I thought I could walk it off. I couldn’t.
You only came in for labs.
You walked in. You never knew you’d never walk out. Neither did I.
I watched as your vitals came up. It’s a weird word—vitals—this adjective we’ve turned noun to give us a picture of its origin. Your picture wasn’t a pretty one. Numbers flashed everywhere. Your heart was flying, your body burning; I blinked as your O2 sat flashed. 45%. My vision blurred. My heart raced. I slowly started shaking.
No. That can’t be right. Frozen, I calmly order: “Move it.”
I don’t believe it. You’re talking. You just told the nurse where to put your IV so that it wouldn’t infiltrate. The number flashes again; it’s the same. Things start moving very quickly. There’s suddenly dozens of people. They’re everywhere.
An oxygen mask covers your face. A voice shouts for someone to get a resp rate. I start counting. 38, no…48. You’re breathing faster than any newborn I’ve ever seen. Your lungs sound like a junky car that can’t quite start but keeps turning over again. I’ll never forget that sound.
You were a fighter.
IVs in both arms, we flooded your body with drugs. The propofol briefly knocked you out. Someone shoved a tube down your throat. Someone bagged you. Moments later, you were conscious, fighting, searching for something, something I couldn’t see or understand, something the drugs couldn’t give you. You tried to extubate yourself a dozen times. There was a ferocity in your eyes that defied the drugs, that pushed past all the flashing numbers that told us we were losing you. You kept fighting. You needed something that all the medicine, technology, and science in the world couldn’t give you.
I kept blinking them back, forcing my eyes open wider and wider, until I’m brimming with tears I pray won’t overflow. I don’t want you to see me cry. I want, I need, to be strong for you right now. I consciously tell myself to keep swallowing. Somehow, I’m swallowing back all the tears I know will pour out later.
Counts and labs cover the screen in flashing red flags. Everything’s wrong.
Your body’s failed you. We failed you.
We did everything we possibly could and it wasn’t enough. It didn’t matter. It didn’t work. We couldn’t save you. I was angry. I was scared. I felt betrayed by this science, this science that we slave away to understand. It’s a joke. It just didn’t work. I’m angry that I’ve even tried.
Yet somehow, you’re still here. Toxic levels of anesthesia surged through your body. You didn’t give up. A ventilator forced oxygen through your body. It still wasn’t enough. I watched enough fluid pour out of you to fill a two-liter bottle. I watched you cough up a frothy pink fluid I only suddenly recognized from a lecture pounded into my head what seemed like decades ago. I watched you cough up blood. I wasn’t even surprised. I could count your platelet level on my two hands.
Nothing made sense. Your eyes flashed, scouring, searching for something I desperately wished I could give you. You’re intubated. You’re on a ventilator. You shouldn’t even be conscious. I just don’t get it. You’re defying everything I’ve lost endless hours of sleep and sanity trying to comprehend. I just don’t understand.
And, suddenly, I do
Your mom walked in.
The ferocity left your eyes. Your breathing slowed. I understood. I started uncontrollably shaking as she came to your side, her own eyes brimming over with tears she tried to hold back. She asked if you could hear her. A softness came over you, and intubated, on a ventilator, you pulled out your iPhone. You typed something I couldn’t see. You gave it to her. Your dad stood over you, sobbing, as your mom read it. Then, she started, too.
You held out. You defied every ounce of medical logic.
‘I love you, and goodbye.’
It’s what you needed to say before you could stop fighting.
I understand now, but I hate that I have to. I wanted to fix you. I wanted to save you, and I couldn’t. We couldn’t. I can’t even begin to understand how you did it, how you held out, but I’m glad that you did.
No parent should ever, ever, watch their child die. It’s something I can’t even begin to comprehend.
It’s a painfully honest moment in which we realize science doesn’t explain us. All the advances in the world can’t predict how a single individual can defy all odds to fulfill the simplest wishes of the heart—that’s something for which I’m truly grateful. I may not fully understand such miracles in life, but I’m glad they exist. I’m glad I got to be a part of yours. I may be broken for days, but I’m glad I got to experience this one, and I’m glad it was my first.
Life, and love, truly unconditional love, is a truly miraculous occurrence. I wish more than anything in the world that I could simply hug my own mom right now. I’d pay irrational amounts to make that possible right now.
I’m glad you fought. I get it now. You put up one hell of a fight. You’re in my heart, always. You never forget your first, right? I’m honored that you were mine, kiddo.