THE PHONE CALL
8:30 p.m. Called to the phone from my Safeway check-stand. “Mrs. Brian? This is the Royal Columbian Hospital. We have your son here. He’s had a fall. Get here as soon as you can … and please … drive safely.” Driving a truck and camper. Out of my mind. Out of my body. He just turned four. Let him be alive. Please.
In 25 minutes – the longest 25 minutes of my life – I rush into emergency. My 14-year-old daughter is crying. My poor injured baby boy asks, “Why ith Tami crying?” He sounds drunk.
We wait. Wait for his father who has borrowed his sister’s car and needs to return it so she can get her family home from the baseball game. Wait for the doctor to tell us what’s going on. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait through the night as our son slips into a coma. Wait and watch the nurses check his vital signs, lift his eyelids, scratch his feet to see if there is movement. Nothing. Nothing at all.
Watch as a group of nurses comes in and examines him every half hour. Wait as they bring in the head nurse to test for responses. Wait, holding my breath, for the news I know is coming.
Late afternoon. His father has gone home midmorning to try to get a little rest. The head nurse turns to me and says, “You better call your husband.” I tell her I already have. I know something critical is happening. The fear that he is about to die is immobilizing. They say they need to do a CT scan. He is not waking up. Other than breathing, he shows no signs of life.
We wait. The doctor comes in with a large paper with our son’s brain’s image on it. He points to some dark areas, and says, “He’s bleeding in his brain. We need to operate as soon as we can call staff in and open an operating room. Go home now, and be with your daughters. You may need them. We should be ready to operate at 7:00 p.m.”
We drive home. We tell his sisters. We cry together. We call my mom and ask her to come to stay with the girls. We return to the hospital. We watch as they take him away. We desperately want to hold onto him. The doctor tells us he has a fifty percent chance of surviving the operation, and no chance at all of not being physically or mentally challenged. The neurosurgeon tells us the operation will take two hours. During that time, we don’t know whether to put our butts on the toilet, or our faces over the bowl. Both ends are spewing out of us. He is right. He comes out of the operating room to speak to us in two hours, and all he can tell us is that our son is still alive. When he fell from our back step to the cement seven feet below, he hit his head so hard that his brain bounced off both sides of his skull. We wait some more. We wait and watch. Our eyes leak. We make bargains with God. We just want him to live. At this point we don’t care if he is handicapped.
He is hooked up to life support. So many tubes and wires. They tell us if he cannot breathe on his own within 48 hours, he probably never will. We watch the other comatose patients. It is surrealistic, a nightmare from which we cannot awaken. We are sinking in quicksand. We overhear our neurosurgeon’s response to the doctor coming on duty. “The little boy? We think he’ll make it.” We are told that when they cut into his skull, his brain popped out an inch and a half.
We are exhausted. When the nurses suction his throat, it terrifies us. It sounds like he’s going to choke to death. Panic and anxiety overtake us. We take turns grabbing a nap in the truck and camper parked at the hospital. We are amazed and shamed that we can even fall asleep for short periods. Exhaustion will do that. We even eat. We wonder what kind of parents are we, that we can eat and sleep as our four-year-old son lies comatose.
We spend most of our time in intensive care, waiting and watching. One kind nurse asks me if I want to hold my son. He has already lost weight, and his head is wrapped in a huge white bandage. I am afraid to hold him. I am afraid of all the tubes and wires hooked up to his tiny body, knowing they are all that is keeping him breathing. Oh my God! Oh my God! I hold him anyway, and am glad I did. I place his little plastic Creddy Hulk in his hand. He loves Creddy Hulk, never failing to watch “The Incredible Hulk” on t.v.
The third night arrives, and he is still hooked up to life support. Our hope is fading. We make more promises to God, trying to bargain our way through this. We want to hope, but reality slips in and we recognize we need a miracle. Crazy thoughts fill our minds. I think, “He can’t die now. He just learned to pee like a man.”
We overhear so many sad stories as we grab a coffee from a vending machine, or eat a bite in the cafeteria. We cannot help but overhear. To notice the grieving families, the tears. To wonder if we will soon join them.
We are there in the room the next day, at mid-morning, when he spits out the respirator and sits up. He says, “I’m hungry! I want a cookie, or a cracker, or a sandwich.” I will never forget those words. I will never forget the gratitude I feel that our son is alive. Shouts of joy ring through the intensive care unit that morning, with nurses and doctors gathered around his bed in celebration.
We still don’t know about our son’s physical or mental state, but he is alive, and he is talking. We wait. They say time will tell us everything we need to know. They have to go in to operate again, to place a plate over the open area where they sawed into his skull to allow his brain to expand.
He is having seizures. They put him on Phenobarbital. We still don’t know what the outcome will be. His mouth droops. He slurs his words, but by God, he can talk! Now the bargains we make with God change. Please let him be whole. Please bring our little boy back to us the way he was. We clutch at him as he plays with toys in pediatrics. We are so afraid he will damage that open area. They operate the second time. It is done, but he continues having seizures.
They change his anti-seizure medication to Dilantin. The tests come back. We finally believe he is out of the woods. Thank God, He has answered our prayers favourably. Recovery takes time.
But we have our little boy back.
And that is enough.