Saturday, December 8, 2012

My Emeline

Note: This is WAY overdue! This post has been sitting in the hopper for months! Better late than never?

We're six weeks post surgery and well into normal life--whatever 'normal' life is with two small girls--and I have yet to write about how this whole ordeal of open-heart surgery affected big sister.

A few weeks before surgery we began reading some books I had checked out from the library about hospitals and surgery. I found these to be most appropriate for Emeline: Franklin Goes to the Hospital by Paulette Bourgeois and Going to the Hospital by Vic Parker. The former addresses the emotional aspects of operations in story form while the latter supplied her with vocabulary for the experience and real-life pictures. Neither addressed the subject as though the reader's sibling were undergoing surgery, but Emeline grasped the difference.

Emeline slowly processed her sister's condition, upcoming surgery, and subsequent recovery in heart-wrenching yet beautifully intimate moments. Before surgery while playing or coloring or having a snack Emeline would mention "Sylvie's broken heart." These seemingly random comments were so precious to me as I was able to watch her process through this Big Idea. We talk about it for a few minutes and then she'd happily go back to whatever she was doing. Then Aunt Chandra and Uncle Alex came down to stay with her during our Pre-Op day at the hospital and through the first few days of recovery. Emeline had so much fun baking cupcakes and swimming but her mind still wanted to make sense of this experience. She would become quiet and make statements like "Sylvie is at the hospital" and "Sylvie isn't sick anymore." One day while playing, everything was Eme and Mommy. One night she asked Shawn, "Daddy, where's Mommy and Sylvie?" Again they talked through the familiar conversation. She replied, "They don't need to stay at the hospital. They need to come home!"

The first time she saw Sylvie in the hospital I held her and she about cried. Of course we had covered up Sylvie's chest, but the nasal cannula, beeping machines, and a non-responsive sister was overwhelming. After a few calming words from me, she settled down and finally said, "Hi, Sylvie Syrup!" with her classic spunk. And then, Sylvie turned her head toward Emeline and tried to open her eyes. I still tear up thinking about that moment. Fittingly, we then hung up the 'Sylvie Syrup' flower Emeline made for her.

Each night Shawn or I came home to play with Emeline, have dinner, and put her to bed. After being emotionally drained and physically exhausted from a full day at the hospital, frankly, I wasn't sure how I would make it through a few hours before bed time. Two year olds are full of energy and opinions; opinions that typically stray from what they need. But, she was so happy to see me, and I was so happy to see her, we literally laughed our way to bed time. What a treat.

Visiting the hospital became a normal part of her day and we found fun things to do. Red wagon rides, throwing pennies into the wishing pool, "working" in her Elmo coloring book at her "office" (a bedside table and a swivel chair--almost like Daddy's office!), eating al fresco on the Ronald McDonald House patio, and trying out all the toys in the Heart Center play room.

I'm so proud of how Emeline weathered Sylvie's ten day stay in the hospital. Surgery turned her life upside down, but she didn't 'act out' against anyone or anything. She began to understand there are others in the world who need help and care. For instance, for the first time, she volunteered specific prayers for others. On the night after Sylvie threw up and began refusing to eat and take her medication, Emeline prayed that, "Sylvie would keep her food down." Later, when we were home and Sylvie was fussy because of cutting teeth, Emeline would stop what she was doing, come over and sing her a lullaby or find her a toy. If she didn't like the first toy, she'd find her another.

Now, of course, as we have returned to normalcy I'd be lying if I painted the picture that life is all giggles and sharing and precious prayers. It's not. But I'm so thankful for how well Emeline responded to little sister's surgery and how we aren't dealing with any long-term, difficult, surgery-specific after-effects. I'm convinced we can attribute this to the many, many prayers said for us.

I'll say it again: there is still so much to be thankful for.

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