I woke on the morning of our ninth baby’s first birthday with a mile-long smile and a curled list of things to do. I’d have to break out the heavy machinery like the stand mixer and a stiff resolve. The day was significant. It was the last first birthday devoted to one of our children. The birthday candle wax flows and pools, cooling into a seal forever binding baby days in the past.
It was a busy day marked by other firsts. The debut snow of the season fell over night. Everyone cooed to the baby how it snowed on his birthday—so special! It wasn’t much, but it was enough to whiten the grass and inspire me to play Christmas music as I drove the older kids to school. We sang loudly, badly, and obeyed all those Christmasy commands to be as merry as possible. After the school drop-off, the little ones and I returned home to make cakes.
The morning went well. I decided to make chocolate cupcakes first. They’re quick and easy, a good place to start when the flour will be flying for hours on end. As I stood at the counter reading the recipe, my heart started racing. Then it abruptly stopped and picked up a normal rhythm again. I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation two years ago, but it’s mild and it had been a long time since I felt any symptoms. People can go in and out of a-fib. I thought it was odd, but didn’t feel pain. I continued to measure, mix, and fend off requests for batter testing and bowl licking. But throughout the day, my heart would feel fluttery. I could feel beats skipping, recovering. Later, I would try to form words to describe how my heart was behaving. Floopy? Flusterifical? Skiptastic? There were no words.
I managed to churn out a pile of 30 chocolate cupcakes. Then I forced myself to rest. I felt okay, overall. I had no pain. The episodes weren’t continual. Added up, they only stole about 3 minutes of the entire day. The snow melted and blue skies returned by afternoon. My plan was to pick up the kids from school, then bake a two-layed cake. That night, I’d decorate everything so I could enjoy the baby’s party the next day. As I drove to school, I noticed my arms felt tingly. Then, my face, around my mouth. I knew the sensation. I needed to concentrate on taking deep breaths, but it seemed the more I thought about breathing, the more tingly I felt. I parked and waited. My heart did some more floops. The tingling subsided. The kids arrived and I pointed the van toward home. The tingling returned as I drove. When I was a few blocks away from our house, the tingling became severe. The top of my head felt like a rubber band was cutting off circulation. In retrospect, I should have pulled over, but I didn’t want to alarm the kids. People are stupid when they are in denial and oxygen isn’t optimal. I prayed. And we got home.
I lurched onto the porch. My teenaged daughter opened the door. I told her I didn’t feel well, then I leaned on her. I leaned on her! I’ve never leaned on her. This alarmed both of us. She said, “I’m calling dad!” One of my teenaged sons started googling symptoms. He barked out questions, I answered. “Is your face numb?” No! He groaned in frustration.
“55,000 results at this symptom checker!” I told him not to worry. I told all of them not to worry. But I was worried. Was I going to die on my baby’s first birthday? My husband walked in the door and said he was taking me to the hospital. He drove and I tingled. My heart pounded and I prayed and prayed and prayed. I prayed that if I was going to die, could it wait for tomorrow so my baby’s birthday and my kick-the-bucket day wouldn’t share a calendar square? That would be best. I am not afraid to die. I just want to do it when it’s convenient and everyone is strong and much, much older. Oh, and not on anyone’s birthday. Thanks, God.
When you walk into an ER and say the word heart, you don’t have to read magazines. I was put on monitors right away and taken to the back where doctors looked at the screen. They could see some extra heartbeats, but no dangerous arrhythmias. The tingling faded, but I began to shiver. The doctor asked if I was cold. He left and returned with a heated blanket and that’s when I had my first flashback as he tucked it around my body.
A year ago, on that day, warm white blankets were piled on me as I shivered after my final c-section. It was the same hospital. Upstairs, down a few corridors, around corners, through security doors, I met him. My baby. My last.
My baby was across town as I had an EKG. I have no idea what he was doing as my blood was drawn. My heart decided to behave perfectly. Normal sinus rhythm, they noted. I recounted what happened that day. I said the word flooping. They nodded as if they knew what that meant and ordered a monitor for me to wear. Every heartbeat would be counted and measured for 24 hours.
While waiting for a cardiology tech to arrive, the lullaby song played over the hospital’s loudspeaker.
A baby had just been born and I burst into tears. Happy birthday, little one! Paramedics brought in many people that night. Grim family members clutched disposable coffee cups. Doctors rushed around in that place where souls leave while meanwhile, upstairs, down a few corridors, around corners, and through security doors new souls arrive. When our baby was born, they played the song. The whole hospital heard, including the ER. God, I was happy when I knew the song was played for him. He’s here! He’s here!
Lullaby, go to sleep. Not yet, they pleaded downstairs.
Because there is no convenient time, no clear calendar space, no sacred day kept safe from sorrow. Nobody is ever old enough or strong enough, but we can be unafraid. I believe with every beat of my skiptastic, currently behaving, heart.
(my results returned normal)