It has been almost five years since this happened–an event that changed my life forever. This is a story of faith, or how I learned to trust God enough to let His will be done, no matter what it meant for me.
September 19, 2010–A story of faith
My one-year-old looked like a corpse–his limbs as lifeless as a man on his deathbed. I paced our living room as Dr. Gilson, a chiropractor from church held the stethoscope to his chest.
The boy’s eyes remained half-opened, occasionally rolling them in the back of his head. He slept 22 hours a day. His neck was as flimsy as an infant’s.
Something was very wrong.
“This is concerning,” Dr. Gilson said. “His heart rate is really high. I’d definitely take him to the ER.”
My own heartbeat raced.
“Okay,” Amber said. “Thanks.”
She looked at me, her eyes soft. Are you okay? she mouthed.
I turned and left the room. I was not okay. Ethan was my kid, and she knew it. Corban was Amber’s–when he cried out in the night, he called for Mom. When he fell and scraped a knee–he called for mom. When I came home from work, he clutched mom’s knee.
Not Ethan. He was mine.
And I was watching him waste away.
What was taking so long?
I paced more and prayed my ritualistic prayer–please be okay. Please be okay. Save my son. Spare his life. Please be okay.
My prayers seemed unanswered.
Give me peace. Give me strength.
The terror remained. I was weak.
I checked my phone again. Silence.
I paced some more, prayed some more, and checked my phone.
I couldn’t wait for her phone call anymore, so I called.
“Ethan’s really sick,” she said. “They’ve got him on oxygen and an IV. They don’t know what it is. Gotta go.”
I dropped to my knees and wept. Oh God no. Oh no no no no. This was bad–seriously bad.
Again I prayed, but felt nothing.
I called David, a church friend. “I–I–I…Can you–”
I couldn’t speak.
“What’s up, man? Everything okay? What’s going on?”
“Ethan’s sick. I–”
“I’ll be right over.”
The ride to the hospital was silent. I couldn’t trust myself to speak. Instead, I thought of Ethan. Only two days before, I’d taken him to urgent care for vomiting and a high temp. The first nurse checked his heart rate. Checked it again. And again.
She called another nurse. And that nurse checked it again.
They called the doctor in.
They slapped him with a prescription of antibiotics and sent us on our way. I prayed then and felt that something was amiss–some unseen illness.
And I felt we were about to find out what that unseen illness was.
I arrived to find my little boy asleep with an IV fastened to his scalp and tubes of oxygen dangling from his nose.
“What is it?” I asked.
“They don’t know yet,” Amber said. “They’ve done a spinal tap, but they think it’s spinal meningitis.”
I felt as if a baseball bat had slammed into my stomach.
My mom had meningitis when there was an outbreak in Washington State. Of the several that contracted it, only she survived. They’d had a moment of silence in church on her behalf. While being rushed to the hospital she had asked the paramedic to kill her to end the pain.
And my son had it.
“What kind? Viral? Bacterial?” I asked.
“They don’t know.”
I collapsed into the chair.
“They’re giving him antibiotics, just in case,” she said.
They checked us in and transferred his IV to his wrist. They placed him in a white oversized crib. The heart-rate monitor beeped rhythmically and the respirator hissed–beep beep. beep beep, hisssssss.
I studied the oxygen levels, heart rate, and wondered what all the other numbers meant. I’m sure they said he was fine.
He wasn’t fine. My boy wasn’t there.
And in this situation, you pray, you plead, you do sensical things and nonsensical things–you do whatever it takes to bring him back (see The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, an excellent book).
There was this game we were fond of playing. He’d scrunch up his face and suck breath through his nose.
I tapped his cheek, attempting to wake him. I scrunched my nose and sucked in a breath.
We used to play another game…
I spattered spit trying to make him laugh, but my boy didn’t have the strength to smile.
What could I do? I lowered the baby gate, climbed into the bed, held him to my chest, and sang to him.
I am a child of God.
And he has sent me here.
Has given me an earthly home,
With parents kind and dear…
But where was God for me?
Yet, for the first time in months, he didn’t squirm or rush to his next activity. He sank into my arms and slept.
There were glimpses of my boy still inside the lifeless body. He had a favorite blanket–yellow, blue, and soft as Egyptian Cotton. He loved to play with the tag.
And he closed his fingers around it.
He was still there–faint as a distant light in the fog perhaps, but he was there.
We spent the next several days waiting–waiting for news on a diagnosis, waiting for word from a doctor, waiting for Ethan to come back to us.
Waiting, waiting, waiting.
To clear my mind, I went for morning jogs around the hospital. The place was located at the outskirts of town, where traffic was at a minimum and the scent of grassy fields and cow dung hung faintly in the air. For a half hour a day, i could escape the incessant beeping, the scent of antiseptic, and the waiting.
It was the only time I felt any sense of peace. I felt God watched, God listened, God understood.
But why wouldn’t he heal my son?
I’d return, shower, and climb into the crib with my boy.
And wait some more.
But sometimes, waiting is better than arriving at bad news.
The pediatrician entered, her face a mask of indifference–the sort of mask doctors put on before they dispense bad news. “I have a personal policy,” she sighed, “that I transfer the kids to Children’s Hospital when I feel like there’s nothing more I can do. For Ethan, now is that time.”
I sank into my chair. The expert didn’t know what to do–didn’t understand why my son wasn’t improving.
This was bad.
We called people from our church and pleaded with them to come and pray with us. They arrived. I felt that I should be the one to say the prayer. I was the father. It was my responsibility.
But how could I pray when every word came out as a choked sob?
Instead, I asked them to pray for me–pray that I might have the strength to bless my own son.
As they spoke the words, my heart filled with peace, my shoulders relaxed, contentment settled into my chest.
I could do this.
Calling upon God, I blessed my son. I then blessed my wife–“One day, you will look back upon these days with fondness.”
Those words echoed in my mind–fondness, fondness, fondness.
But would I look back upon these days with fondness because they were the last days I’d spend with my son?
To be continued…