Thursday, June 26, 2008

Abraham, part 6: Just Breathe

This is part 6 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

They had patched the hole. He had been on the bypass machine for about 20 minutes. His heart started right back up. They had already closed him up and were getting him ready to move into the CICU. We'd probably be able to see him in about an hour. That was all good news. In fact there really wasn't any bad news, but the surgeon did tell us that the hole was a lot bigger than he expected it to be based on the echocardiogram. He said he was surprised that our son hadn't already been showing symptoms -- and that if we had waited much longer it's likely that he would have been a noticeably sick kid. We already knew we had dodged a bullet -- but now we realized just how close it came.

Right on time, about an hour later the cardiologist came in and said they were getting him settled into the CICU. The doctor was really upbeat about how well our son was doing, and led us back to the CICU to see him. I'm not sure anything could have prepared me for what came next.

Now, not two hours earlier we had walked down this same hallway, into the very room where my son now lay. But this time around the whole room had changed. Whereas the first time through it was just another hospital ICU room, now it was the room where they were keeping my son alive. Getting through the surgery was a big step, but the next 24 hours were just as important. There was still the risk of clotting, internal bleeding, strokes, and various other horrible things that could go wrong. But there he was, laying limp on the sheet. He had a central line IV in his neck, one in his arm, and one in each ankle. There was another tube coming out of his belly to drain his chest cavity of fluid. And the incision looked like it took up his whole chest. One of the IVs was connected to a bag of blood (his own) that they were putting back into him.

I was pretty much overwhelmed at this point, and had to sit down for a minute to keep from throwing up. I've seen plenty of folks in worse condition in the ICU. But when it's your little boy who just a few hours ago was bouncing on your lap, the whole world changes. You realize just how little control you really have over life -- both your child's and your own.

He opened his eyes, and gave us a look that simply said, "Mom, Dad, I don't feel very good." Then he went back to sleep, apparently satisfied that we were there and had everything under control. If he only knew. At moments like this, your entire existence is distilled down until only these three remain: faith, hope and love -- and the greatest of these is love. I understand that now.

The best thing for him at that point was to get some rest, so I left with my wife's cousin to meet my mom at home -- she was bringing our daughter home. That night we had burgers at Red Robin. Meanwhile, my wife spent the night in one of the parent's rooms at the hospital. The best description I can give is that it was basically youth hostel accomodations -- a single bed, a phone, a 13" TV, and an overhead light. The helicopters landing on the roof (and their landing lights shining in the window) didn't help her get much sleep.

The next morning, when we were on our way in to the CICU to see our son, we saw something in the hallway that I'll never forget. The day before when we were in the CICU waiting room, there was another family there with a newborn baby in the NICU. That morning the baby's father was out in the hallway with his pastor at his side talking to a doctor. Judging by the way he slumped into his pastors arms, we knew from the other end of the hall what he had just been told. I felt guilty being happy to see our baby when they had just lost theirs. Once again, we were reminded that as hard as what we were dealing with was, it wasn't the worst thing happening there that day.

Back in the CICU, our son was starting to come out of the super-drowsy medication, and was just laying there watching the tennis at Wimbledon for a while. My wife got to hold him a little later in the morning. He watched Dora the Explorer on her lap. It was an episode with Rojo the fire truck, and he was with-it enough to say "woowoo" whenever he saw Rojo. He was even sitting up a bit on his own in the crib. We could hardly believe it.

Next: Recovery

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