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When a Walmart Cashier's Question After My Daughter's Surgery Made Me Cry

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Being a first-time parent has its challenges and rewards. I never expected to have a daughter with Down syndrome. I never expected my daughter to have a heart condition. I never expected my daughter to have open heart surgery at 4 months old, but she did.

baby sitting on couch

We brought Louisa home from surgery and then landed right back in the local children’s hospital due to a high fever and other complications. Exhaustion and fear were the driving factors for my lack of appetite and lack of function. I was terrified.

Prior to surgery I had reached out to families that experienced similar stories. The families were very encouraging and constantly used the phrase, “life-changing,” to which I understood as post-surgery you see a different child. A child who’s hands and feet are no longer freezing all the time. A child who doesn’t scream when you give them a bath. A child who doesn’t sweat at night due to heart failure. A child who would be able to drink from a bottle and no longer need to be fed through an NG tube. I was under the impression that recovery was quick and shortly after coming home we would see an amazing change. Louisa woke up every 45 minutes at night screaming out in pain. She would cry so hard her nose would start bleeding. She refused to drink from a bottle. I didn’t know how to hold her anymore because of her incision. I didn’t know how to comfort my baby. I was losing it. I felt like I was failing my child all over again. Where was the “new” baby everyone had told me about?

The day my mom had to go back home I begged her to stay. I begged her to stay with me during one of the most difficult times of our life. I was scared and needed my mom. As my husband was packing up her things to drive her four hours to meet my brother, who would take her the rest of the way, I held Louisa close, tears streaming down my face as I said goodbye to my mom. I know her heart broke as she watched her adult daughter fight back sobs. My heart pounded, and my hands shook. My family called me throughout to day to check in on us while my husband was gone, and all I could do was cry on the phone.

My aunt had told me about a different type of formula. It is new and supposed to be easier to digest. I was willing to try it if it meant no more discomfort for Louisa. I called up to Walmart to confirm they had some in stock and gently packed my child into her dreaded carseat. Walmart is less than a mile from my home so I told myself that even if she screams the entire way, it’s a short trip. But she didn’t scream or cry or whine. She sat contently in her seat and looked out the window. We walked around Walmart for a bit and put a few things in the cart, and it felt so good to be out of the house. We arrived at the check-out, and the cashier looked at her and then looked at me.

She then boldly said, “Is she sick?”

I froze and looked up at her. My eyes welled with tears. I tried to swallow them back, but I was caught off-guard.

I croaked out, “She is sick. She had open heart surgery a week ago and recovery has been really hard.” Tears began spilling over my eyes and down my face. The cashier’s hand covered her mouth, and it seemed like she lost her breath. Her eyes grew soft, and tears started to form in them.

“I am so sorry,” She said, “I am so sorry for what she has been through, I am so sorry for what you have been through. I am so sorry. I will be praying for you.”

I couldn’t stop from crying — believe me, I tried. I wanted to fall to my knees and weep. I wanted to cry loud tears. Telling a stranger what we had just experienced was like I was processing our story for the first time. I could finally release all of fear I had stuffed deep inside my chest. I could finally take off the mask of bravery and show the world my hurt. The chronic lump in my throat that had caused months of pain finally was released. The poor cashier did not have a clue what she was actually asking me. I believe sometimes God uses people to give us the grace we need. Sometimes He uses people you never would expect to help us cope. That is the beauty of how God works. I needed that woman in that very moment. I am so glad He is in control and I am not.

baby crawling

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Originally published: April 25, 2017
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