Recently, my family experienced a terrifying brush with…the abyss. I am loath to call it death now because we are out of the woods and regaining our footing, and finally feeling like we are…back. Let me explain: O’s dad went in for routine surgery and the result was anything but.
That morning, September 14, we dropped G off at the hospital, got a “special treat” donut from Dunkin’ for O, and went home to get started on my epic Monday To Do list. I got a call from the surgeon saying everything went well, it was perfect, and we could come see G for lunch. But then, forty minutes later, I got a call from the same doctor telling me there was an emergency and…my entire world got thrust toward the darkest, scariest abyss I’ve ever known. I went to the hospital and discovered they couldn’t answer a lot of my questions, but worse than that, they weren’t sure G would survive. They used the term “end of life care” and kept saying “sorry” to me. They said the first 72 hours were critical, and would determine whether or not there was any hope. I was devastated. I was in shock. I sat alone in the ICU waiting room looking down at my pregnant belly, our son due in January kicking me from within, and I cried. How could this be?
My family is very close-knit and as “luck” would have it, my oldest brother was working in Boston that day. He dropped everything and came to be with me at the hospital. He was a rock for me, listening to the doctors explain everything again and taking notes fastidiously. My parents came that night, and soon there was a network of family, friends, and locals within our community rallying to help me keep the nuts and bolts of daily life somehow organized enough to keep some semblance of normal for our 3 and a half year old daughter O. I told her Daddy had to stay at the hospital. I told her Daddy was sleeping.
On the fourth day we had him transferred to a world class teaching hospital in Boston and for the first time since the nightmare began, I felt a sense of possibility: at least he was in a place that knew how to care for him. They had seen similar cases; collectively, the nurses and doctors and specialists had a wealth of experiences dealing with all kinds of trauma, and they felt confident he would, at some point…wake up.
So we prayed and stayed vigilant. I struggled with optimism, but I never ever gave up hope. The more people my family and I reached out to, the more aware I became of the power of life’s ultimate safety net: good family, good friends, and good education. Love can sustain your soul, but a safety net is essential for survival.
On the 8th day, my body needed a break from the fight or flight adrenalin rush I’d been existing in. I realized I couldn’t live at either extreme: the darkness of the possibility of G being gone was too painful to contemplate; the high from the light of a hopeful moment with G or his docs delivered a devastating and cruel crash that made that, too, too much to take. I had to find a “new normal” in limbo. Our 3 and a half year old daughter, O, also desperately needed some relief. She had started to come a bit undone from all the changes and the trauma. I tried to spare her, of course, but she knew something was wrong with Daddy, and it was taking a toll on everything and everyone around her. She was buckling under the weight of all the fear and confusion and showing signs that it was getting to her. It was breaking my already breaking heart. I had to find a way to create a home for her that existed in real time, in her reality, with all the joys and frustrations that were normal to her.
So I took her on a special Mother-Daughter day. She picked out a blue princess dress (very Elsa) and we went to Fenway for Grateful Dead night (something we’d been planning on doing with G). She was the “princess of Fenway Park” as one police officer said, and though we only stayed through the first inning, we had a magical time while we were there. A good friend from CT was in town and joined us spur-of-the-moment, and my brother joined us as well. The sounds of the Grateful Dead on Yawkey Way soothed my soul for a surreal second or two; and the award ceremony held on the field before the game for Big Papi (celebrating achieving 500) was a thrill for O. I had arranged for a friend to watch the dogs, so that night, thanks to the generosity of O’s Godfather, O and I stayed at a fancy hotel within walking distance of Daddy’s hospital.
The next day, day 9 of Daddy’s sleep, O and I went to the hospital to see him. It was only the second time she’d seen him since the nightmare began. She wore her blue princess dress and attracted many compliments from the staff and visitors. She really was a beautiful princess in the bustling, intimidating ecosystem of that hospital. We met with a social worker who gave O a book about feelings, a teddy bear to share with Daddy, and some special marble hearts to hold and share as needed. She saw him, colored a picture for him, but…she wanted to go home. With a heavy heart, I took her home. I put her in front of an episode of Curious George, and for the first time in days, I felt true despair. I was a mess. What was happening to our family? He was there in that bed, but where was he? Would he ever wake up? I was sad, mad, and everything along the emotional spectrum. It was TOO MUCH!
The next day, on day 10 of G’s “sleep,” I took O to school and decided to focus on hope. I decided to be positive and to not to allow myself to go to the dark side. The abyss was too scary. My mother and I arrived at the hospital and I got a call as we were valeting the car. I was frozen: “Is it good or bad news?” The nurse didn’t even pause, she just said, “Well he wants to talk to you himself.”
After 10 days, suddenly G was awake!!!
I am certain I floated up to the ICU. I was definitely in shock. My mother and I went in to his room and there he was, awake, saying “I love you.” The pendulum had swung hard and fast into the light! Life! Love! Hope! Healing! Family!
It took 4 more days before he was “too healthy” to be in the ICU and they discharged him. I drove him home…and now we are a week and a half out of the hospital. Two weeks since he woke up. And the pendulum is finding its way back to center. The pendulum has reset. We got a new chance at this mystery called life. We experienced a miracle. There is no other way to put it, and we are humbled, grateful, in awe, and feel utterly blessed by this miracle.
Words can not adequately summarize the full spectrum of emotions and experiences from September 14 until now, but I can tell you all, in total sincerity, love and hope and family and friends sustained me. Sustained us.
And we made it! Thank you all so much for your thoughts, prayers, help picking up or dropping off O, your bagel and fruit gifts, the groceries, the supportive texts and calls and cards, and most importantly, your continuous optimism and hope.