We waited two months for BC Children's Hospital to call us with an appointment date. Then, when we got that, we waited another two months for the actual appointment. All that time we reassured our daughter that the pediatric cardiologist just wanted to do some tests, and if the doctors had thought the situation serious she would have been tested straight away. Still, if one is eleven years old with an imagination as big as a rising hot air balloon, and one hears the words 'tests on your heart', one is bound to be a little nervous as the date for those tests approaches.
Our daughter had fainted at school back in January and scared her teacher by the jerky motions of her faint. She had not swooned or simply dropped to the floor. She had rocked backwards, then forwards, then dropped shaking onto the floor. We took her to our family doctor who decided to run a few tests on her blood, an ECG, blood pressure, etc. While everything to do with her blood was fine, the ECG came back with an indication suggesting an enlarged left ventricle and a request for an appointment at Children's was dispatched from our clinic.
I knew our girl had been thinking about her appointment because the day before, when her brother spoke to her about it, she had a little speech prepared for him, "Oh yeah, they are just going to do an Echo test on me - that's a sort of ultrasound for my heart and stuff, and then another ECG and then we'll meet with the cardiologist. Mom said if it had been really serious I would have been sent to Children's right away, so this is just sort of routine stuff to make sure I'm okay." All delivered with exaggerated cheerfulness.
The day arrived, clear and sunny for a drive into Vancouver. We had to leave by 7:30 a.m. to account for traffic, and on the advice of our friend Kim, whose son is a cardiac patient having had a couple of major surgeries at Children's, to find a parking spot. Traffic was heavy and we finally pulled into the Children's Hospital parking lot off 28th Street, also on the advice of the experienced Kim, at around 9:30 in plenty of time for our 10:00 appointment. I had read the letter sent from the hospital and had preregistered the day before, so there was no need to wait in line for a hospital blue card. The cardiac unit already had it.
We found our way to the cardiac unit and as we walked down the hallway I noticed artwork everywhere I looked, some of it done by children, and some done for children by adult artists. The cardiac unit was full of colourful vinyl covered sofas, toys, more wonderful artwork, a large television showing one of the Shrek franchise films, and of course families. Children, all much younger than our long-legged daughter, played in the toy corner. Parents waited. Doctors and technicians called family after family. I attempted to read my book. Our turn came and we went with our daughter into the Echo room. My husband and I were seated on our choice of rocking chair, exercise ball, or regular chair. Our daughter was hooked up and we settled in for a sleepy half hour in the darkened room while Disney's Enchanted, our daughter's choice of movie played on the little TV screen mounted on the wall across from her. My husband and I watched the computer screen from time to time, recognizing valves and arteries, but not much else inside our daughter's chest and tummy.
When the Echo test was done we went out to the waiting room again. At one point two young women came around with a cart full of board games offering to play with any child. There were no takers, but I was impressed with the thoughfulness of whomever had come up with that idea. Shortly after, we were directed into an ECG room, but the machinery was having static issues, so we went into another. The ECG was a quick test and we went back out into the waiting room and listened to, and shared smiles with, families speaking various languages to their children. I felt sympathy for any family for whom language was a barrier to understanding what was needed for their children. However, efficiency and kindness are paramount in Children's hospital, it seems. We never had to wait long at all. Soon, a short-ish woman in what appeared to be her mid to late sixties with a British accent rounded off by many years in Canada, black framed glasses and a friendly smile called us in to her office for a consult. She began by asking our daughter to describe her fainting spell, examined our daughter's chest and stomach, and had her to do a few exercises with a blood pressure cuff on. When the examination was over the doctor sat down again and said to our daughter, "Well, I think you have a healthy heart."
Our daughter has an expressive face, but her whole body expressed her relief at the doctor's diagnosis. "Really?" she exclaimed.
"Yes. Why? Did you think there was something wrong with you?" said the doctor, smiling.
"YES!" And we all laughed with her.
We then asked the cardiologist why the original ECG had shown an enlarged left ventricle. She explained that ECGs were only one piece of the puzzle when it came to the heart. Our daughter and one of our sons has a chest that is slightly concave in the middle. She gave us a medical term for it which went in one ear and out the other, but apparently the shape of our daughter's chest moves things around a bit inside giving the impression on the ECG of an enlarged left ventricle.
After a few more questions on our side and some serious advice to our daughter from the fit-looking cardiologist with the Ironman Timex watch to get plenty of exercise, and also to be careful of rising too quickly after a long time sitting, we were on our way, an hour earlier than predicted. We went downstairs to the Second Cup cafe to celebrate our daughter's good health with a treat.
As we drove to our next stop, I felt so thankful. I thought of all the children for whom the news had been and would not be so good. I thought also, as I had over the past few months of waiting for our appointment, of my beloved sister in law, Lea who had developed pulmonary hypertension by her late twenties and had undergone a heart and double lung transplant in 1992 which she survived only a few short months. I knew that great advancements had been made in the field of cardiology since Lea's surgery, however, and silently wished everyone I had met in the Children's Hospital cardiology unit that day success with whichever treatment their child might need, from the bottom of my blessedly healthy heart.
I didn't take the photo above. I got if from the BC Children's Hospital website. It is however, just how the entrance to the heart centre looked on the day of our visit.