At approximately 4am on October 29, 1995, Dr Derek said, ‘I’m sorry, Meg just died’.
I don’t recall what I said, but I vividly remember every detail of that moment seeing her, in her bed in Melbourne’s Royal Children’s hospital Intensive Care Unit. It was if my mind took a snapshot of that exact moment when Meg, my first child left this world and my life changed forever.
And like an old album, every now and then, I dust off my mind and remember.
I’ve only shared the memory of that early morning with a couple of close friends over the years, not necessarily because of the pain recalling that traumatic time caused, it was more about how people would react. I would see pity in their eyes and whilst well intentioned, I simply didn’t want to feel like that person.
I’m not sure why I’ve decided to write about it here, now. Maybe it’s because her ‘anniversary’ recently passed, or maybe it’s because I simply need to write about a time that had a profound effect on my life.
Meg was born with a severe heart condition known as a Tetralogy of Fallot: a combination of 4 defects, three of which included Tricuspid Atresia, Sub-Pulminary Stenois and a Ventricular Septal Defect.
Her prognosis was not positive, however cardiologists advised that her condition could be managed with a shunt, followed by intense medication with a view to perform an operation know as a Fontan when she reached 2 years of age.
At 6 weeks old, surgeons performed the shunt operation, and in the 8 months following, Meg did quite well despite the daily medications and regular visits to the hospital. She was on drug called Warfarin, which causes thinning of the blood and her doses needed to be closely monitored.
Despite the traumatic hospital visits that required injections and echocardiograms, she was a happy baby who seemed to have an uncanny ability to draw people to her. For example, if we were out shopping, people often commented. I recall one lady smiling as she walked toward Meg. When she reached us she said to me, “I’m sorry if this sounds strange, but I simply had to come over and see your baby, it’s as if she’s calling me…”.
It did sound strange, yet this happened often. Meg was not any more beautiful than any other baby, but she had something about her. I sometimes thought she knew her time on earth was short and therefore radiated this, which drew people to her.
Due to her condition, she did not reach the usual milestones. She did not crawl, nor was she able to roll easily as young babies do. She could however sit upright once we had helped her to the position. She loved to just sit and either watch me doing whatever needed doing, or just playing with her favourite toys.
Sadly though, her time away from ICU was short-lived. At 8 months old she went into heart failure, which revealed a shocking diagnosis: mitral valve regurgitation that required immediate open heart surgery to replace the valve. To say this was a major setback is an understatement, this diagnosis was catastrophic for it meant there was little chance of the future Fontan operation being performed. However the medical team did not reveal this to us at the time, I guess it served no purpose, for whilst this diagnosis left little hope for Meg’s future, there was still a fragment of hope that we all, medical team included, needed to hold onto.
The following day Meg underwent the 6-hour operation to replace her Mitral Valve. The risk involved in performing this procedure on someone so young was high, and there are no words to describe the emotional turmoil we felt during those 6 hours.
Later, after being told all had gone well, we were taken to see her in the ICU. And whilst the medical team had prepared us for what to expect on seeing Meg post surgery, I saw past the numerous tubes and beeping machines that enveloped her, and simply saw my sweet, beautiful baby.
She spent the next few weeks in ICU, gaining strength with each passing day. And in the months following her surgery, she began show small signs of improvement and there was a glimmer of hope that she may grow into a beautiful woman, whose life would be filled with love and laughter.
This was not to be.
On October 28, 1995 I noticed Meg’s colour was bluer than usual. Her breathing was very laboured and she was not able to sit upright. I have vivid memories of that morning and my reaction. It’s been said a mother’s instinct is intensely strong and now, when I look back, it was that instinct that delayed my trip back to the hospital. As I sat on the lounge room floor nursing her and looking into her beautiful blue eyes, I knew. I knew if I took her back to the hospital, she wouldn’t come home.
But I made the call and Dr Fong said he’d send an ambulance, but I decided to drive her myself.
On arrival, she was re-admitted into ICU and placed on a ventilator. Throughout that day she fought hard, yet in the early hours of the following morning we received a call in our hospital accommodation. I will never forget those six words.
“Jen, come quickly, Meg’s taken a dive…’
Strange wording, yet the team in ICU had become friends, with staff adoring Meg. It could be said the wording was not professional, but it didn’t matter to us as we hurriedly dressed and raced downstairs to the ICU.
Walking into her room was like walking into a nightmare.
The floor to the left side of her bed was smeared with the remains of a blood bag that had been accidentally dropped. Dr Derek stood beside her bed, the frayed edges of his jeans stained red from remnants of the broken bag. The buttons on his white, collared shirt had been incorrectly fastened, making his shirt look oddly ‘uneven’. He’d been the doctor on call when the buzzers went off, dressed quickly, and as a result misplaced buttons.
Again, I do not know why or how I’ve remembered this tragic time in great detail, as I wrote above, it really is as if my mind took a snapshot and it’s now stored in my memory forever.
Across from Derek was a female doctor I’d not seen before, she was frantically working on Meg and I could hear her saying, ‘fuck, I cant find it…’. Alongside her there were a number of other medical staff calmly, yet methodically adjusting tubes and checking monitors.
I walked around to the right side of her bed, gently kissed her forehead and placed my mouth to her ear. I clearly remember my words. “It’s okay Meggie, you can go if you need to, I’ll understand…”. I do not know why I said those words, and for a very long time after her death, I blamed myself. If only I’d asked her to fight harder, would she have still been here today?
I now realise that was not the case. I loved her deeply and maybe deep down in my heart saying those words was some kind of acceptance. I don’t know, I really don’t. I only know that my heart broke into a million pieces when a few minutes later, Dr Derek spoke those six words I’d never wanted to hear.
At that moment, my world fell apart. And in the months that followed, the grief I felt was indescribable. But the old adage, time heals, is true.
A few months after she died, I remember reading a story about a man who’d lost his teenage daughter. His words resonated and they are words I have carried with me and lived by.
“When tragedy strikes your life you can be one of two things: bitter or better. I choose better”.
Today, 24 years later, I have put the pieces of my life back together, knowing I am a better person for having had that beautiful soul in my life. Meg taught me many things and I’m so, so grateful I had the honour of being her mother.
Remembering Meg: a gentle, wise and magical soul…
Note: There may not be many who do read this post as I lost all of my followers last year due to a massive faux pas when trying to upgrade my blog. But it’s not about who reads it, it’s more about documenting digitally, knowing it will be here when I need it.