I wrote a breezy, upbeat New Year’s post on December 20th. I didn’t know that three days later would be one of the scariest, worst days thus far of my life. What started as a completely normal, happy day changed in the span of minutes.
The short story is my 9-month-old son was rushed to the Emergency Room where he was diagnosed almost instantly with a very serious situation that would require emergency surgery. Waiting too long could be life-threatening as the condition could progress the longer we waited. After pretty much everything went wrong communication-wise in the ER, ultimately a temporary procedure was attempted that would allow us to wait until we could find a surgeon who would agree to operate on our son rather than being life-flighted to another state for immediate surgery.
That day and night was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. The wait for surgery was excruciating. We were on constant pins and needles, knowing that at any second the procedure could stop working and we would have to be life-flighted away for emergency surgery. On Christmas.
It held through the weekend and we were able to find a surgeon on Monday who would operate.
Here’s what was going through my head:
I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this.
But I did.
This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening.
But it was.
I paced the ER halls so I wouldn’t throw up. I visited the bathroom probably 8 times. The next day when I woke up, it felt like I had ran a marathon. Muscles in my body I didn’t even know I had were aching with such intensity and I couldn’t figure out why. I dropped 7 lbs in 2 days.
The night we drove home from the ER after being told several times that we were about to be life-flighted out of state on the night before Christmas, I said to my husband: Never ever in my life have I been so completely and utterly thankful to be going to sleep in my own bed. At nearly 1 am I wept in the bathtub out of pure gratitude, terror, exhaustion. I prayed. I meditated. I visualized. I begged. My mind raced. It got still. I was at peace. I was a nervous wreck.
Before we left the ER, we spoke to a surgeon for the second time that night. He was giving us the pros and cons of going home versus being flown to Denver. I asked him if it were his son what he would do. He said he would go home. And finally I said it: “I’m afraid he’s going to die.”
The past couple years I’ve watched friends live out two of my biggest life fears: losing parents and losing children. Each time I find myself right on the verge, teetering dangerously close to the edge of an anxiety cliff I fear falling from would mean never coming back. The thought of life without people who make up the actual literal heart of my life just does not seem survivable. It just doesn’t.
In 2015 a friend lost her son suddenly and unexpectedly. I was pregnant with Eli at the time and I swear to you not a single day passes when I don’t think of him when I am holding my son, pressing my lips to his cheeks, inhaling the top of his sweet, brown locks. Because of this I believe I’ve thought perhaps a morbid amount about the death of my loved ones, particularly my children. But because of this, I have also done something else. As I looked at the surgeon and said those words out loud, I realized I don’t have any regrets about my children. Of course I still have guilt and moments/days/months I feel I could have done “better”, days I need a break, days I lose my patience in extremely ungraceful ways. But as for cherishing what I’ve got and making them a priority? As for hugging them every single day and saying “thank you” daily to whatever higher power let them be mine? I’ve got that. Another mother’s tragedy gifted those moments to me.
Sometimes I get a little antsy about my career, about my lack of adult time, my lack of me time. All of those things are important, they really are. But faced with the scariest prospect of my life – I feel the decisions I have made for my family and myself have been 100% right for us. I didn’t feel a pang of regret. I felt solid.
I have been playing hide-and-seek with the thought of death in my head for the past couple years. I start thinking about it and then I get too terrified and I run away to another corner of my brain. “What if ….” is a thought that gets stomped out faster than I can finish the sentence. But the truth remains – death is a promise. It is the one thing we know for sure will happen. I will either have to endure the death of people I love deeply or I will have to go first. It’s a promise that either I will die or I will have to watch others die. It’s all we can count on.
So I’ve come to the unsteady but sure conclusion over the past couple years that it is pointless to hide from death or pretend its not going to happen or pretend it hasn’t happened or spend our lives consumed with the fear of it. Its said by everyone who knows something true – this moment RIGHT NOW is all we have. We may have more or we may not. So best to LIVE IT. Best to do it messy and big and bright. Best to do that thing you’ve always wanted, say that thing you’ve needed to say, get right to the meat of things. Best to do that right now. Best to drink in the mundane and the ugly and the beautiful. How incredibly gorgeous our simple grey bed was the night we got home. I’ve never had a bath so sweet as the one I had after I thought I would be spending the night on a helicopter to an unknown place alone with my terribly sick son the night before Christmas. Don’t wait to appreciate how wonderful the mundane things are.
My son had the operation, it went “perfectly.” He is healing. He is beautifully frustrated with us trying to keep him slowed down. We were shown an outpouring of love and support from friends, family, acquaintances, people we’ve lost touch with, people we’ve never met in real life, and strangers. The day of the operation, my exhausted husband went to buy a bagel for himself and donut for me from the hospital cafeteria. The woman ringing up his order winked at him and whispered “I gave you a little discount” and to just “act 65” for the rest of the day. When times are scary, its good for the heart and soul to be reminded how good people really are. It gave my own selfish little heart a little jump back to life, a little reminder to reach out even when its uncomfortable.
Its amazing how quickly things can go back to normal after scary times like this. I’ve already lost my patience with my children. I’ve already been annoyed. Its frightening but also comforting how effortlessly we seem to return to our baseline.
But I’ve also noticed the skies are more beautiful than ever before in my life. I started really noticing, every day – not just the pink sunset days. I’ve stepped into every bath the past week remembering the sweetness and relief of the one after the hospital.
If I look into my sons eyes one trillion times, I still won’t ever get enough. So I will look at them today.