I can recall almost every detail that occurred after my youngest was born. I can still recall the delivery room, the feel, the smell, the lighting. I remember how relieved we were when my youngest son was finally born. He was beautiful, tiny…yet fully formed. His face looked just like mine, only smaller and with a full head of blazing red hair. The nurses went gaga over him and his hair and they quickly extracted him from my wife’s arms to do his APGAR testing.
As they did their few tests, the nurses were amazed…I heard the one nurse comment that she’d never scored a baby a perfect ten on their APGAR tests, but if she did, it would be my son. Whew…he really was a beautiful, healthy baby.
At this point, the nurses took him to the nursery to finish up some final tests, clean him, and dress him to bring him back to his mom and myself. They assured us that he would be brought back in twenty minutes. We kissed him goodbye and waited anxiously for him to return.
He never did make it back to the delivery room.
After 20 minutes, a concerned looking nurse stopped back to let us know that they were a “little” concerned because his oxygen count was well below normal. She said not to worry, his skin looked healthy and they were getting a new machine to test him on. They assumed the machine was malfunctioning. But the second round of tests confirmed that my son’s lungs were malfunctioning, not the machine.
He was only getting about half the oxygen he needed to survive and they immediately put him on breathing treatments.
At this point, we still weren’t sure if we should be concerned or not. We were told that sometimes this can happen, as there is a valve blocking the lungs in the womb, that should open up after birth. But in my son’s case, it hadn’t fully opened up. In most cases, oxygen treatments would allow the body to correct itself, the valve would open, and normal breathing would ensue.
I was told to go home and get some sleep, so I did.
Phone Calls in the Night
I had been asleep for a few hours when the hospital called. My son had caught a deadly virus (probably from the IV inserts) and was now fighting to even maintain 10% of his oxygen level….he was fighting to stay alive, he was maybe dying. They didn’t know, but they were about to transfer him to the local Children’s Hospital so that he could receive the best care possible. So without his mother or I, he was whisked away at 3 in the morning, by ambulance, to the new hospital.
This is when darkness falls. I am bleary eyed for lack of sleep. I am alone, driving at night through the city. When I arrive, there is a huge institutional sized building and parking garage. I quickly park and run to the front desk. I am informed my son is a few floors up. I jump in an elevator to be with my dying son. Is he really going to die? Am I still dreaming or is this now my life? I snap out of it as the elevator door opens and I’m met by a caring doctor and nursing staff. They warn me that I am about to enter the NICU and that there are dozens of babies with all sorts of conditions. They ask me if I will be ok to witness these things? Yes, I answer. Good, they explain that they’ve had many fainting spells of parents who are overwhelmed at the sight. I brace myself and prepare for the worst.
I enter the NICU….to my left a young baby is having heart surgery. I walk to the next room where there are incubators full of premature babies fighting to grow and to live. I breathe deep, I want to cry, and I don’t really want to see….but I must. He is mine and I want him to know that he is not alone. That I love him and want nothing more than for him to live….please live, please just live.
It’s an awful and beautiful sight at the same time. Awful, because he has over 10 different IV’s and monitors hooked up into his body. Beautiful because he is still alive.
As I enter they are switching an IV that is infected and now putting an IV into his toe. I cringe, I fight back the tears. And I look over into his crib.
There he is.
Small, fragile, beautiful.
Heaving his little chest, struggling to breathe. The nurses tell me he’s the most beautiful baby they’ve ever seen. And he is…light pink skin and that bushy red hair. I reach out and stroke his hair and begin to sing him a lullaby. I stay the night until his breathing stabilizes and go back to visit my wife.
As I exit the hospital it is now early morning. The city is alive with activity. And it hits me how normal it all seems. But life has become anything but normal. I’m only a few hundred yards from where my child is struggling to stay alive, but nobody seems to notice it. The radio is reporting on a Space Shuttle that has blown apart on re-entry. A tragedy to be sure. But my tragedy is not yet resolved, and only friends and family even know about it. Strangeness surrounds my over caffeinated mind.
I arrive to the hospital where my wife is to be released. I help her to the car. But though we arrived to deliver our son, he is not with us. We walk out silent, empty armed, and heavy-hearted.
We make it home before we weep in front of our apartment. The frailty of life has found us and we are staring into the abyss. These are the days that you wished God actually answered prayers a little more clearly. But no answers come, no healing occurs, and we resolve ourselves that this might not end the way we want….and we cry some more.