By Mare Biddle
“Don’t touch him,” the ER doctor barked at me. “You can’t touch him because you conduct current. We can’t tell exactly what his heart is doing.”
“My hair? Can he hold my hair?” I took out my hair tie and wrapped my three year-old son’s frightened little paw around a thick bunch.
My hair was long that year. I had worn it short most of my adult life. I don’t particularly like long hair: handfuls to wash, tangles to blowout, layers and layers to straighten. Repeat. I don’t recall making a decision to grow it long. I must have skipped a few appointments, and then soon enough it had passed my shoulders. The perfect length to braid, or pile up, or as it turned out, to hold.
“This kid’s not crashing on me. Let’s get this done, people.” The emergency room doctor ordered Adenosine and explained that it would re-set my son’s heart; take it from 266 beats per minute back down to a normal 100. He did not explain how that would happen.
My husband’s frightened but focused eyes caught mine across the gurney. I lowered my gaze to my son’s face and forced what I hoped was a calm smile, “It’s okay, sweetie. Hold Mommy’s hair.” More people poured in and out of the room in a constant stream, voices blending together. What? No. No cardiac history. No. No allergies. He had a cold last week. I lost track of who said what and focused on not touching our boy.
The nurse pushed the Adenosine into our son’s I.V. followed by the saline to carry it to his heart.
My baby held my hair. He didn’t blink; he didn’t breathe. I remember his eyes opened wide, the pupils exploded with blackness. We stared into the bottom of each other and in that moment something new grew in me, organ shifting and permanent. I had never felt anything like that before – a visceral and brutal love wanting to thrust my hand inside his chest and squeeze. Start beating. Fucking start. But my hand could only tremble above his forehead; my long hair the only umbilical cord between us. No one moved.
And then: beep…beep…beep. The doctor called out, “Normal sinus rhythm.” A collective exhale swept the room. The longest four and a half seconds of my life. I kissed my baby’s forehead and squeezed his little hand still knotted in my hair. I told him he could let go. He said, “No.”
My son went on to have five more tachycardic episodes like this one before he was accurately diagnosed with a rare form of a rare heart defect called Wolf-Parkinson White Syndrome. Six months after he flat lined, our insurance approved the ablation procedure, and we flew to Los Angeles where his heart was repaired. That night we watched Shrek for the first time, tears of laughter and relief streamed down my husband’s face and mine. I don’t remember making the decision, but it wasn’t long after we returned home when I threw out my hair ties and cut my hair. Short hair suits me better, less maintenance, and though I hadn’t planned it this way, my son didn’t need it anymore.
Mare Biddle is a playwright, author, editor and member of the Dramatists Guild of America and the AWP. Recent publications and productions include the Flash Nonfiction Feature of “Tuesday Morning” in Under the Gum Tree, an interview with The Dramatist Magazine, and the premiere of her One-Act companion plays “Throwing Snowballs at the Moon” and “Post Game Show” at Arizona’s Theatre Artists Studio. Other dramatic and literary works have appeared in various productions, festivals, and readings. She’s done some good writing and some bad writing, to good reviews and bad reviews, in perplexing combinations. Mostly she just keeps practicing. You can find her at a coffee shop in Portland and online at marebiddle.com.