Reality Check

Last night, I had just put my daughter, Chloe, to bed when I realized that my wife, Stephanie, was still downstairs getting our son, Joshua, ready for bedtime. I was about to go downstairs when I remembered that Joshua had tried to scare me earlier in the day by hiding behind a door and jumping out at me when he thought I hadn’t noticed him. So I decided that I was going to get even with him for trying to spook me.

I went into his room and noticed that the comforter on his bed was hanging over the footboard and down towards the floor. I decided this would be the perfect place to hide, so I sat on the floor near his footboard, covered my head and body with the comforter and sat there quietly waiting for him to come to his room. A few minutes later, I heard him make his way up the stairs. He opened the door to his room and looked at the comforter that was draped over me at the end of his bed; it looked exactly like someone had built him a fort.

“Cool, who did this?” he said as he walked toward the comforter to check it out.

“BOO!!!!!” I said as I flipped the comforter off my head and raised my arms in the air.

“AAAHHHH!!!” He said as he jumped up in flight mode. His legs were moving extremely fast in any direction he could get them to move but his feet never touched the ground. He looked like Shaggy and Scooby Doo whenever they had seen the ghost for the first time and they were trying to high-tail it out of there. When his feet finally touched the ground, he fell into my arms as he tried to regain his breath from being startled.

“How come I can never scare you, Dad?” he said as he sat up on my lap.

“You have scared me enough for a lifetime, Josh.” I said as we stood up and he climbed into his bed.

“No, I never scare you,” he said as I pulled up his covers. “You always get me but I never get you.”

“You got me, trust me buddy, you got me,” I said as I started to tell him the story…

Stephanie had a weird feeling in her stomach all weekend, so on Monday she went to the doctor’s office to make sure that everything was alright. On her way back to work, she stopped by my office to tell me that she was already three centimeters dilated. She told me not to get excited because she could remain that way and not progress any further for the next month or she could go into labor tomorrow. As she left my office, I peeked at my schedule to see what meetings I was going to miss that week. I knew our baby was due on September 11th but the doctor said being born in early August was within the safe zone and that we had nothing to worry about. It was in Mother Nature’s hand; our baby would come when he decided to come.

That night when I came home, I knew that something was different. I had a feeling in my gut that tonight was the night that our baby boy was going to be born, so I went through my pre-delivery checklist. I checked to make sure the bag was packed and that everything we were going to take with us to the hospital was ready to go and in a place where I could get to it quickly when the time came.

Stephanie was literally doing laps around the bedroom all night long and I kept trying to convince her that she needed to get some sleep because if she was going to deliver today, she was going to need a little energy. She told me that she had tried to get some sleep earlier but she couldn’t, she had way too much energy. I don’t remember when we started calling the doctor’s office but finally around 3:30 a.m., the doctor told us to head to the hospital. Stephanie and I got into my little Toyota Corolla and headed to the hospital.

I must’ve hit every bump and pothole along the way. I was really not happy that our town decided to rip up the road on our route to the hospital. I thought Stephanie might give birth right there in my car and with our luck; it would have been par for the course if she had given birth in my little Corolla. We made it to the hospital, checked into the maternity ward and were taken to the birthing unit by 5:15 a.m. The nurse told us we were going to have to wait for the contractions to get closer together and for my wife to be fully dilated before it would be time “to push.” Stephanie told me to go and call the relatives so they knew where we were. I made a few phone calls at the pay phone in the hallway and came back to the birthing unit as quickly as possible.

Later in the morning, the doctor decided she needed to break Stephanie’s water. As she was breaking Stephanie’s water, she told us that, “The contractions will slightly increase in their intensity.”

The phrase “slightly increase” was an understatement. On Stephanie’s next contraction, she proceeded to break three or four of the fingers on my right hand from squeezing them so tightly. Ninety minutes later, the doctor let us know that we were ready to begin “active labor.”

I didn’t know I would be as involved in the delivery process as I was. We had been in “active labor” for almost three hours before it was time for our son to enter the world. Because of our constant activity during the birthing process, I didn’t realize that something might be going on that I wasn’t aware of but the birthing unit which had originally contained me, my wife, the nurse, and the doctor was now filled with an entire team of people in blue scrubs.

Our son, Joshua, was born at 3:03 p.m. It was an amazing experience to witness and to be a part of, words could never describe how amazing an experience it was to watch the birth of my child. I was on cloud nine. I was so proud of Stephanie; she was incredible throughout the whole process. I cut the cord and in the blink of an eye, the team of waiting doctors and nurses swung into action and scooped Joshua over to a table nearby for some tests. I was perplexed. Why didn’t they put Joshua into Stephanie’s arms? What was going on here? I walked over to the little table where the new doctor was doing some tests on Joshua and as he scooped up Joshua, it looked like he was going to head out of the room with our little boy.

“If he doesn’t go over to my wife before you take him out of this room, they’ll be taking you out in a stretcher with him,” I said to the doctor who was trying to rush Joshua off to another part of the hospital. I was tired, it had been a long forty-eight hours and I didn’t care for explanations from anybody; my wife was going to hold her baby before he was taken off to God knows where. The doctor took Joshua over to Stephanie; he let Stephanie hold Joshua for a few seconds and then he ran out of the room with his team and our son.

Our family members started showing up in our room. I was exhausted but I was also the “proud papa.” I took my brother-in-law down to see Joshua and while we were looking at him, I started to get an eerie feeling that something was wrong but nobody was telling us anything. Later that night, the doctor told us that Joshua’s lungs hadn’t fully developed. He was in an oxygen tent and depending on what happened over the next few days; Joshua may have to be moved to Children’s Hospital in Boston for further treatment. It could be a few days or possibly a few weeks before we knew if he would respond to the treatment and Stephanie and I were in shock. We had been up for a long time, Stephanie should have been sleeping after delivering but she just couldn’t fall asleep and I kept trying to split time between the neo-natal nursery and Stephanie’s room.

We woke up on Wednesday and learned that things had gotten worse. Joshua wasn’t responding to the treatment and for now, it was a waiting game. Stephanie and I rallied to support one another, we prayed for Joshua to get better and we did everything we could to quell the one fear that Joshua might not make it through this period of his young life safely.

Thursday brought more bad news. Joshua wasn’t responding the way the doctors would’ve liked. Our four and a half pound son with tubes in his nose, arms, feet and every other place you could imagine was fighting for his life and there wasn’t anything I was able to do to help him. I felt helpless and scared. How could I just let him sit there and go through all of this alone? I wanted to be able to do something so he knew his mother and father were fighting for him and with him.

Dr. Gilson came into our room and said she wanted to try one more thing to keep Joshua in our hospital but if it didn’t work, Joshua would have to be moved by ambulance to Children’s Hospital in Boston. As Dr. Gilson left my wife’s room, I prayed for strength because my fears had worn me down. We knew in our hearts that somewhere in that little body of Joshua’s there had to be a fighter, and we knew in our hearts that he would get better. He had too but sitting in my wife’s hospital room, unable to do anything, was the worst feeling in the world. I had never been so scared in my entire life.

The next four hours of our lives passed extremely slowly. It was taking forever but we had to wait until they could remove the tubes from Joshua’s lungs to see if he would respond to the latest treatment. We waited and waited and waited, and finally, Dr. Gilson came in to tell us the news. Joshua was responding and although it may take another week, she thought Joshua was out of the woods and would be just fine.

I fed and held Joshua for the first time on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. I was filled with awe, adrenalin, love and pride, but most of all, I was happy to hold Joshua and meet him for the first time in person. He had been alive for seventy-six hours and it was the first time I was able to do something that let him know that I would do anything for him for the rest of his life. Four days later, Joshua came home for good.

It was the scariest period of my life. I sat there, for the better part of eight days, staring at my son lying in an incubator with tubes down his throat, in his little arms and little legs, and I was at the mercy of modern medicine. It was the biggest reality check I had ever had in my life. We all fuss over the mortgage, the bills, making ends meet, vacations, and every other trivial item that comes up daily but when a loved one is ill and fighting for life; time seems to stop. The importance of everything fades away and you remember what truly is important. I always thought I would be a pretty good Dad when I finally had children but when I took Joshua home from the hospital on that sunny August afternoon, I knew that I would never forget the most important aspect of life; family.

“And do you know who that little boy was that scared me so much?” I asked Joshua after I told him a watered down, G-rated, version of his early life.

“Me,” he said with a soft voice and a calm resolve that told me he knew we were there by his side and that he knows we will always be there for him.

“As long as you are healthy and happy, nothing else in this world can ever scare me, okay?” I asked as I tucked him into bed.

“Okay,” he responded with a big yawn.

“Now get some sleep,” I said as I gave him a kiss on his forehead.

“Goodnight, Dad.”

He rolled over and closed his eyes.

I stopped at the door and looked back to watch him as he was sleeping safely and as I took a deep breath, I wondered where the past six years had gone. It didn’t matter. No matter how old Joshua is, I will never forget when he was born and how scared I was that he might never have made it out of that hospital. And it has made every moment we have spent together for the past six years that much more special.

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2 Responses to Reality Check

  1. Stephanie says:

    This has always been my favorite piece! Let’s hope our children never scare us again! Your sensitivity and true compassion for your children shines through in this essay!

  2. Dear Doug:

    Your intense love for your wife and your son makes. me very happy. They are lucky to count with an spouse and father like you.

    Best regards,

    Armando

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