About 10 years ago, my husband of 20 years abruptly left me and our three kids for another life and family. I was devastated—broken—physically suffering from the betrayal and chronic Lyme disease due to the unrelenting stress.
As we ended our marriage, I told myself that I would always partner with my children’s father if one of them had a health emergency. I made a commitment to put aside my search for forgiveness so that my ex-husband and I could parent together if an emergency arose—as if we hadn’t divorced.
The opportunity to test this commitment arrived in May 2018. Our middle child Alex was traveling to meet up with his older brother and lifelong friends for Memorial Day weekend. During the flight to Florida he became very sick. By the time my typically stoic son deplaned, he knew he had no choice but to call for help. An ambulance rushed him to the local hospital.
Even though he was 25 at the time and therefore considered an adult, the surgeon called me late at night to explain they were rushing Alex into surgery to address what appeared to be a twist in his small intestine. Alex risked losing part of his digestive system and developing sepsis, a life-threatening condition, so they needed to operate immediately.
Alex’s brother stood guard, keeping watch over the care Alex received. He was his parents’ eyes and ears. He provided in-person love until I could arrive.
When my marriage imploded, I become a single mom overnight. While it was a 24/7 job, it saved me because I knew I needed to show up for my kids as their mom (and now their dad).
I chose not to co-parent with my ex-husband after he left us, and he didn’t push for it. There was too much pain, and our kids knew intuitively that their best bet was to stay with me and their siblings.
I moved on and remarried. I supported my kids’ relationships with their dad, stepmother, baby sisters, and extended family because it was best for all of them.
I arrived in Jacksonville almost 48 hours after the ambulance transported Alex to the hospital because of torrential rains canceling my flight. To say I was anxious to get to my son would be an understatement. Initially, he thought he could manage the situation with his brother, but as time passed, I could hear the relief in his voice when I said I was on my way.
I knew for sure that my older son and I would take care of whatever Alex needed, just like we had rallied as a family of four several times in the past 10 years. I expected to keep my ex-husband in the communication loop, along with grandparents and uncles on both sides of the family.
Dad’s on His Way
The day after I arrived at the hospital, I received a call from my ex-husband saying he had booked the next flight out of Washington DC. Even though it was going to be challenging for me, I couldn’t say no. I knew I had no right to keep Alex from his dad.
Immediately, I received text messages from my older son and daughter making sure that I was aware of their dad’s travel plans. I assured them I was fine.
I told Alex that his dad was on his way. For the next several hours as he went in and out of sleep, he asked if his dad had arrived yet. It became clear that Alex needed his dad just as much as he needed me.
Divide and Conquer
My ex-husband and I cared for Alex by dividing and conquering (which is how we parented when we were married). My ex-husband took the early shift and I took the later shift with some crossover time. Together, the three of us walked laps around the hospital floor multiple times a day as part of Alex’s recovery.
I hadn’t spent this kind or amount of time with my ex-husband since we were married. I remember the three of us watching the Kentucky Derby together with one parent on each side of Alex’s hospital bed. I was managing the interactions well enough.
Alex convalesced at his dad’s house, a mile from his apartment. Doctors placed him on a low fiber diet due to the recovery needs of his digestive system. I cooked him several meals that matched his new diet, with the addition of a little extra mom love, and drove more than hour to deliver them to my ex-husband’s.
Shortly after arriving at his dad’s, Alex had a relapse. My ex-husband called me to relay the symptoms. We both agreed he needed to take Alex to the hospital. Fortunately, I trusted my ex-husband to advocate for Alex and get him the help he needed.
As part of the treatment, the doctors inserted a nasogastric tube through Alex’s nose and down into his stomach without the benefit of anesthesia (which was how it was placed at the hospital in Florida). Both Alex and his dad reported how excruciating the procedure was. Just hearing about it made my heart break. While I’m sorry they had to experience it, I’m grateful I don’t have those memories. I have no doubt that my ex-husband supported Alex as well as I could have at that moment. Probably even better.
Alex spent a few more days in the hospital but thankfully avoided another surgery. He has fully recovered and his 12” scar starting at his breastbone is a conversation starter at the pool.
Getting the Love He Deserved
As I understand it, a perfect storm led to Alex’s medical emergency. Regardless of the catalyst, I put my search for forgiveness aside so that Alex could receive exactly what he deserved … both of his parents calm at his side while he navigated the scariest and most painful event of his life. He deserved his parents’ best, and he got it. Hopefully, our kids won’t experience more medical emergencies, but if they do, their mom and dad will provide love and support as a team.