Long ago, in a hospital far, far away…
A beautiful baby girl was born. Tiny, with a full head of dark hair, our Ashley completed our family. We knew she’d be our last kiddo–and perhaps we spoiled her a little. Ok, a lot. But she was easy to spoil.
At her four week checkup our general practitioner noticed our baby had an irregular heartbeat, a slight murmur, he said, and sent us to a pediatric heart specialist in Amarillo. By the time we were able to see Dr. Jones, Ashley was almost six weeks old. He diagnosed her as being in the early stages of heart failure and immediately sent us to the hospital.
What followed was a controlled panic fueled by guilt. Our baby seemed quite healthy to us. How was it we hadn’t noticed the slight blue cast to her lips when she cried? Well, she really didn’t cry much, only when she was hungry, needed a diaper changed, or was being bathed. She was so easy to comfort.
On December 8, 1980, I sat in a hospital room at St. Anthony’s hospital in Amarillo, Texas. As I nursed my baby girl, television programming was interrupted to inform us that John Lennon had been murdered outside his apartment building in New York. Dr. Jones walked in the room at that moment to find me crying, and he sat with me as we watched the shocking news.
Dr. Jones finally told me he’d made arrangements for Ashley to be transferred to a hospital in Houston where she’d most likely be undergoing surgery to repair a ventricular septal defect. So, just before Christmas, Studly, my mom, our son Jason, Ashley, and I flew to Houston.
A great deal of testing and waiting, waiting and testing ensued. Our poor baby was poked and prodded and hooked to tiny electrodes. She remained happy throughout. In fact, the only thing she protested was bath time, and she hated that with a passion. At midnight before her scheduled surgery I was instructed that she could have nothing to eat. Did I mention earlier that I was a nursing mother?
The two of us managed to cope through the night with the use of a pacifier and lots of snuggling, but by 10 a.m. I’m not sure which of us was more miserable. My baby was hungry and crying. My breasts were swollen like two overripe cantaloupes. Studly kept pestering the nurses about our situation. Then Mom went in search of someone who could help.
At noon I hefted a swollen melon under each arm and marched to the nurses’ desk. I told the nurse on duty that our little one had been scheduled for surgery, but that no one had come and that little Ashley was really hungry. Her suggestion–perhaps she could suck on a lollipop. I lost it. In my imagination I took one breast and squirted milk right in her eye. In reality I blubbered something about boobs and infants and being scared and why wouldn’t someone do something.
The nurse apologized and went immediately to find an answer. Within a few minutes we had a doctor at our door. The delay had resulted from a split decision. Some of the surgical staff wanted to operate. Others wanted to try medication to regulate Ashley’s heartbeat to see if the defect would close on its on and reevaluate in six months. At that point, I didn’t care, I just wanted to feed my baby.
In the end, there was no surgery. The doctors put Ashley on a form of digoxin and she thrived. Every year we went for heart check ups, all of which were great, and eventually there was no trace of a defect. Hooray for split decisions!
Our Ashley is 34 years old today. She is bright, beautiful, sassy, stubborn, and the mother of three of my beautiful grandbabies. Sometimes when I look at her I still picture her tiny face just as it looked so many years ago, watching me as I held her close. She’s grown up, but she’s still my little baby girl. Love you, Ashley.
Peace, Baby Girl.
P.S. Ashley your gift is going to be late.