Thursday, April 29, 2010

Circle of Friends - Our Day in Hell - Part 3

The tests the doctors performed on India didn’t take long but it did take some time to get the results back. Within an hour the doctor came out of India’s room with blood on his blouse. I didn’t know if India was alive or dead and the doctor showed no emotion as he walked down the hallway to us. He came up to Veruca and me, let out a sigh and said that the procedure was a success and India was stable. The doctor told us that the operation hadn’t gone the way he’d planned and India had crashed right in the middle of the procedure. This was the cause of the mayhem we saw and why it took so long. The doctor said that he’d taken the other IVs out and things should be smoother now.

Without any real discussion or planning, Veruca and I began to create the best environment possible for our little girl in this cold sterile place. We brought in a CD player and dozens of CD’s. We put some very cute little dolls wherever we could find room and put a hanging butterfly over India’s head. Either Veruca or I were by India’s side twenty-four hours a day.  We were always playing music, talking, or reading her books. I now understand that Veruca and I did all this because it was the only way that we could cope with our impossible situation.  We had to know that we were doing whatever we could to bring some normalcy to India’s and our lives while in this critical care unit. 

Family and friends, including Bama, took turns sitting by India reading books out loud, talking, singing or even playing games; anything so India could hear familiar voices and sounds.  Eventually, my little brother Tom took on the night duty. He was a lifesaver for me during this experience. A plus for him was that one of the night shift nurses was cute and I believe wanted to play doctor with him; badly. 

During our stay in the PICU, we saw a lot of very sick children. None stayed even close to the length of time India did. I noticed there was not a single family who so much as stayed the night as their child was in intensive care. I was really confused by this. The nurses told me that we were the anomaly, most families don’t stick by their Child’s side the way we were doing. 

Of all the children that were in the PICU while we were there, there’s one I’ll never forget. He was a young black boy, about 12 years old. He was a foster child that had been locked in a closet for months. When they brought him in, he looked like a concentration camp victim. He was awake, looking around and communicating. His only family was the foster parents, who were now in jail. He had no friends, he was all alone. This poor little boy was in the PICU, all by himself, living in a world that is beyond my comprehension. The only people who came to see this kid were two incredible Mormons. They’d never met the boy, had no connection with him.  They only knew of him from the front-page-news of his ordeal. They brought him food, sat by his side, and of all the things that brought me to tears, they placed a little stuffed bear on his bed next to him as if he were a baby.

Despite the hospital and Mormon couple’s efforts, the boy died. I believe he passed away in part from what they call “failure to thrive.” I’ve always hoped that the kindness of that couple truly made his last days better. It was hard for me to tell, the poor boy had been so abused.  I’ve always also wondered if Karma took care of the foster parents.

As time went on the nurses became worried about Veruca and I. We were hardly sleeping, and eating was almost impossible. I believe Veruca agreed to take a sedative at one point, but I was too afraid to. I couldn’t imagine being put in a deep sleep just to wake up and find India’s room empty and clean; her little body gone. To help us the nurses kept the room that adjoined India’s open for Veruca and I. There was a sliding door that we could keep open. This helped; Veruca and I would take turns napping with the door open. 

A few days after India’s tests were performed, the doctors asked to meet with us. It was late in the day and India hadn’t been doing so well. We’d still not slept much, we’d hardly eaten, and our spirits were crushed. The worst part was that we’d not been allowed to hold our daughter since we arrived at the PICU; it was against regulations. Every bone in our bodies screamed to hold and comfort India, and not being able to do so was torture.

When the doctors arrived, we all sat down next to India and they started explaining the test results to us. They said that India’s seizures had never stopped, even though outwardly they’d seemed to. This was the worst case scenario imaginable. They then went into some very confusing and intense conversation about India and what was going to happen. It really wasn’t a conversation—Veruca and I just sat there listening. These doctors were talking to us as if we were doctors instead of tired, emotional, young parents. We didn’t understand a word.

After the doctors left, the nurse who’d been present asked us if we understood what had been said. We’d become very close to this nurse, his name was Tony. Tony sat us down again and told us that the doctors said that India wasn’t going to make it. He said that they would come back tomorrow and ask us to make the decision of keeping her on life support or not. He said that it was our decision and not to rush into anything. Tony explained that the doctors felt that India at this point, was already a vegetable.

Through my reliving this story for you, the reader, I’ve often tried to express the smell, taste, look and feel of the emotions we were going through. The sensation at this moment I’m not going to even attempt to explain, it would be futile. Veruca and I just sat there, too tired to cry, to stunned to talk, and physically unable to do anything else. Tony the nurse told us that he’d be back at 11:00 pm at shift change and he’d want to talk to us again; it was important. He left us alone; we didn’t move a muscle.

The only thing I could think of to do was borrow my father-in-law’s truck and drive with Veruca to my dad’s grave. My father and his wife had been killed when I was a teen in a balloon accident. He hadn’t been a very good father for the exception of the last year of his life.  Veruca and I drove to his grave, sat down and told him that he owed me one. I said to my father’s tombstone that if there was anything he could do for India, he needed to do it right now. Then we drove straight back to the hospital.

Word of what the doctors had told us spread quickly. Somebody mentioned that we should baptize India before she passed. We weren’t religious but we wholeheartedly agreed that India deserved this so we decided to have a ceremony in celebration of her life. An old friend of ours by the name of Aaron Hendon agreed to perform the ceremony. Aaron was a transplant to Albuquerque from the east coast. Aaron was a Jewish bagel maker and owned a wildly successful bakery and restaurant. He’d become an ordained minister from one of those ads in the back of Rolling Stone Magazine. This made Aaron perfect for the ceremony and I’ll always be grateful to him for his kindness and efforts.

When it was time, Aaron had all of us, perhaps twelve family and friends, stand in a circle around India’s bed. Everybody held hands while he said a few beautiful words. Aaron then asked each person to talk about India. It was such a touching ceremony and a very emotional scene. Every single person had beautiful things to say about India. There was a ton of love and support in the room and for the first time in weeks, laughter. In the middle of it all was my baby, lying there peacefully. 

After our ceremony was done and everybody had gone home, Tony the nurse arrived. He had told us earlier in the day that he wanted to meet with us at shift change and it was important.  Tony walked in the room and asked Veruca to sit in a chair next to India. He walked back to the hallway, looked both ways, and then shut the door. He turned around and told us a story. He said that at his last hospital, they had a policy just like this one now: a child on life support could not be held by the parents. He then said to us that his biggest regret in his entire career was when he had a family in a similar situation as ours. He followed hospital procedure and didn’t let the parents hold their child before she died. He explained that he’d never make that mistake again, even if it meant his job.

We knew what Tony was about to do. Veruca and I began crying, it was a truly bittersweet moment. We were so happy that we were about to hold our daughter after all this time. But this was going to be the last time we’d ever hold our child while she was alive. One of the most emotional moments in my life was when Tony ever-so-gently picked up India, with all her monitor lines and life support tubes intact, and placed her into Veruca’s lap. I stood there crying. But my tears were happy tears. Veruca was glowing again the way she did the very first time she held India. Veruca’s eyes were sparkling and her cheeks were red. Tears were falling down her face but they t looked like my own, happy tears. Veruca began talking to India in such a sweet voice that only mothers can do. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.

Tony then told me it was my turn. I sat in the chair and Tony placed India in my lap. It was a beautiful moment but it became very painful to let her go. I did not want my moment with India to end. I could feel the warmth of her skin and appreciated every breath she took. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as present in a moment in my life as I was then. I believe many people spend their entire lives meditating to reach the point I was at. I reluctantly let Tony take India back to her bed.  I can’t even begin to attempt to explain what it’s like to know that you’re holding your child for the last time.

That night, I fell asleep sitting next to India with my head on her bed, holding her hand. I had fallen into a deep, exhausted sleep. When I awoke, it was early morning and we were all alone.  I sat there for a moment and soaked in all that had happened the day before. The heart monitor and ventilator were making their usual noises and I could hear the nurses outside in the hallway. I stood up and began to rub India’s little head, wondering if this was going to be her last day with us. I leaned over, kissed her cheek and told her I loved her with all my heart. I didn’t know if she could hear me or feel my presence. The doctor had used the word vegetable so maybe her brain was already gone.

Before India’s hospitalization, I’d often talk to her in a very silly, high-pitched voice. I’d use this voice when I’d talk to my kitties but when India first heard me doing this she’d smiled the biggest smile ever. So I used this voice often when we’d play; she loved it. I started to talk to India in the silly voice now. I knew I was trying to reach into the past, before India’s seizures destroyed her little body. I wanted again to be the proud and happy father with the healthy glowing baby. I began to cry as I stood over her ravaged body. All I could squeak out in my silly voice was “I love you baby girl, please come back.” I’d finally realized what the doctors had said the day before and it was having its full impact on me now. My lips were on India’s forehead as I cried and repeating “I love you baby girl, please come back.” 

After a few minutes, I lifted my head just above India’s. Her little face was horribly swollen. The tip of her tongue was shriveled, dark brown, and cracked from lack of moisture. Her eyelids had a crust on them and her skin was slightly grey. But she was my child, I saw a beautiful little girl with bright eyes who made the sweetest little noises; she was perfect. 

By now Tony had come in to check on India. As I began to move out of his way, I leaned over, kissed her cheek, and told India one last time in the silly voice that I loved her. As I stood up, I didn’t believe what I thought I saw out of the corner of my eye. I turned back once more and said again that I loved her in my silly voice. It happened again; I wasn’t seeing things. India, with her cheeks trembling, managed to give me a tiny smile. I was dumbfounded, literally dumbfounded. I looked up at Tony for confirmation of what I’d just seen. He stood there motionless, staring at India, equally as stunned. Tony cracked a smile and said “I’ll be damned.”  He asked me to make my voice again. Once more, my little girl’s cheeks trembled as she pulled back a smile. I began sobbing; the happiest tears of my life were flowing down my cheeks onto India’s face as I kissed her again and again. Her smiles didn’t stop and haven’t to this day.