Erik Goes Back, Part 2

January 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

Psalm 72

11   All kings shall bow down before him, *
and all the nations do him service.
12   For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, *
and the oppressed who has no helper.
13   He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; *
he shall preserve the lives of the needy.
14   He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, *
and dear shall their blood be in his sight.

They took Erik by helicopter to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. I wasn’t allowed to join the transport team. I slipped into another tunnel, tight as a glove. It moved my car towards Pittsburgh.

Judy and her husband, Russ, stuck to me like glue. My brain was vibrating from shock. At once a mouthful of screams and an emergency in motion, I set out to claw together necessities and get on the road.

Judy and Russ stood with me at the mouth of the drive. They wanted to take me. They wanted to carry me. But my need was for silence. I couldn’t risk exposure to a misplaced word, one that might send me into fits of agony. “At least you have another one,” some had said when Arthur died. If I heard something similar, I would snap.

When I got to Pittsburgh I learned Erik was classified as a brain death; yet a few hours before he was crying, fighting and responding to me. I told them what I’d experienced and they were shocked. One doctor said, “We thought it was brain death because of the swollen lung, but we wondered why it was only on one side.” Wetzel County Hospital had not reported his condition prior to sedation.

I refused to accept an answer of death. Suspended by faith since the season of my narrow escape from Arkansas, I slapped plaster on, hammered supports to and threw weather-proof tarps over my collapsing faith. With new ferocity I stood on promises rung white in my grip. My son would live.

Like the rest of the broken mothers in the PICU, my path was laid to the pump room. Erik would not be growling and wriggling at my breast anymore. The Hospitals ferocious machines were ready to efficiently have me, and I would submit.

I hate the pump. I hate it. With my babe at my breast, we are a life joined as one. Torn at by the machine, I feel an unnatural and reluctant union. It triggers anxiety and pain around still-too-recent abuse. My babe at my breast night-and-day had been like a vacation. Now, the mechanical mouth waited for its meal.

In the plain of my lap hands jerked painfully. They struggled to rise, reluctant fledglings fluttering shakily down, again and again. Shoulders trembled above them with the heave of my sobs. The rise of wails filled the pump room. Plastic-on-plastic squeaked and clacked in the assembly of the machine. The sound was coarse, gutteral and impossible to bear.

Lost in sobs, my hand hovered somewhere near the power button. All that I was bore down on the switch and the mechanized animal roar its waking hunger. My head went back; my milk was devoured. The sweet, soft mouth of my babe was gone. My baby was gone. The separation seared me through like hot iron as I contracted against the panic and grief.

The Hospital had a Family House. A bed, a kitchen and transport were available. They gave nursing mothers free meals. I was one among many which, in itself, is an unusual experience. All the ways in which I was different from these other mothers fell away. We were a clan of the fearful hiding in  hope from the ragged jaws of grief. We would not be next.

I prepared for a miracle. I got books to read him, thought of songs to sing him, did all I could to break through the silence. I was at his bed from early morning until late at night. I rested my cheek near his tiny body, cool and still. The doctors were keeping him below body temperature to prevent brain swelling. When they warmed him up in three days, we might have some answers.

Next to my son’s bed was Everett Allan’s. They shared nearly the same birthday, though Everett looked like a plump, healthy little boy. Still, his condition was grave. I watched the back of his mother, long red curls waving above her quiet son. Eyes red with tears shone softly, tender soul bare for any who would see.

In the PICU, all patient areas were open to one another. His mother and I drew together near our common boundaries. Neither wanted to step away from her child. We took turns admiring babies, listening to hopes and fears, and just standing close. A camaraderie formed in our world outside of the world. We leaned in.

I had no idea how long he had. I dug in to see it through, to see my son back home, again. I would not accept this. It would not happen, again. I would raise this son.

In the dark night of the PICU, I kissed my child. I knew he would be there in the morning. With my whole being transformed into a living, walking, breathing prayer, I went back to the family house to rest.

Erik and Mama