Jenny’s Story Part 2 – Chuck’s Hands

(Continuing from Part 1 )

In July 2013, we were returning from a family holiday. We were in the car, trying to decipher the Google Maps instructions, and the phone rang. It was the hospital with a date for the operation to correct Jenny’s heart defect. It was going to be in five weeks, at the beginning of August. The holiday was truly over.

jenny0202The upcoming op permeated every thought. It was a factor in every decision. The doctors were clear about the risk of death. For Jenny’s operation, they said it was as low as 1%. They delivered this figure with a bucket-load of disclaimers, simultaneously trying to reassure us and brace us for the worst.

We learned about a charity called the Zak Scott Braveheart Foundation. Their purpose was to buy presents for children who had endured heart surgery. Zak was a brave young lad who had had a number of heart operations, but sadly died two weeks before his 15th birthday . The Foundation ran as per Zak’s wishes and survives on donations. It always makes me tear up when I think about them. At such a horrendous time in both a child and parent’s life, they are there to get the kid a present. So much love and caring.

Jenny took it in her stride. She was excited that she was going back to the hospital because of the toys in the waiting room. I tried several times to view things through her eyes. A sterile waiting room, bright lights, doctors prodding, needles, tests. Despite all this, she didn’t fear the place. It was easy to be inspired by her.

Friday August 9th. That was the date. The operation would take five hours, give or take.

She was admitted, and placed in her own room. The night before the operation was surreal. The anxiety, the tension, the fear were all there. The walls of the overheated room were closing in.

The surgeon had earlier taken us away for a chat. He’d described the operation to us, forming a heart with his hands. They were the largest hands I’d ever seen. I wondered how such huge hands would be able to do anything with such a tiny heart. He’d asked us to call him Chuck, and we did. He’s since become a legend in our eyes.

jennyfeature02The morning of the operation was a blur. We crammed in a lifetime of stress and tension into those hours. There was an issue with Jenny’s blood test that they wanted to check before going ahead. This caused an hour or two delay, to increase the already horrendous wait. Then they came for Jenny.

We’d been told beforehand that only one of us would be able to go down to the next stage with Jenny, to accompany her while anaesthetic was administered. Emma stepped in. I couldn’t have done it. How she managed I’ll never know. She was hurting too, but somehow she had something, something that I didn’t, that gave her the strength to go in. I waited outside the hospital, nauseous. Powerless.

Shortly afterwards, Emma came out. We hugged. She told me that Jenny had started giggling after receiving the anaesthetic. She had been hallucinating, seeing balloons in the ceiling. This splash of colour in an otherwise grey day came from Jenny herself. Typical of her to make us laugh at the worst of time.

Five hours. We had already decided that we would wander around the nearby Kelvingrove Art Gallery but that didn’t waste anywhere near enough time. Nothing could waste time. Every second was dragging its heavy boots through thick mud.

The thought that Jenny could die kept coming back. 99%, I kept telling myself. I didn’t want the phone to ring until five hours had passed. An early call couldn’t possibly bring good news.

I thought of Chuck’s huge hands. He’d told us that, because Jenny was a girl, he would endeavour to make the scar as low as possible, so as not to be so visible when she was older. Chuck could do that.

The phone rang. It was far too early and a number I didn’t recognise. Panic.

yorkhillNext to the hospital there is some limited accommodation for parents of patients, known as Ronald McDonald house. The call was from them, letting us know that we could stay in a room in one of their flats and come and collect the keys. This was another layer of support that the various organisations offered. Amazing, welcome support.

The flat had a room for us and a shared kitchen. We had a bathroom en suite. We accepted it gratefully but in a zombie state. We understandably weren’t ourselves.

Our daughters, Eve and Rachel, were with Emma’s parents. Eve was born two days before Jenny’s first birthday. Over the following couple of weeks, there were times when we didn’t get to see Eve & Rachel anywhere near as much as we would have liked. Another source of heartache and guilt. Emma’s parents went above and beyond the call of duty. They always have done – whether it was turning up during the night to look after children while I took Emma to hospital when she was in labour or in any other way imaginable. It was just what they did. What they do.

Five hours eventually crept up, and we’d headed back up to the hospital. In the room outside the ward, we sat, waiting restlessly. You sit there, waiting for someone to tell you something, not cause a fuss. It’s almost like something in your brain is telling you that things will be more likely to be successful if you’re respectful and quiet. You have to defer to their knowledge and hand over all your trust. What’s the alternative? So you wait and don’t complain. And wait….


Part 3 to follow.


  1. RosemarySzuster
    5 December 2015

    It was a very emotional time for our family, especially you and Emma, and you have portrayed it so well.

  2. KeriJones
    14 December 2015

    Tears in my eyes, I cant imagine how you must have felt during those 5 hours *hugs* xx

  3. 23 February 2016

    welling up, I can’t imagine how scared you were x

  4. 24 February 2016

    I just can’t imagine having to go through this. I worry constantly about something happening to my children and having to put their lives in someone else’s hand.

  5. 24 February 2016

    Sending prayers and virtual hugs, hope the op goes well. It’s lovely though that you are all receiving support that somehow alleviates this terrible time. Stories about children getting sick hits me right in the core.

  6. It is awful when your child goes for surgery isn’t it, my daughter had an op last year and it was the worse time of my life leaving her in the operating room. I can not imagine how awful those long five hours were for you both

  7. 24 February 2016

    I can’t imagine having to go through this! such an ordeal but such a great and honest post, thanks for sharing!

  8. 24 February 2016

    What a dreadful time for you all – I can’t imagine how awful it must’ve been for you to live through it.

  9. 24 February 2016

    What an inspirational little girl taking it in her stride. I can’t imagine being able to cope going through something like this with my kids. You guys are very strong parents. x

  10. 24 February 2016

    You have my heart in my mouth, what an ordeal it must have been for both you and Emma. I too don’t know where she got the strength but then again mothers are like that superbeings.

  11. 25 February 2016

    Jenny and Zac are an inspiration to us all, they have gone through so much pain and turmoil yet despite that they still remain positive and happy go lucky. Keeping my fingers crossed x

  12. 25 February 2016

    I have had two children have operations, both on their eyes and seeing them going into theatre is probably the most traumatic experience I have ever had. Those hours of waiting are horrendous but I am glad you were there to support each other and that charities stepped into help too

  13. 25 February 2016

    Having any children in hospital is so scary, especially when it involves such a crucial operation. I guess you never know what it’s like until you go through it

  14. 25 February 2016

    I would have been an absolute wreck, the time, I am sure must drag on and On and on…

  15. 25 February 2016

    Hugs! God bless her little soul and continue to fill your home with laughter

  16. 26 February 2016

    I remember waiting that short hour when my son had an op. Can only imagine what it must have been like for you x

  17. 26 February 2016

    Wow so a heart felt post hun, thanks for sharing . Can’t imagine how you must of felt xx

  18. 28 February 2016

    This post is really written from the heart. Words can’t describe how you feel when your child is ill and needs an operation.

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