I knew at any moment the surgeon would emerge from the NICU and deliver the news. I couldn’t bear the stark reality that his words may begin with, “I’m sorry”. Connor was too fragile to even move to an operating room to perform the surgery, so the hospital evacuated the NICU floor of visitors and nurses. And with dozens of infants lying unaware in cribs and incubators just feet away, they performed emergency surgery.
I sat in the waiting room clinging to Connor’s baby blanket and crying like I had never cried before. Crying this way was foreign to me. I’m always the stoic and emotionless one who could never cry at funerals. I learned growing up that showing emotion was “silly” and “ridiculous”. And isn’t it dreadfully coincidental how we grow up and partner with someone who holds those same unspoken beliefs we learned as a child? Without conscious reason I married a man who deems any display of emotion a serious character flaw. I’ve often compared him to one of those Australian Dingos who devour the weak members of the pack.
Because of Connor I was crying- sobbing really. And not just the garden-variety of crying and sobbing, because of Connor I was crying like Elizabeth Gilbert describes in her book Eat, Pray, Love as “double-pumping it”.
At two weeks of age, there was only a fifty percent chance that Connor would live to see the next hour without me ever having the chance to hold him in this lifetime.
Just weeks earlier on the night of Connor’s birth I was told that he had only a 10% chance of living through the night. So 50% is a 40% increase. Applying that same number to any other situation may be viewed as a vast improvement. If I was spewing off these percentages to a PR firm talking about the effectiveness of a recent marketing campaign and ROI, it would be a good thing- I can just see the graph now with arrow pointing steadily upward. But when “10%” and “50%” are applied to a human life it’s just not the same, especially when it’s the person most precious to you.
Just last night I had the dream. But it wasn’t a dream. I heard the scream in my ear as I lay in bed.
For the past 13 days Connor lay in the NICU, hooked up to oxygen and monitors and appeared to be gradually improving. The neonatal doctor explained that Connor’s lungs were full of mucous-like fluid that needed to clear with the help of diuretic medications combined with Connor’s “willingness to fight”.
What that neonatal doctor did not know- but should have- was that Connor’s lungs were full of blood, not mucous. For two weeks this doctor was letting Connor drown in his own blood with an open PDA, while telling us it was “up to Connor” to fight through it.
I spent days in the hospital NICU next to Connor’s bed not being able to hold him and nights at home with his healthy twin sister Cassidy.
The wee early morning hour of sleep- about 4a.m.- is what I call my “angel hour”. It’s when the veil between heaven and my life here on earth seems to briefly lift and I see and hear things that I know are not dreams.
This morning during my angel hour I saw Connor briefly and he was struggling like as if he had fallen into water and was drowning. Then I heard him scream “MOMMY” so clearly as if his mouth were right next to my ear. I woke with a startle. Something was wrong.
The telephone rang. It was a new neonatal doctor. Hospitals schedule doctors to work in the NICU for only two-week stretches at a time. Thankfully, this new neonatal doctor took the floor at Sunrise Hospital NICU that morning, and when he can upon Connor while making his rounds, he took one look at my son and knew immediately. He knew that Connor had an open PDA flooding his lungs with blood and was just hours from gasping for his last breath of air before drowning in his own blood at the hands of his colleague.
I pulled myself together and ran out of the house in a matter of minutes. As I drove to the hospital I looked all around me and realized that life everywhere else was going on as normal- men and women on their way to work, children on their way to school and the guy on the corner here waiting for the bus. When the man waiting for the bus looked back at me (probably because I was staring in dazed amazement), I burst into tears. I could barely drive. How many days in my life did I pull out of Starbucks on my way to the office with thoughts of morning conference calls and lunch meetings all awhile someone else was wondering how life could go on in the face of their despair.
With no time to waste and every minute critical- I sat in the NICU looking into the kind blue eyes of the heart surgeon as he slowly and compassionately laid out every detail for me. What normally would be a fairly simple surgery- the closing of an artery that sometimes doesn’t close after birth- was complicated by the fact it had now almost completely filled Connor’s lungs with blood. Further complicating it was the fact that Connor was now back on a high-frequency oscillating ventilator rapidly pumping his body with oxygen. Connor wouldn’t be able to survive even 10 seconds off of this type of ventilator. So the pumping action made it like playing the game “Operation” while it sits on top of a lawnmower engine.
The surgeon took my hand and gently squeezed it while explaining this all to me. I could tell that he saw the deep despair in my eyes as he delivered his prognosis and I realized there was a 50% chance that he may emerge from this very room in an hour and tell me that he did everything he could.
This would be the second of a total of three times Connor almost left me.
More from “Because of Connor” here.