05 November 2010

The perfect metaphor

Really, I have the perfect metaphor. Something is wrong with my heart. Literally. Something is wrong with my heart.

Okay, it might be pericarditis which technically is an inflammation around the sac that surrounds my heart, but it has everything to do with the beating of a heart. It protects the heart.

I have had tests this week. EKGs, blood work, ultrasounds. I had the first ever ultrasound of my heart, and there it was on the screen beating, pulsing, opening and closing the way a heart is apparently supposed to beat and pulse.

I wasn't prepared for the anxiety of the ultrasound. I wasn't prepared for the aliveness of it. The only ultrasounds I've had, of course, are of living and not living babies. This would be different, I thought. Of course, it's not a baby, it's a heart.

Oh, wait a minute, that's right, this is an ultrasound of a beating heart. And there it was. My heart beating, and all I could think of in that moment, as the technician was rubbing the gel over my chest and rubbing the probe over my heart was that This of course, is what a heart is supposed to do. Beat. Beat.

Why didn't I prepare myself better for that moment? For the memory of the not beating heart. For the technician in the room with the probe over my belly. Beat. Heart. Beat. Move.

I wasn't prepared for the memory of Grace's non-beating heart and for the contrast in size.

My heart, my heart looked nearly the size of a baby's head. Her heart was just the size of a plum, unmoved, floating in space.

"The opening and closing of your valve looks good," the technician said. "Thank you," I responded. I couldn't say anything else so I just turned away waiting for the test to be over, thinking of Grace, of her still heart, of my heart cracking into a million pieces. And I wanted to turn to the technician and say, tell me, do you see a hole? Can you see the cracks? Is that what you are looking for?

And suddenly I was terrified that she could look into my soul, and she would see the darkness.

Yes, something is wrong with my heart. Something is very wrong with my heart, I wanted to say. A child is missing. A child is gone. Can you see that with your probe?

The pericardium is the sac that surrounds the heart. It's function has three purposes. The first is to keep the heart contained; the second is to prevent the heart from overexpanding; the third is to limit the motion of the heart. My pericardium is enlarged. It is inflammed, and I can't help but wonder if it's function hasn't been tested too many times. What kind of sac could possibly contain my heart? What kind of sac could limit the motion of my heart. My heart has been cracked and sewed back together. It has a hole, and I don't believe that any kind of sac could prevent it from overexpanding.

You see, after I gave birth to Grace, my heart shriveled; it withered. It died. But then, I found Grace in the eyes of my other two children; I found Grace in their souls. And three years later I gave birth again and he came out eyes wide open and heart pounding hard. And in that moment, my heart grew again. It grew and grew and grew.

And in these last two weeks, as we have all suffered illness, my thirteen year old still managed to pass me in height. As he lay next to me shivering in bed, his body continued to grow, and my heart continued to grow in awe of him. And as the four year threw up in my lap, over and over again, I held his head and willed him better. I watched his body melt into mine, and I prayed over him again and again for health. And my heart grew.

And now the nine year old is sick. And tonight she laid in bed with me and wished for wellness. And I wished with her. And again, I could feel the pains in my chest, the crackling of my breathing, and I knew that still my heart was growing larger.

So, yes, I do have pericarditis, and yes, the sac is inflamed, and yes, my love spills out of that sac each day. And it continues to ache for the one lost child.

I imagine this inflammation will subside. I hope that the sac returns to its normal size, but I also know that the heart is never, ever the same.

I believe it can contract and expand. I believe that the love I feel for all my children will continue to grow. I believe my heart will always be inflamed. And I hope it never really stops.