Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A long night ends in contentment

Psalm 146:5 (NIV)

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
   whose hope is in the Lord their God.
“You don’t think I’m overreacting, do you?”

That was the question Kristie asked me as she carried our nearly two-year-old son to the van around 12:30 a.m. today, bound for the nearest emergency room. I’m no doctor, but the sound of my own son struggling to breathe is unmistakable. I reassured her we’d made the right choice, then came back inside to wait for some form of communication.

Owing to some other family news, my mind had already been active — perhaps not racing, but certainly not placid — when I heard Charlie making noise over the monitor in our room. Kristie had just nodded off, so I elbowed her to get her attention. In a matter of seconds, she said, “That doesn’t sound right” and sprang into action. Charlie was crying and wheezing, struggling for every breath. He could barely cough to clear up the congestion. He didn’t want water. He was miserable. The choice was obvious.

Jack and Max slept quietly, oblivious to the ongoing drama. I got caught up on some reading on my computer. Then I tried getting caught up on TV. Eventually, struggling to stay awake, I took my charging cell phone upstairs, plugged it in near the bed and turned on the TV. This was most definitely a “minutes feel like hours” scenario.

At 1:42 a.m. I got a text message: “Croup. steroid, zofran bc he was vomiting, breathing treatment. Now cool mist through a mask.” We traded notes, and by 1:50 I knew all there was to know. Twenty minutes later I jolted awake as my phone buzzed again. Apparently it gets pretty boring being in a patient room with no TV or windows when you have to hold a nebulizer to a pale, wheezing toddler’s face for 60 minutes. Not to mention the unpleasantness of not being able to change your clothes after your kid gets sick on you.

The communications continued throughout the night, as did the treatments. A text Kristie sent at 4:25 a.m. revealed just how nervous she’d gotten on the way to the hospital via confessions of some abused traffic rules. It wasn’t until this afternoon she told me she’d heard Charlie’s breathing get progressively worse on the way and dialed up 911, ready to press the send button if he stopped trying to inhale.

When she finally carried Charlie into our bedroom sometime after 5 a.m., with him wearing a toddler-sized gown and wrapped in clean, warm, bright white hospital blankets, I pulled him close and stared deep into his eyes, gently stroking his hair as we both drifted quickly back to sleep. I can’t recall any specific emotions from the moment. I knew a long day was in store since I’d have to get up to get Jack off to school, and Max would be on his regular schedule as well. Sure enough, when 7:30 hit all three boys were ready for action.

Croup generally subsides during the day, which was the case for Charlie. Aside from an earlier-than-usual nap and being whinier than normal around dinner time, everything was normal. I followed doctor’s orders to purchase a cool mist humidifier. As I write, he’s asleep in his toddler bed with the vapors blowing directly at his head. I can hear him cough every so often and am hoping it doesn’t escalate to another midnight run to the hospital. It’s historically warm for late January in the Chicago suburbs, and you can’t beat midnight traffic, but really, I’ve grown to prefer nights at home to nights at the emergency room.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I prayed about the situation last night, at least not with any clear focus. This morning I drove Jack to the bus stop, with Charlie in tow, eliminating my normal time to walk and reflect. Also Jack forgot to put on his glasses, so as soon as I got home I tossed Max in the car and we drove the spectacles over to school. I certainly thought of God and tried to pray, but no real words came to mind other than “God, help” and “Thank you.” Still, I think that was enough to convey my feelings to the one who knows me better than I know myself.

This is exactly the sort of thing you sign up for when you choose to become a parent. Thinking of stories of my mother and grandmothers, I realize it’s also a lifetime commitment. No matter how old your children are, there is always a chance they’ll need your help. It may not be in the middle of the night, but it doesn’t matter what the clock says when your kid needs you. We thought we were in for a normal night of sleep, just like the hundreds beforehand, ever since he learned to sleep through the night. But we quickly learned otherwise, and then instinct took over.

In times like these, I am reminded just how important it is to have chosen the perfect (for me) partner in marriage and parenthood. Our ability to communicate effectively is never more important than when the stakes are high and time is brief. The flexibility our current lifestyle affords enables us to put our children and family above all other Earthly needs, and I hope it’s serving the boys well. I’m not interested in making the kids feel we’ve sacrificed for their benefit, but I do hope they grow to appreciate how much we value them and how seriously we take our responsibility to nurture.

Nights like these should be, eventually, blips on the radar, mere dots in the big picture of raising a child from birth to the brink of adulthood. They will be stories to share with other parents as we seek sympathy and solace, but scarcely worth considering compared to the larger challenges ahead.

But for the moment, the experience remains raw and real. I’d like to not repeat it ever, though I suppose we did learn a few things to be better prepared if there is a next time. Every day provides a chance for new experiences and different ways to learn about the many ways I can show my love for my family, some are just more outwardly positive than others. But so long as we’re all experiencing this life together, there’s joy to be found around every corner.

A prayer for January 29:

Lord, I have so many things for which to be thankful it’s difficult to know where to start. Some days it seems all I do is thank you for my family, but that’s because nothing else ranks so high in my life. It often feels like I have been given this family — the one I was born into, the one I married into and the one I am raising — so I could come close to understanding your love for all creation. I know I’ll never fully comprehend the mysteries of your love and grace, but you have given me more than enough to appreciate every day on this planet. May we continue to build our family on the foundation of your love. Thank you so very much. Amen.

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