Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Time changes all...

I keep pictures in my head of how everyone I know "used to" look. When I talk on the phone with my friends, or read their emails, I can still "see" them in my mind -- looking just as they did back when I first met them.

Even though seeing current pictures of my friends is sometimes a surprise, the longer I'm on it, the greater my realization is of how much I enjoy Facebook. I like seeing the pictures of others better than the pictures of myself -- although seeing the receding hairlines and extra grey hairs on others reminds me of my own. As much as it can be annoying to always be posing for pictures, I do like looking at them. It's especially interesting to me seeing my friends from my college days -- how time has changed most a little, some drastically, and yet a few don't look any different. It also seems like the friends I would expect to have just a few children have many. Even though it's been 5 years since their last one, it still occasionally amazes my that my "little" sister has SIX children... and the Rossiters have SEVEN!! EIGHT for the Scilex's!!! and the Sarlos are just flat-out impressive!!!!

Our three (soon to be four) are a handful, but I love crawling around on the floor with them... tickling them until they can't talk... hugging them when they get their "boo boos"... getting unexpected (usually slobbery) kisses just for being "Daddy" and getting to explain all of their questions about the world around them.

Little Bear is just 5, but his questions and observations amaze me... often. Especially when I'm driving down the road, listening to him talk (the boy can out-talk even my mother, and for those of you who've met her, you KNOW that is saying something) and he stops mid-sentence to interject how the car we just passed looks like someone's we know... yet we last saw them almost a year ago! It floors me how much individuality can be observed in 4 and 5 year olds. He asks questions of how I was as a boy (thankfully, the cobwebs aren't too thick yet, and I can still remember), and what did his "Papa" do with me when I was little. And then pictures of my parents (that are still way back in the corners of my mind) come back out to the forefront of my memory, and I understand a little better the sacrifices that they made for us... and my admiration for them grows... more... again.

Last weekend, out of curiosity, I Googled a friend. His name is fairly unique... when I finally spelled it correctly, he was the only one in the world that came up. So I called him up to see how life had gone for him so far. And he told me just a tiny fraction of the problems his only son is having... multiple operations to save his son's life have caused other complications that now threaten that life. He told me how difficult it is to see his wife constantly in a state of emotional distress, and how, as glad as he was to hear from me... he had to get back in the hospital, in case it was the last few minutes he'd have with the son that shares his name... and is only 8 months old.

That was when the sights, sounds, smells, the mind-numbing waiting rooms, the intensive care units, and all of our own experiences with our first child... also a son... came back to my mind. I remember being exactly where my friend is now: my wife and I spent every free waking moment in the hospital... listening to doctors tell us our son probably wouldn't live much longer... and how he needed this surgery, or that new piece of equipment, or some other change that would give him a few more days... maybe.

The few hours a night I'd allow myself for sleep were spent scouring the internet and devouring medical books... learning everything about his problems, any possible techniques and medications that could be used to treat current and even possible complications... so when the doctors discussed his condition, I would not only be able to understand every word, I would also understand the implications of every decision that could keep him alive. It was against hospital policy, but I asked how every piece of equipment worked... even the complex ventilators, so if anything happened when the nurses, doctors, or respiratory therapists were all at other children's bedsides, I would know what to do. And a few times, we were all glad that I knew what to do. My wife and I watched every nurse, insisting on specific ones to be assigned the care of our son, insisting others be removed from the unit.

Then when we finally saw "the light at the end of the tunnel" and the lung problems were finally healing, and the drugs were being weaned from his system we faced another staggering blow. We'd also been watching other parents for months -- many taking home healthy babies, some taking home handicapped babies, and others that left preparing for a funeral. We thought it was almost all over for us... with a happy ending to boot, and then the MRI results indicated his brain was "mushy." They said it appeared to be dissolving, and if he lived through that, he would probably be a "mental vegetable." After a few more days of waiting, he still wasn't responding like he should have been if he was 100% "normal," but it hadn't gotten worse. We continued to cling to our hope, and our faith was rewarded. He eventually improved to normal; it was just a much slower process than what anyone expected it to take.

We finally brought him home after spending his first 4 months in the hospital. He still had equipment connected to him -- there was even still a large chance he could die at home -- but the doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists had been observing us while we observed them. THEY recommended we take him home... that we care for him. They said it was their belief that we could give him the same (and possibly better) level of care that he was receiving in the hospital, and that the environment would be much better for him. So, home we all went, and gladly.

He had good days and bad ones at home; we took a few trips back to the hospital... one in an ambulance with lights flashing, siren blaring, and the EMT "bagging" our son, but somehow God saw fit to bring our son through it all ("bagging" is hand-pumping oxygen into him). Little Bear has proven all of the doctor's worst predictions wrong. But... he has been the exception to almost every case... and when we bring him back to visit the NICU, the medical staff gathers around to see the "miracle boy" -- they all say (even the atheistic ones), "He is proof that prayer works!" One of the two doctors that delivered Little Bear is also a Believer, and constantly checks up on the little ones he's assisted in bringing into the world. Whenever the NICU doctors get discouraged, or give up hope, he reminds them of Little Bear, and that anything is possible.

In light of all those memories, the months of anguish, of attempting to comfort my wife in the bad times, and then years of uncertainty that finally resulted in a good continuation of "our story"... I heard in my friend's voice the same feelings of helplessness that I felt back at the beginning of the whole process.

I know that I can tell him "anything is possible" from the standpoint of being there... even down to the possibility of a "mushy" brain healing. But I remember being there and listening to the harsh, cold delivery of an impossibly difficult diagnosis... and back then I didn't want to hear those words, even from someone that had experienced them... I didn't want to get my hopes up -- only to see him die like some of the other children had. I didn't want to be like other parents that brought home a little baby -- a little baby that they knew would become a big baby, because his brain was incapable of ever developing further.

No, I wanted to KNOW he would be fine, I wanted proof... and ironclad guarantees, but I know that wasn't possible, just as I knew it then. Just as I knew I'd have to take whatever God had planned for his life... live with it... and like it.

And so I hesitate to call my friend... hesitate to ride that awful roller coaster of emotions... and yet I want to check in with him hourly... because I KNOW there is a one-in-a-million chance... and I want to know his son will be that one, just as mine was. I still want an ironclad guarantee... and it's not even our son. I wish I could see the future... five years from now... will his outcome be wrestling on the floor, with tickles and slobbery kisses? Will he be pointing to the world around him and explaining it to his miracle boy? That's what I want... what I'm praying for.

And while I'm looking 5 years in the future, I want to be able to peek over and see if we've done OK training our own children. I'd like to see they've removed the "rough edges" we're trying to teach them to lose. I'd like to see them following God better than I did at their age... making new friends that are, and will remain assets to their lives. See them doing right, even when it's hard. And I know I can't see that, yet. But I can still take my mental pictures of today, and smile when my wife wants "real" ones. And as our hair gets more grey in it, we can look back at what was... and remember all the good times we had.

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