My son was two and a half, and I was six months pregnant with my second. They say infancy GERD usually goes away by one year and in some cases it can take two years. But by two and a half, his GERD was still in full force and he was not getting better as predicted. The doctor had decided it was time for an upper G.I. and biopsy. They were looking for something called eosinophilic esophagitis as a cause of his issues. I won’t even explain what eosinophilic esophagitis is, because it’s long, complicated, and irrelevant, as all his tests and biopsies were normal. However the events that transpired in the OR recovery room that day had the most profound impact on me. It was unexpected, and I was unprepared for it. But it changed my life and how I approach my children’s and my life’s day to day challenges.
It was an oddly quiet day in the procedural rooms at the hospital for sick children. There were only three patients that day. There was a little girl having some procedure done to her heart, there was my husband and I, and another mother reading alone two beds down from us. As the day went on the little girl finished her treatment and went home. We were left alone with another woman also waiting for her child. Her little boy was done first. And the nurses pushed his bed into the empty slot beside her chair. You could tell she was scared and she was trying really hard to be brave. She quietly held his hand while he woke up.
It was right about this point that my stress, anxiety and nervousness were peaking. My son had never had anesthetics and we didn’t know how he would respond. It was also terrible to see him with all of the tubes and IVs. He was scared confused and miserable. We didn’t know how to explain to him why he had to have this done. I was pregnant and sick myself, with a sick little guy that didn’t sleep and who I couldn’t help, made me emotionally and physically exhausted. I hate to admit that I was feeling very “why me?” It just didn’t seem fair. It was so much for the little guy to go through. I didn’t understand why he was in so much pain and nobody could help. I was feeling very alone, very scared and frankly a little bit sorry for myself and sorry for my little man. We knew that the doctors had eliminated anything life-threatening and scary, but yet they still didn’t know what was wrong with him. I was very frustrated, sad and hormonal.
And then I saw a man in the hallway leaning against the wall next to the door. From where the woman was sitting, she couldn’t see him, but I had a clear view. He was clearly a doctor, still in his scrubs and surgical hat. He was bent over with his hands on his knees and was taking slow and deliberate deep breaths. He looked like somebody who had just run a marathon and was trying not to throw up. I watched him with silent curiosity, not realizing that he was preparing to come into recovery and speak to the mother next to me.
Whatever speech he had rehearsed to give to her, he never got the chance to deliver it. She took one look at him and knew. As soon as they made eye contact, you could hear the air exit her lungs. The silent sound of her breath being taken away is something I will never forget. She collapsed on top of her son and kept saying “no, no, no, no God no.” As the doctor reached up and pulled the curtain closed he said “I’m so sorry, we tried so hard.” The partition of the curtain did nothing. We could hear everything. It was this oddly intimate moment. We were witnessing the most horrifically personal moment in somebody’s life, and yet there was a complete and total separation by the curtain. We were strangers and this news was not meant for our ears, yet here we were, and we were hearing it.
The doctor, the woman and the little boy sat in their little cubicle silent for what felt like forever, but was probably just a few minutes. The doctor said “don’t worry we’re not giving to give up on him. We’re gonna keep trying, we’re going to look for other ways.” And the woman just cried.
Now the little boy spoke. He spoke with sincerity, and with the most genuine intent, he tried to comfort his mother. His little words and soft, sweet little voice hit my body like something I can’t even describe. He very sweetly, and very calmly said “don’t worry mommy, its really going to be okay. I’m not afraid to die”.
At this point I was so glad that curtain was closed because I lost it. I did my best to not make any sound while I cried. But, my pregnant hormonal self just couldn’t help it. She lost it too, and I could hear muffled quiet sobs over her little boy repeatedly telling her not to be scared.
The doctor gave her post op instructions and was very kind and loving and reassuring. Then he left and returned to his original spot in the hallway. But this time he sat with his back against the wall and his knees up to his chest… and he cried.
To the mother on the other side of the curtain, I’m so so so sorry. Please know that I think of you almost every day. Please know that you gave me one of the greatest gifts I could ever been given, and that is the gift of perspective.
I’m so sorry that my life lesson had to come at your expense. I feel forever guilty about that. Please know that I pray for you and your little boy, and I fantasize that the doctor did find another way. I pray that your beautiful little boy is in remission and healthy and starting school next week. Please know that every time I find myself frustrated and awake in the middle of the night wondering how I’m going to get through my day on two hours of sleep, I think of your sweet child. I become suddenly grateful that I at least have my boys to wake me up. I know that there are so many moms who would give anything to be woken up, because that would mean that at least they have their child alive and well to wake them up. You turned my perspective from sadness to joy in an instant. You taught me what real fortune is, and showed me that I had an abundance of it. Whenever anyone asks how I do it, I instantly reply, “it’s hard, but it’s not like I’m dealing with cancer.”
To the mom other side of the curtain, whoever you are, thank you. You changed me, and I am eternally grateful.
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