Matters of The Heart

The greeting card was a thick beige, the colour of room temperature porridge. At its centre, a heart shape had been cut out to reveal a red heart underneath, in an attempt to be cute. It had taken Kathy well over 40 minutes to choose it from the countless other ones at the store. She had settled on it because the sentiments on all the other cards hadn’t captured exactly what she wanted to say to her mother, so she decided it would be safer to say nothing at all. But now as she looked down at it from the hospital waiting room chair, she realised she was holding a card without the greeting.

It was a little after 9am when Kathy was brought into the office of the country’s leading heart surgeon. She was a few minutes early for the appointment but the phone call late the day before had kept her up all night with excitement.

“He won’t be a moment.” The young nurse assured her, but this wasn’t Kathy’s first time speaking with the doctor and waiting for up to an hour wasn’t altogether unrealistic. She smiled and nodded her head so the nurse felt comfortably recognised, and the young girl quietly left the room.

It was a dry morning and Kathy reached down for her water bottle, but as she brought it out of her bag, she sighed at the memory of rushing through her kitchen and out of the house without stopping at the sink. She stared at the mouthful of day-old, lukewarm water at the bottom of the bottle, pursed her lips together in resolution, and put the handbag back alongside the chair.

She looked around the specialist’s office. Family photographs lay on the desk, a series of plaques sat above filing cabinet, and on the wall directly behind the doctor’s chair were certificates illustrating academic prowess and medical achievement. Kathy spied the last with a hint of envy. She had delayed her own pursuits in higher education when her mother had fallen ill. That had been six years and two jobs ago. She exhaled a deep breath. Her gazed drifted back to the photos. The persistent male face in them always looked joyful, even in the one where the white participant sticker attached to the doctor’s biking jersey was drenched in sweat. The door suddenly opened and the man from the photos appeared.

“I’m sorry, Miss Heath,” he said with his face buried in a manila folder, “but it appears as though the donor failed our secondary screening phase.”

Kathy’s heart dropped. Her mouth opened but it took a few moments before words found their way out.

“But… but Doctor, you said that it was a perfect match? The blood type and…”

“I’m sorry but that was the result of our initial testing. The second phase is more stringent to filter out any complications. The donor was rejected.”

Again Kathy’s words came slowly.

“… it has been four and half months since the last possible donor… I… she can’t keep going like this.”

“I understand, Miss Heath. Your mother’s health has deteriorated quite rapidly since she was put autonomic support, and it pains me to say, but this might have been her last hope for a transplant.”

Kathy’s head fell into her hands.

“I thought…” her voice caught in her throat, “I thought you were going to save her?” She said as she looked up at the doctor pleading.

His head dipped slightly as he replied, partly out of pity and partly to abdicate from the conversation. “Organ donation is still quite uncommon in this country, and your mother’s blood is the rarest type. If it helps, most of the staff at the hospital are donors, and your case is a reminder of how important it is.”

Kathy looked back into her hands for help, but they were empty.

“Again, I am sorry, Miss Heath.” He stood up from his chair. “Would you prefer that I be the one to explain the situation to your mother?”

Kathy waited a moment then took a deep breath in and stood up from the chair.

“It’s okay, I will tell her.”