A May Day Memory

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The year was 2001, and my 12-year-old son had been in a coma for over a week. He had recently been airlifted to a university hospital for another surgery, his third in the past week. This was going to be a delicate surgery. His eye muscle was trapped in an orbital fracture. His nose was broken, too, and needed to be repaired. While these repairs would ordinarily be complicated, the complications were compounded by my son’s skull fracture and significant brain swelling. The surgery posed a risk of further brain damage. Without it, his eye would forever be “sunk” into the socket and cease to function. These were horrible choices for a parent to make.  I wouldn’t wish this kind of life-altering decision on my worst enemy.

We had spent the morning consulting with doctors while our son lay motionless and hooked up to machines in a the giant common room of the pediatric ICU with other gravely ill children. I was frustrated and at the end of my rope. The transfer to the new hospital felt like a huge setback. We were back to square one again. After a week of prayers, despair, being told first that our son would not live, then that he would never wake up and if he did, he would certainly remain in a vegetative state, we were given the same hopeless prognosis over and over again. I REFUSED to believe any of them. These doctors didn’t know my son the way I knew him. He was IN THERE. I felt it. I knew it. I was certain.

Like a mama bear, I stood between my son and the rest of the world. I questioned everything. I hovered over the nurses administering his care. I asked to read his chart daily. I made sure that he had his favorite Frank Sinatra CD playing at all times. I’d bought him a CD player and head set, and I was royally pissed off if I saw that someone had neglected to place the headphones back on his head.

That day on May 1, 2001, I had infuriated practically every staff member in the ICU. The surgeon had wanted to perform my son’s surgery that day at 4:00 p.m. I refused to allow it. I had been at my son’s bedside since 6:00 a.m. I’d seen the surgeon at that time. Now he wanted to perform an 8-hour surgery beginning at 4:00 p.m. When did this guy sleep? I refused. I told him to go home and get a good night’s sleep, and he could do the surgery in the morning. The guy was flummoxed.  Didn’t I want what was best for my son?   I was refusing to allow my son’s surgery?  No, you arrogant asshole!  I am refusing you to allow you to operate on my child when you are exhausted!  He kept talking to me about the hospital’s schedule, which I replied, “I really don’t give a damn about the hospital’s schedule.  All I care about is this one patient.”

He brought in the head surgeon to speak to me, and they took T and I into a conference room.  (I’ll say now that T was dead silent during all of this.  I think I was scaring him, too!)  All I remember now is the glaring, stark white of the room, and the fact that they gave me a very large Snickers bar.  Why would they have done that?  Did most mothers allow a risky surgery to be performed on their child after a boost of chocolate?  Nothing they said mattered to me.  I answered each one of their arguments with, “I am not refusing the surgery.  I am refusing to allow an exhausted surgeon to operate on my child.  Go home tonight and rest.  Schedule the surgery for the morning.”  Apparently the hospital’s policy was to keep the morning ER schedule open for emergency patients.  The afternoon was reserved for surgeries that were not “emergency” in nature.  I said, “Look at my son.  He is a top priority emergency patient to me.”  Finally, the doctors relented.  The surgery was scheduled for the following morning.

During our son’s stay, we were welcome to lodge at the nearby Ronald McDonald House.  I can’t even type those words without being flooded with complete gratitude.  Our time at Ronald McDonald House was almost surreal.  The kindness of the many volunteer groups that served the grieving, tragedy-struck parents, the commraderie of the families, and the warm smiles of such very sick children will always hold a special place in my heart.  That May Day in 2001, we returned the Ronald McDonald House to find a sweet, little May basket hanging from the knob of the door to our room.  A local Brownie troop had made the baskets, filled them with flowers from the own yards…as well as beautiful little violets and dandelions from their lawns…and delivered them to each room at the Ronald McDonald House.  Those crayon-decorated baskets and brightly colored flowers touched me in a wonderful way during that dark day.  Beauty and kindness still existed.  Even in this hell I was living, good things surrounded me.  I can still remember the awe I felt as I looked at the simple beauty, innocence, and great human kindness of that the basket hanging on my doorknob represented.

Later that afternoon, I went out to the lawn behind the Ronald McDonald house.  I laid down on my back in the grass.  I let the sun pour over my body and warm me once again.  I felt the embrace of the earth, caring for me, strengthening and reassuring me.  I felt a power far greater than the problems I was facing.  The power of GOOD was all around me.  Once again, laying there flat on the grass, I felt peace return to me.  What if Andy died?  He would become part of all of THIS, this warm, sweet-smelling, beautiful earth.  He would forever know the peace of being embraced by what is real and good.  The pains of life would be over, but the beauty would go on and on.  Finally, I knew what my dad meant when he said, “Let go, and Let God.”

Twelve years later, another May Day.  I felt a sense of awe once again this morning as I drove to work.  The rolling fields are waking up.  As I looked across them, my eyes filled with tears.  Goodbye, fields!  I’m leaving you soon to begin a new journey.  I’ll miss you, but I’ll never forget the beauty of your embrace during some of my darkest moments.  I knew that the fields would remain behind, but that they would also be with me on this new journey of mine.  I will carry them in my heart.   Joy fills me as I think wonderingly of how far we have come since that May Day in 2001.  My son is now an adult.  He’s happy, whole, and functioning as well as any other young man finding his way in this world.  I am thankful everyday that he is still in my life and that he too not only sees the beauty around him, but feels it deeply in his heart…just like his mom.

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