Ripped From the Headlights

Maureen Picard Robins

“Get a notebook,” he said. 

Dr. Altman and I stood face to face on the pediatric surgical floor of Columbia-Presbyterian Babies & Children’s Hospital. It was the first week in December. A metal crib–it seemed more like a cage or prison–separated us. In this center space lay my yellow heart: my eight-week-old daughter, wounded by surgery, dulled by morphine, our whispers flying over her.

It had been nearly twenty-four hours since Dr. Altman opened the baby’s abdomen and held her tiny intestines in his hands, untwisting them like a fisherman untangling his line; nearly one day since he’d performed a Kasai procedure, fashioning a conduit so that bile could tremble down to her small intestine; one thousand four hundred and forty minutes since I’d been ripped from the headlights of the speeding car known as biliary atresia, a rare condition in which the duct from the liver to the small intestine is blocked or missing. 

“There’s a lot to learn,” Dr. Altman said. “Write down all your questions. There is no way you will remember all this.”

There was only one question I wanted to ask, and I didn’t dare.

Besides that, there were so many other …

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