After my brother Nick died, I had the same recurring nightmare: Nick was near death and we were unsuccessfully trying to get him medical help. In the nightmare, phones wouldn't dial, doctors were unavailable, ER departments were distant and I had no way to get him there. Desperation borne of grief, the dream reflected the sense of total helplessness in the face of loss.
Last week my 13 year old, Sam, became suddenly and terribly ill; he developed a high fever with stiff neck, vomiting and left-side paralysis. We raced to Kirby ER and were met with Wayne Matthews who is someone you certainly want to see in a crisis. Before I could pull Sam from the car Wayne had him out and was racing- running with Sam in the wheelchair. Competence, matched by compassion- that is Mr. Matthews. The medical field has been increasingly pressured to form to a business model, yet Wayne is a beacon of what works for patient care- of how we should take care of our sick. Within an hour we were whisked by ambulance to Carle where Sam was admitted into the isolation ward.
The big fear was bacterial meningitis- which can be deadly within hours. In those hours before the antibiotics were started, while we waited for doctors to results testing, I was plunged once again into that old nightmare, “Please help now!”
Medicine doesn't work the way it does on television with everyone scrambling and immediacy of treatment. Often, it is a wait of hours, and of methodical tests, analyzing results. Walking with a barely conscious child while an youthful orderly slowly pushed the bed through the labyrinth inner hallways of Cale towards to MRI department was slow torture. I repeatedly resisted the urge to scream at the hapless Carle employee, “Move it! Push faster! This is an emergency” Elevators took eternities to arrive.
Waiting in the darkened room, with Sam sedated, waves of fear, near panic,would occasionally wash over me, dropping my core temperature like a plunge into polar water.
I have heard people say that after living through grief or surviving the death of a child that they now have nothing to fear. They knew they could survive the worst. Strange how I came through it feeling the opposite. I survived grief the first time, this doesn't mean I could stay afloat again. In fact, I have serious doubts. It's like being asked to repeatedly survive being adrift in the ocean for years on end. Life grants no immunity to those who have managed to once swim to the other side of grief.
Sadly, I didn't learn the one thing that grief should have permanently taught me; that I am not in control. Instead of realizing the futility of hyper vigilance, I try harder to keep everyone safe. Sometimes I wish, like a friend once said, “that we could all just sit in the living room and hold hands.” The worry is exhausting. Grief counselors might say my worry is related to post traumatic stress syndrome. I say life is as it has ever been- wondrously perilous; none of us gets through unscathed. The knowledge of what we can loose in a heartbeat is a heavy burden, yet that same knowledge has given me the gift of constant gratitude. Painful knowledge that perhaps shouldn't be medicated away.
As I sat in the silent, darkened hospital room, Sammy quite after a morphine injection, I glanced out of our 8th floor window and saw the Life Flight helicopter arriving with an unknown families' tragedy. It was a stark reminder that things could be much worse.
In the dark quiet, I began to think about the hundreds of thousands of parents who were doing just what I was at that moment; sitting vigil over a sick child. I felt a quiet yet strong pulse of connection with all those watching mothers. It gave me strength. To be a parent is to allow your heart to be exposed to all the elements of life- a supremely dangerous and exhilarating endeavor. As it is, as it ever shall be.
We were lucky . Within hours of falling ill, my child was in a clean hospital bed being attended to by a host of nurses and doctors all intent on healing him. As the life flight helicopter took off yet again to attend to someone desperately hurt or ill- someone whose mother was no doubt praying, I whispered again, “we are so lucky.”
Thank you to my friends and family who helped us so much while Sam was in the hospital especially to the Van Tines for their ever present support and care and to the Richardson's' who showed Sam that he has some awesome friends. Thanks you to the pastor at the First Christian Church who visited with us and offered warm, supportive words and prayer.