Yesterday, my neighbor told me she was lucky. In two days her daughter was going in for a minor procedure on her heart. After the procedure, she would be a perfectly healthy normal kid with no restrictions. It is horrible that she needed a heart procedure, but it was looking like the best case scenario was coming true. She was lucky if could be much worse. My neighbor tried to sound upbeat and optimistic. But I could see it in her eyes. The dread, the worry, the fear. I recognized it because I had seen it before. Because I remember that look, I will never forget how lucky I am.
5 Years Ago….
It was the longest day of my life. My then two-year-old daughter was in surgery to remove a brain tumor.We were in the waiting room for an agonizing twelve hours desperate for any news on how the surgery was going. Finally, we heard the news we were hoping for. Ella’s surgery and it was a success. The doctor told us he was able to remove the entire tumor. Which means she would probably not need chemotherapy or any additional surgeries. We were lucky.
My wife and I were overjoyed. This is also the first time I noticed the other parents around me. There weren’t happy like we were. They hadn’t received good news. You could see the pain on their faces. It was the first time I saw that look. I would see it a lot over the next week we stayed in the hospital.
My time in the PICU
During her stay, I spent the nights in the pediatric ICU. My wife, who was eight months pregnant at the time, left at night to get some rest. I didn’t sleep much. I would just lay there in my chair listening to the machines beep and watching the nurses run from room to room making sure everyone was ok. Ella was stable and comfortable. Something that couldn’t be said for many of the kids there. We were lucky.
When I did leave her room, I would sneak away to grab some food or a shower. My wife and our family sat with Ella. That is when I saw them. The other parents with kids in the ICU. I never spoke to them. I had too much on my mind at the time. But I could tell they were hurting. You could see it in their faces. The way their relatives embraced them on their visits. Something was wrong and it wasn’t getting better.
My daughter would be leaving soon. A short time later she would return to her kid’s gym class, resume playing with her friends like any other two-year-old. The brain tumor was horrible, but she was getting better. We still had a few years of physical and occupational therapy ahead of us but she was getting better. These parents didn’t have that happy ending. A few would still get lucky. Their child would get better and like me, they would be leaving with a smile. But others didn’t. I could see it. The tears in their eyes as they waited for any news or worse left alone.
Unlike me, my daughter barely remembers her time in the ICU. For her, it is a thing of the past. She still doesn’t quite grasp how close we were to losing her. How fortunate she is that even though her tumor sprouted, for some miraculous reason it sprouted away from her brain allowing it to be removed completely. She doesn’t get how amazing it is that she suffered no learning or physical disabilities from her surgery. But I do. I know how lucky we were.
It has been over 5 years and I still can’t help but think of those parents. Every time we visit the hospital for one of Ella’s MRIs I remember them. I never asked their names or why they were there. But I remember their tears. I remember the look of absolute anguish and defeat on their faces. I never found out if they were lucky like we were. Some weren’t, and that breaks my heart. They left the hospital empty-handed. These parents never had the doctors give them good news with a smile. They never got to take their kids home. They never got one more hug. We did, and that is why I will never forget, were lucky.