Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Abraham, part 4: Anticipation

This is part 4 of a 9-part series describing my perspective as my son was diagnosed with and treated for an Atrial Septal Defect. Other installments: Preface, Discovery, Fear, Choices, Anticipation, The Knife's Edge, Just Breathe, Recovery, Home, Epilogue

We went to visit family. It's pretty unsettling to watch your parents say goodbye to their grandchild, not really knowing what was going to happen next.

Part of our bedtime routine was singing Eidelweiss to the kids before they went to sleep. Two nights before his operation, I was putting him to bed, and couldn't finish the song. I had this image in my mind of singing it at his funeral later that week. We had been told that "of all the open-heart surgeries you can have, this is the easiest". But regardless what the statistics say, you can't help but consider the possibility that things could go horribly wrong.

Rocking him in his room that night, I felt like I knew what Abraham was feeling on the way up the mountain with Isaac. Was I ready to offer up my son for the sacrifice in order to save him? Could I look him in the eye and say "Trust me. We're going to let these people cut into your chest and stop your heart, but it's for your own good?" It really wasn't much of a choice -- but anyone familiar with game theory knows that small probability of a large impact can still have a significant influence on your actions. We could concentrate all the risk now into the surgery, where he'd be in a controlled environment and they'd be prepared for contingencies, or we could wait and let the risk accumulate as he got older and his heart became more defective. The risk was there either way.

This was one of those times where you recognize that if people really knew what being a parent meant before they had kids, we'd be extinct within a generation.

The next day (one day before surgery), we got a call from my wife's cousin who volunteered to come stay with our daughter for the week while we went back-and-forth to the hospital. At first my wife was hesitant to have her fly in (she lives a few hundred miles away), but after a few minutes, we decided that it'd be good for our daughter to have some special memories from the week that didn't involve her brother's surgery. And since we couldn't be sure how any of it was going to go, having somebody who was a little more detached from the situation than our parents seemed like it'd be a good idea, too. So while my wife was still on the phone with her cousin, I was on the Southwest Airlines web site booking her a ticket for the next day.

The night before his surgery, our daughter went to stay at grandma's house. We took our son out for ice cream. He devoured his own vanilla cone, and then finished the dish of cappuchino ice cream my wife was having. To anyone at the ice cream shop, we looked like just another family out enjoying a nice evening. They had no idea what we were going through.

That evening, while I was giving him a bath, I looked at his perfect little chest and just thought "What are we going to do to you, kid?" My wife put him to bed that night. I wanted to make sure she had all the time she needed with him.

I don't know if either my wife or I slept that night.

Next: The Knife's Edge

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