There he was. My “baby boy” disguised in a grown man’s body, just lying there in a bed much too small for his 6’3″ frame, and looking quite helpless with several tubes seemingly appearing from out of nowhere. Some were partially concealed underneath his hospital gown while the remaining tubes were resting in plain sight on top of my son’s newly acquired and fashionable attire, but they were all aimed directly at him like launched rockets with their sharp points successfully striking their intended target. My one and only child was still groggy from the anesthetic and had not yet spotted his mother and I, who were crammed into the small recovery room, nervously awaiting at the foot of his temporary bed. As a parent there is no worse feeling than seeing your child, no matter how old, in a vulnerable state. When raising a child, from the onset, it’s hard not to constantly worry about their health and overall safety. It doesn’t really matter whether your child is simply crying for a bottle as a newborn, receiving the unavoidable bumps and bruises as an active toddler, getting stitches under the chin because of a bicycle accident as a rambunctious adolescent, or taking some vicious hits out on the field during high school football games. The deep-seeded concern one has for their child does not diminish as time goes by. At least that has been my experience.
The first time my baby boy ended up in the hospital was when he was at the ripe old age of almost 3 months. We knew he was probably coming down with something, but at the time my wife and I weren’t too concerned. Besides, we hadn’t been out together as a couple for quite some time and had already made plans with another couple to attend a Halloween costume party at a local nightclub. We both felt fine leaving our son with his grandparents for the evening. As we were enjoying the autumn festivities an announcement was made, over the loud speakers, informing us that we had an urgent phone call waiting at the bar. My parents were worried about our son and insisted we come home. The fear and concern for my small child instantly ignited because if my folks, who had raised four children, were worried then surely there was something to worry about. When we arrived at my parent’s house we found our baby boy crying, and he appeared to have some difficulty breathing, so we rushed him to our town’s modest medical center. After a quick examination the Newton staff decided to send us west, about forty minutes away, to a larger hospital in Des Moines, Iowa.
My wife was dressed as a baseball player (chewing tobacco included), and I was wearing “hair metal” rock star apparel (make-up included) as we made the trek to the state’s capitol city, in the back of an ambulance, with our ailing son. We were slightly comforted in knowing one of the paramedics on board, so the trip didn’t seem as endless as one might imagine it to be in that sort of situation. The first thing the doctor on-call needed from me was written permission for him to perform a Lumbar puncture (spinal tap). I can’t remember if the spinal tap was designed specifically to assist him in finding a diagnosis or if it was just to be able to rule out some of the possibilities, but I do remember the doctor warning us of the potential, yet unlikely, complications that could occur from the procedure including paralysis. I most certainly remember the make-up streaming down my face as I reluctantly signed the consent form.
Thankfully my baby boy survived the Lumbar puncture, and it was determined he had contracted Human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The Virus is commonly found in newborns and begins with cold-like symptoms, but it can lead to hospitalization if not caught in time as I can attest to. Although he needed to stay an additional evening in the Intensive Care Unit I was extremely grateful my son was going to be alright, and I also realized there were worse things in life than my child having to spend his very first “trick-or-treat” night in a hospital. The evening wasn’t a total bust since many family members came to see him in his cute little outfit. My wife and I, now cleaned up and wearing normal clothes, could not take our eyes off of our precious baby boy adorn in a colorful clown costume. Posing on his hands and knees, in the I.C.U. crib, our “happy little clown” rocked back and forth as wide smiles continuously formed behind his small Binky pacifier.
My son’s next hospital stay occurred several years later, but luckily on this occasion we had time to plan for it. He was around the age of seven and had been dealing with strep throat symptoms off an on for a few years, so the doctor suggested we have his tonsils and adenoids removed. We still had some concern for our child even though we had time to prepare ourselves for the operation. I admittedly was a little excited about him losing his adenoids because he could snore with the best of them (a trait no doubt inherited from his mother’s side), and we had been informed that removing them could possibly help to alleviate his loud, incessant snoring. It did not! At least the tonsillectomy was a success, but as our son awoke from his induced slumber he sat up faster than anything I had ever seen before, and the look on his face was of pure terror. I had to help the nurse restrain him, and I tried my best to comfort him, but even the traditional promise of, “all the ice cream you can eat,” could not ease the pain he was feeling.
As a parent your child’s past experiences with sickness, pain, and even hospital visits can seem somewhat trivial when their present health issue is staring you in the face. My now adult son wasn’t simply in the hospital due to a virus, or in for a routine tonsillectomy, but he was recovering from heart ablation surgery to correct his abnormal heartbeat (Atrial fibrillation) condition. The procedure involved placing those aforementioned numerous flexible tubes into several of his blood vessels and moving them towards, what my wife and I know to be, his sensitive and generous heart. The abnormal tissue presumed to be the culprit is then destroyed by zapping the areas with electrical heat. The doctor explained how the 3.5 hour ordeal was pretty much what he had expected it to be, and he was very encouraged by what he was able to accomplish during the procedure, but we won’t know for sure if the surgery was completely successful for a couple of months. This time it wasn’t Halloween, and there was no clown costume, but after my grown son finally realized we were there and flashed us a big smile, no longer partially hidden behind a Binky, my concern and then my sense of relief was no less than it was so many years ago when he was my baby boy.