated surgeon. Often at night you would see her on the ward reassuring worried parents and checking on her patients’ progress. While we were talking to her, Mum asked when we would be seeing the anaesthetist as I am very sick after anaesthetics. Miss McKay said he would see us later that day or the next morning before my operation. After she made sure we had no worries she went on her way.
Quite a lot later, probably after tea, a nurse from intensive-care came to talk to me so I knew what to expect as after my operation I was going to wake up there. She showed me some pictures, while I was looking at them my sister came with my Auntie, Uncle and cousin. After I finished looking at the pictures the nurse said we could go and have a walk around intensive-care so we knew what it was like. It was quite scary, there were machines everywhere and they were all bleeping and lights were flashing.

The thing I remember most was that there was such an eerie silence except, as 1 said before, for the bleeps from the machines. We made our way back to the ward where my visitors were waiting. My sister had brought me a white polar bear teddy. They stayed a long time talking, watching telly, when it was time to go I walked with them to the top of the stairs just outside the ward. I then went back to my room and waited to wave them goodbye through the window. I then got ready for bed and my Mum read me a story. When Mum finished the story she sat with me for a while. At this point I was anxious and scared, I got quite upset, Mum comforted me and then my Dad came back and gave me a big hug to calm me down.

The next morning I woke up fairly early and while the rest of the ward was having breakfast and because I couldn’t have anything to eat before my op, my Mum took me for a bath. When I’d had my bath the anaesthetist came to talk to me. Not long after that a nurse came and put some special cream on my hands that numbed them so the injection the anaesthetist was to give me didn’t hurt. As my operation was scheduled for around dinner time I had the whole morning to wait. The little girl I mentioned before, Amy, was due to have her operation before mine in the early morning.

When it became time for Amy to go to the operating theatre there was a call made to the nurses’ office, saying Amy’s operation had been cancelled as a boy had been rushed in to have an emergency operation. This operation ran over into the time I was supposed to go down for my operation so mine was a hour or so late. When the porters eventually came to take me it was 1-30pm. I remember this vividly as Neighbours was just about to start and I was really mad, because I thought I’d waited long enough so I didn’t see that another 20 minutes would matter. I can’t remember much of what happened after that.

The next thing I remember was waking up in intensive-care, the first things I saw were my Mum and Dad’s faces. Surprisingly, I can remember quite a lot of the time I spent in intensive-care, over the last 5 years the memory has become less vivid but it’s still all there. One of the worst memories of being in there was whenever I moved to try to get comfy I’d become very sick and the nurse would had to draw the sick out of my stomach with a syringe that was attached to a tube that went into my stomach. Another thing I can remember quite vividly was a time when I was very thirsty and I asked for a drink, but the nurse said I couldn’t have one as it would make me sick. But I wanted a drink so I kept asking. In the end the nurse said I could have an ice-cube to suck, I was really pleased. But they had to wrap it in gauze so my Mum could hold it while I sucked it. After I’d finished the ice-cubes I had a sudden thought, there would be some water left in the bottom of the cup, I asked if I could have it. My Mum found this funny, I could still be cheeky even in intensive-care. These are the most vivid memories I have of being in intensive-care, the rest isn’t very clear. The days merged into each other as I

I recall next, the day I came out of intensive-care, it was the Saturday after my operation so I’d been in there nearly 3 days. They had removed all the machines and tubes from me except for the tube that went in through my nose and into my stomach. When the porters came to take me back to the ward one of the nurses did the stupidest thing, instead of letting the porters or the other nurse lift me on to the trolley she asked my Dad if he would. She then told me to put my arm around his neck. Normally this would have been alright but as I’d just had open-heart surgery it was a foolish thing to do. When I tried to put my arm around Dad’s neck I had an awful pain run through me, especially in my chest.

Anyway, just as we were getting ready to leave intensive-care my headmaster came to see me, he had a massive bunch of yellow flowers and a box full of things from my class. When we got down to the ward Mum opened the box for me. It had a joke book they had made, each child had written a joke to be put in, and it had a massive card. At the time I didn’t have much energy so Mum just read me a few and then talked to Mr. Keenan.
Later in the day I had other visitors, my auntie, uncle, cousin and sister. While we were sat talking we realised it was extremely hot, my uncle touched the radiator, it was absolutely boiling hot. We went and touched another radiator, this one was barely warm.’ So Mum told the nurse. After a lot of umm-ing and ahh-ing they decided it would be best if they moved me, so they put me in the space opposite as nobody was there. When we had settled down again Nicola (my sister) and Kate (my cousin) gave me a card each, they had swirly patterns on them. They’d made the cards themselves, I was really pleased with them. The next time they came to visit they’d made lots more of these cards to stick around my bed to brighten it up.

The next five days went very quickly. I had lots of visitors. One visitor I remember particularly well was a man whom I had never met before in my life. He was a regular visitor to the ward, he came every week to cheer the children up. He sat and talked to me for a long time and the thing that cheered me up the most was when he showed me how to make an origami bird. He also made other animals, it was really good. I suppose I remember this because I thought at the time how wonderfully kind this man was, giving up his time to cheer me up.

Most people would think that the whole experience in hospital would be a horrible and frightening experience. But to me it wasn’t like that, I’d been in hospital so many times before that it didn’t really bother me. I’m not saying I wasn’t frightened I’m just saying that, to me, it wasn’t a horrible experience. Parts of it weren’t very nice like when they took the tube out of my stomach through my nose. I could feel it coming up my throat and out of my nose, it made me sick. Other times like when I kept being sick, as whenever I ate anything I was sick. I think the first thing I kept down was a meal from McDonalds, as the hospital food was awful.

By Sarah Rathburn