Mrs. Dawe? He asked in his most upbeat voice. “This is Dr. So and So from Such and Such Hospital in Chicago. . . .. How are you today?”
How am I? WHO IS THIS? I thought, then my heart started racing.
Oh yes, I remembered that my daughter who lives in Chicago had called earlier in the day letting me know she was in the emergency room again for pain medication related to her Crohn’s disease. This is unfortunately not uncommon, and normally when this happens they give her anti nausea medication , get her pain under control and send her home.
Now the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
The doctor continued, “Well we’ve been doing some tests and we think it’s best if we admit Angela at this time in case there is a need for more treatment.”
Bypassing any pleasantries I said very quickly “I’m a nurse, and I live in Michigan, should I come right away?”
Without dropping a beat he said “Well yes, I think that would be a very good idea!” I was grateful that the fun little duet we had shared was all put on for the sake of keeping Angela from being panicked. I read between the lines and asked a few more questions. Yes, she may need to have emergency surgery, no he wasn’t sure how bad it was, yes her pain was not well controlled and he was a bit worried about that.
I looked outside and saw one of the worst snow storms we’d had all year howling against the windows. I hated driving to Chicago alone on a sunny day, but this would be the Iditarod of all trips.
Running through house with my overnight bag I chucked in medications, toothbrush, a set of clothes, sundries. I called work and cleared meetings for the next day, I called family and then jumped in the car.
Driving through that snowstorm to Chicago in the dark, to a hospital I had never even seen before, I felt like I was running towards her, but away from a huge looming adversary that was lurking in the shadows.
Like a tsunami, the water recedes at first, creating the false sense that all is well. This is how I felt when she had called me during the day. She was getting the help she needed, they had an IV in and were loading her up with medications, we can get through another one of these, no problem. But now, with the surgeon in his calm but pointed request calling me to come, I felt like I was one of those people you see in the news trying to outrun a tsunami. Don’t look over your shoulder, just start running and keep running as fast as you can.
I made it to the hospital, and stayed for five days while the medical vultures swooped in each morning to see if the carrion was ready to be flayed. Miraculously she avoided surgical resection and was discharged to home after a week with more medications and appointments.
The surgery averted one more time, the suffering-not so much.
How does one live with suffering, with heartache, with illness and not get swallowed whole by it? This is the challenge.
I’ve had two of my three children at death’s door more than once, and the feeling you get when you hear a diagnosis that is too sad to bear, is like the beetles you see frozen in three thousand year old amber. One minute life is ordinary, the next you are being surrounded by something much bigger than you and you feel frozen.
Everyone handles it differently. Some people anaylize the data and prepare for the worst possibility as if it were war, others live in a warm place of denial, still others find solace in their faith. I think I’ve done all three.
What works best for me is just surrendering to what life has brought, without giving in or losing hope.
The diagnosis of a serious illness is so difficult to hear, but when it strikes one of your children, the feeling of absolute powerlessness is a searing blow. The raw feeling of heartache and rage are mingled in a bitter cup that, like it or not, you are forced to drink.
Parents of children with serious illness never exhale. We carry on, we are hyper vigilant, over informed on specific medical matters, and we become unstoppable advocates that you would not want to cross in your worst nightmare-but at the core we are just terrified and helpless to stop that oncoming train in the dark of night.
We keep vigil, we ask for prayers, we chant mantras of hope and we sleep with one eye open, lest we miss one tiny detail that would be relevant to some new improvement. It feels like you are free falling from somewhere out in space, and that at any moment the earth could come rushing up to meet you.
The trick is to try to imagine that you have a parachute. The trick is to surrender to the reality, but never lose the dream. And all we dream about is having our children healthy and whole.