Sunday, April 25, 2010
The Best Gift
“What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?” It was a simple question, posed by a friend as we sat around a fire pit with our husbands next to us and our children playing in the yard beyond. We all agreed that children and spouses were a given, so beyond the gift of offspring and lifetime mates, what would be next on the list? It was a really, really hard question.
I’ve been given many meaningful things that came in boxes. Special jewelry from my sisters. An old coin from my spouse, a gift his own grandfather had given him and he lovingly passed on to me at one point in our dating years. An old pocket watch from a friend of our family, given to me when I was a preteen because I’d been kind to him in his drinking years when few others had shown him the same courtesy.
I have several letters in my storage tubs that hold great meaning. Some from old friends. A few from my father, sent to me in my college years, telling me how proud he was of me. Many from the man who became my spouse. But of all the special things that have been given to me through the years, the one that stood out, once I’d pondered the question for a few days, was a gift of time.
It was the summer of 1996 and we had just welcomed our third child into the family, a son we named Isaac. He came into the world on Father’s Day, which also happened to be my brother’s birthday. His big brother and sister, who were four and five, were thrilled to finally meet this new little playmate. But all was not well with our baby boy.
He was much fussier than his siblings had been but it went beyond that. He seemed uncomfortable in his own skin. He could not seem to get enough to eat and didn’t know how to sleep for more than an hour at a time. His doctor was reassuring (“some babies are just fussier than others…”) but we suspected something bigger was going on. After weeks of trying to figure him out he finally got some medical symptoms that landed us in the hospital. He had odd fevers and started dropping weight. His blood tests came back with peculiar, inconsistent results. We were happy to be getting help but still as confused as ever about what was wrong with our newest son.
Because I was nursing him it was logical that I would stay with him at the hospital. I held him down as he screamed through medical tests and blood draws, hoping one of them would give us some answers. I answered endless questions from doctors, who streamed through our door day and night, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle in order. In the meantime I continued to nurse him around the clock, as I had done from the day he was born. His lack of interest in sleep and desire to constantly eat left me, his food source and caregiver, exhausted. Jeff was great about holding him off when we had been at home, giving me a few hours of sleep at a time, but once we began living at the hospital, he was needed back home, to keep our preschooler’s schedule as normal as possible.
We were released for a week, as Isaac seemed to be improving on his own, then landed back in the hospital, this time a specialty children’s hospital in the next town, when the symptoms returned, worse than before. We were mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausted.
Then one day the phone on the crib side table rang. I picked it up and heard a familiar voice say, “Judy, get ready. I am going to be at the hospital at 11 o’clock tonight and I am going to rock your son through the night. You are going to sleep tonight.”
The voice belonged to a woman I admired greatly. She was a mentor to me through my teen years and had been a great help emotionally as I waded through the intense grief of losing my mother two years earlier. She was one of the few people I truly trusted enough to hand over my little boy.
And right on time, she indeed showed up that night. At 11 o’clock on the dot. I handed her my boy and gave her his latest updates. Then as I tried to linger, she shooed me out the door. Hooked up to an IV for nourishment, technically I could take a break from my post, and Anita took it upon herself to volunteer for duty.
Just down the hall I found an empty, quiet waiting room. I pulled two small couches together and made a tiny crude nest of upholstery. Pushing all my worries and concerns away, trusting that my boy was in loving arms, I fell asleep. It was a sleep so deep I didn’t come out of it until the early morning light came through the window and landed on my eyelids.
Six hours of uninterrupted sleep. I had not slept that many hours in a row since Isaac had been born, ten weeks earlier. I woke up disoriented, my brain so healed by such rare slumber. It quickly occurred to me that I’d been away from my sick boy for many hours. It was hard to fight off the panic of what ifs. What if he had a medical crisis in the night and they couldn’t find me? What if he’d been hungry and I was not there to feed him? What if I’d missed an important visit by another specialist?
I rushed down the hall, back to the room I knew too well. And as I turned to enter, my racing heart stilled. In the new sun that came through the window, the same healing rays that had so gently roused me in the waiting room down the hall, my baby boy was at peace. Tucked on Anita’s shoulder, he quietly dozed, tiny eyelids fluttering as dreams crossed their path.
“I’m afraid it’s happened.” Anita quietly said to me. My heart skipped a beat. Maybe this tranquil scene was not all it seemed to be. She saw my panicked face and grinned.
“It’s happened, my dear…I’ve officially bonded with your baby boy.”
So how can I not count that as one of the best gifts that I’ve ever been given? So many people asked, during our long hospital stay with Isaac, “What can we do to help?” And so many were willing to do whatever we asked. But one friend, one very insightful friend, saw our need and met it without asking. She announced her plan to a worn out, frightened mommy and insisted we accept her gift.
And we all won in the end. Isaac was finally diagnosed and put on medicines that restored his health. I went forward in that new day, able to think clearly for the first time in months. Anita resumed her spot on my short list of angels who have been sent to earth to minister to me.
And I saw firsthand how the very simple things, things like a makeshift couch bed in an abandoned waiting room, can be as valuable as any diamond ring.