Wednesday, February 9, 2022


He holds the cold metal of the stethoscope against her chest for just a beat too long. A nearly imperceptible wrinkle forms on his brow as he leans her forward, asks her to inhale deeply and places the metal disk on her back. He returns the stethoscope to her chest and listens twice more as I feel my blood pressure rising. 

He hears a murmur, I think to myself. The idea rises quickly from deep in my subconscious, as if a memory is being dusted off from long ago. 

“She has a murmur,” the anesthesiologist breaks the silence, confirming my unconscious prediction. “You know about it, right? You’ve had it worked up?” His tone feels accusatory. This is the first time we’ve met and we are mere minutes away from him bringing a plastic mask of chemicals up to my 12-year-old’s nostrils and putting her fully under.

I stumble over my words. “I think I knew about it. I mean, I have three kids and I seem to recall our pediatrician mentioning one of them had a murmur. It was years ago. I think it was probably her.”

I sound like an idiot. He’s looking at me like I certainly am one. What kind of mother doesn’t remember this type of information? 

A young one. A tired one, perhaps? An overwhelmed one. One who is not sleeping. One with multiple kids. One who received the information more than a decade ago, when the days passed in a haze.

 “Anesthesiologists don’t like being the ones to discover murmurs,” he tells me and I suddenly feel like I owe him an apology. “Are you sure her murmur is benign?” he queries. 

“Well, umm, I think so,” I stumble. “I remember our doctor saying there was a murmur but it wasn’t worrisome. I have a murmur. My mom does too,” I offer. Panic is rising and I desperately wish that my husband were by my side.

“So you’ve never had any issues with your heart then?” he presses, now addressing my daughter. “Do you exercise?”   

The questioning continues before he finally declares, “If she were 4 years old, I would cancel the surgery. But since she’s twelve, and you’re sure the murmur is benign, it’s probably fine.”

Did I say somewhere that I was sure it was benign?, I wonder. This is coming at me too fast. I want everything to slow down for just a minute so I can think straight. 

“I am going to be OCD about it and give her a dose of antibiotics while she’s under,” he continues.

OCD about what?, I think. His use of the term OCD as a verb causes me to bristle internally, but it isn’t until later that I even realize I am upset by it. Right now I’m too lost in his commentary to process it. I’m not sure why my daughter needs antibiotics for her heart but I can’t think quickly enough to yell for everyone to please just slow down and explain what exactly is going on.

“I could call her pediatrician,” I suggest feebly, “Just to make sure they have a murmur documented in her chart from when she was a toddler?” The memory is still foggy with cobwebs but I know the child with the murmur was small when it was detected. I want to dial my husband, see if he remembers, have him weigh in on this situation.

The anesthesiologist ignores me and announces again, “Since you’re sure it’s benign, we’ll just do the antibiotics as a precautionary measure.”

Did I say it was benign again? Why is this being put on me like this? I’m her mother, not a medical expert. 

My daughter is listening intently, her own anxiety rising. She is attuned to my cues and I am trying to emit calm, which is so far from what I am actually feeling. I don’t know how to ask for what I need. It’s coming at me too fast.

The next thing I know, we’ve been ushered into the room next door and the mask is up against my daughter’s face. She is counting down, starting at the number 13, because she is who she is and declared she wanted to do things differently than the patients before her.

The oral surgeon appears in the room. He is tall and friendly, and I feel a wash of relief to see him again. We met a couple weeks ago and he won us over instantly with his kindness. He smiles and asks me how we are and his expression shows surprise when I mention the sudden wash of anxiety. The anesthesiologist relays over my head that he “discovered” a murmur that he had “not been made aware of” and that’s why I am feeling this way. 

Again, I’m a clunky piece in this puzzle, my presence in the room feels expected but not welcome. I’m asked questions, but my answers are unhelpful and therefore ignored. I don’t like this feeling. I'm overcome by the pressure to protect my daughter with every ounce of my being, yet I don’t understand enough of what is happening in this situation to know how best to be her advocate.

There isn’t time to explain all this to the surgeon, but at least I feel a small amount of relief with his presence. It’s like the ally I’ve been longing for has entered the room, finally a person who realizes this procedure might be hard for me too. He reassures me and I decide to be buoyed in the moment by his calm. 

I can tell he is distracting me from what is taking place in the chair, and I am grateful for it. My only other experience sending a child under was with my other daughter, and it was not a positive one. I felt haunted by the flashing memory of watching my three-year-old’s eyes roll back in her head as she went to sleep. I don’t ever want to see that again. 

In the chair before me, she’s counting down again. Thirteen, twelve, eleven…She makes it to zero for a second time and I’m unnerved by how long it is taking. I hear the anesthesiologist comment about how the mask is probably too small for her. The machines alarm on two separate occasions and no one tells me what it means. It’s in the middle of her 4th countdown that her voice finally falls silent. I take one quick glance at her and see that her eyes are closed before I am ushered out of the room to wait in my car. 

Hot tears sting my cheeks. I feel terrified and horrified in equal measure. I don’t even know what just happened. Should I have called off the procedure? Will she be okay? How will I live with myself if something goes wrong? I’m so stupid. How could I have let this happen? I dial my husband at work, and when the line connects, he is greeted by silence followed by a loud sob. Panic grips him as he fears the worst. I try to tell him what happened, beg him to remember a benign murmur conversation with our pediatrician from ages past. He thinks he recalls one, but it was long ago.

He has to go so I sit in the parking lot of the office alone, listening for sirens. I tell myself she is safe and okay, as long as I don’t hear sirens. I hear one wail in the distance, and I exhale with relief when I see it is a police car, not an ambulance, coming to usher my daughter away. 

A mere forty-five minutes have passed when a nurse startles me at my car window. It’s too soon. Something’s happened, I worry. She appears calm, but I’m too riled up now to not fear the worst. 

“It’s done! You can come back and see her now.” 

She's alive! It's the first conscious thought I have. Relief pours through me. The words had never sounded sweeter. She made it through! Her heart must be ok!

I practically run to her chair where she lays reclined. I grip her hand and gaze at her beautiful face, cheeks puffy and mouth overflowing with bloody gauze. I know for sure she's fully awake when she makes one of her sarcastic quips. All I feel is relief.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

I’m so happy to report that my daughter IS ok. She’s safe and healthy and all went well, procedure-wise. She had four teeth pulled. It felt like it would be fairly routine. I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal, which might explain why the whole situation came upon me like a blindside. Perhaps one day I will look back and think my reaction sounds silly or extreme, but not today. As I step away from this experience, I’m able to see it clearer for what it was and I am working to extend kindness to myself. 

Yesterday was traumatizing. I felt it in my body, a practice I am working so hard to learn to do. It feels good to write it out. I was ill-prepared for the murmur curveball, and the arguably poor bedside manner of the anesthesiologist. I experienced undo pressure to make a call regarding the health of my daughter’s heart. I wasn’t foolish or stupid, a narrative that I often assign to myself. I was handed a burden that should not have been placed on me in that way.

I let myself come apart last night in my husband’s arms. The stresses of the day released like waves. I was not made to carry what I was asked to carry, and my body told me so. I'm learning to listen to it, and validate my experience. It’s a long journey and I have much more growing to do. But there’s progress.  


  1. Wow, every mama shook to the core reading this. I’m sorry for that awful experience. Having walked many medical roads with kiddos, I got teary several times reading this.

    1. Ok so it wasn’t just me then. 😭 Thanks for validating.

  2. Gosh, this made me feel terrified too! I feel for you! I struggle to remember which of my kids has a murmur too and which has allergies... it's not just you.


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