Every night last week between the hours of 10pm and 1am Luna woke-up screaming with what seemed to be nightmares. The fact that a 14 month old could have anything other than sweet baby dreams is a disturbing thought. Luna's screams were not a dull, low, too-sick-to-cry-cries, but a real I've-just-witnessed-something-horrible-scream. Each night I was able to console her, and each night she easily drifted back to sleep. One night however I couldn't settle Luna down. I brought her into our bed-hugging and holding her-but she just stared off-her face not looking 14 months old, but rather looking much, much older. Wiser yes, but too old for her barely beyond 1 year of age.
I tried snapping her out of her haze by tickling and saying silly things, all the while in the back of my head I couldn't ignore something Luna's cardiologist had told me recently; and something that I remember hearing at the beginning of our journey, when we first learned of Luna's special heart back in October of 2007:
Heart kids have a higher chance of developing behavioral and emotional problems. It is unclear why this is, but studies have pointed to the babies being on the bypass machine as a possible culprit (basically the machine that does the breathing and keeps their heart beating while their tiny thumpers are being worked on).
Thinking about all this reminded me of an interview I listened to a while back on Fresh Air with the actor Mark Ruffalo. During the interview, Terry Gross, the host speaks to the actor about his break back into Hollywood. Ruffalo, while still in his early 30's was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Luckily for everyone his surgery was successful, the tumor is gone, and he is now a healthy actor and father again. But during the interview Ruffalo explains what a long journey it was. The biggest hurdle for him was the anesthesia. He opined that for every hour one is under anesthesia, it's like losing a month of your life. His brain surgery was a long one, almost 10 hours; and once he came to, it was like he had to learn everything all over again.
I heard the interview just by happenstance while I was pregnant with Luna, and it was one that would loop through my mind-and still does-for days on end. If an adult feels he loses a month of life for every hour under anesthesia, what happens to an infant who is just 3 days old when she goes under for 4-6 hours during her heart surgery? and then another at six months? Add in her two cardiac catheters and Luna has been under anesthesia close to 14 hours, which brings her back to 0 months in anesthesia recovery land.
The interview and thoughts of anesthesia, bypass machine and behavior issues swirled though my head as I laid on the bed with my strangely despondent toddler. After a half hour of Luna starring off into space, I finally carried her back to her crib where she slept peacefully for the rest of the night. The next night, and every night since she has slept, well, like a baby. A week later I relayed my thoughts to a fellow heart mama and good friend over dinner. I told her of Luna's horrific nightmares, expecting her eyes to widen with fear. Instead she just said, "Oh, my older son Preston had those. They were night terrors, but he completely outgrew them."
"Oh, your older son who is completely heart healthy who happens to also be whip smart and well behaved?", I responded.