Fear and Trembling

Now that ten months has passed, I wish there had been a camera in the room to record the expressions on our faces as we sat feeling as if our very souls were being sucked out of our bodies. At the time, of course—July 17, 2011—I remember thinking that a good case of permanent amnesia didn’t sound bad at all. Of all the odd thoughts that crossed my mind was, “What does it look like from his perspective, this doctor who just looked us in the eyes and uttered the words, ‘Probable fetal demise.’ ” My mind’s eye envisions us both—my wife, Elisabeth, and I—looking like mirror images of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

“Probable fetal demise.”

The words bored into us like an assassin’s bullet.

I vividly remember while getting my tonsils removed when I was in kindergarten experiencing what I can only describe as an out-of-body experience. It was as though I was hovering face down directly above the operating table at about ceiling-height watching the surgeons as they bowed intently over me. July 17, 2011, felt similar, although the circumstances were vastly different (despite the odd coincidence that both events involved doctors).

We were almost euphoric going into the ultrasound. Fresh off a trip to the Bahamas, which extended to a long visit to Elisabeth’s parents’ beach house in North Carolina, we were excited about hunkering down for the last half of the pregnancy, awaiting the arrival of our second child. This was our 20-week ultrasound—the one where the mass of rapidly dividing cells we’d seen on previous visits was suddenly metamorphosed with arms and legs—and “plumbing,” which for the second time we’d decided to keep secret from ourselves. How silly it seems in retrospect that we were so adamant about the medical staffs of two hospitals not blurting out the sex of our baby after the doctor had said, “Your baby is suffering from severe congenital heart defects.” Emerging hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS). Funny how a term we’d never heard before in one moment came to nearly define our existence throughout the remainder of the pregnancy.

No surprise we’d never heard of it. Of the just over four million babies born in the U.S. each year, only 1,000 are born with HLHS—in other words, we’d had about a .02 percent chance. With that kind of luck, we should have left the hospital and bought a lottery ticket. The doctor left us one sliver of hope—about the size of a pinkie nail clipping. He mentioned, “You might contact Children’s Hospital of Boston. They’re doing some cutting-edge procedures … with limited success.” At the time, it seemed every bit as promising as watching your house being ravaged by fire and a passerby suggesting, “You might try spitting on it.” But it was all we had to cling to.

I honestly don’t remember the drive to pick up our then 2 1/2 year old son from his godparents' house, other than the following verse from Genesis 22 running through my head in continuous loop: “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.”

To be continued.

1 comment:

  1. Brother Bryan, I'm signed up to follow, and I'm very intrigued to see what you'll do with this space

    Of course, I know many of the external details of the story you are starting to tell here. But as far as what it has meant to you, personally, well, I'll be reading.