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Lions Roar : January 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2009 25 IT WAS THE BEGINNING of the Something Worse summer. Every new bit of information about our baby’s condition we learned seemed awful, like the worst news we could get—and then we learned worse news still. Before Liam got born so fast, the ultrasound in the midwife’s office had registered a faint irreg- ularity of heartbeat; then we learned that he wouldn’t live long, that he would burn like a shooting star through those cool mid- summer days. I had to learn things that I never wanted to know in order to take care of Liam. I also learned things I needed to know, and learned that, as awful as things got, I wasn’t immune to a pleasant surprise. To feed him I learned to insert a tube into his nose. I measured it from his cheek to his stomach along his seized-up body and pinched the tube at the point where it touched just below his nose. I fumbled with one hand to plug my ears with the min- iature stethoscope—the one the nurse at the neonatal intensive care unit gave me when we decided to take our baby home—so I could listen. I didn’t let go of the tube. I didn’t want to lose the length I’d measured off. I flipped the tube over and began insert- ing it into Liam’s nose and noticed that his nose looked like his father’s and that his eyes were sometimes the color of sapphires. Perhaps, if things were right, they’d be blue someday. But noth- ing was right, there wouldn’t be a someday—only that minute and my son’s unblinking stare. I learned I had to hold on any way I could, even knowing the end would come soon. After some time the last of the milk passed through the syringe into the tube. I watched the white line of the milk drain down. My arm got tired but I held on anyway, supporting my raised elbow with my other hand when I needed to. The line slipped into Liam’s nose; the tube was cleared. I waited a couple of heart- beats more to make sure the milk had passed all the way into his stomach. I removed the syringe, taped off the tube, and taped it to his cheek for the next feeding. I didn’t need to change it until the next day. I hoped I’d have to change it the next day because if I didn’t, it meant something even worse had happened; I’d have to do something even worse. Learn to let go. I learned I had to make decisions I didn’t want to make. My father-in-law, Jerry, arrived after flying for three days from St. Petersburg, Russia, to be with us. Chris had sent a fax to his boat, “Come now, please.” Jerry was a cardiac-thoracic surgeon and head of surgery for Maine Medical Hospital, but in his transi- tion to retirement he took a job as a doctor on a Maine Maritime Academy ship sailing to Russia from Maine. “You can make a choice,” Jerry said as we sat in my living room, where the late-afternoon sun had begun to fill the room with warmth, and the butter-yellow walls began to glow. “People do make that decision in some extreme cases.” I took in his words, but couldn’t comment on them directly. “I love this glowy time of day,” I said, looking down on Liam in my arms. “It’s so bright and soft. I like to think of it as a golden hour.” Jerry, I think, sort of chortled and looked down. In my stupid arrogance, I thought he just liked my phrase and was ponder- ing it. Maybe he did tell me “the golden hour” is also medical slang. But I don’t think he explained it to me then. It was years later I learned that in the ER medical community “the golden hour” is the period of time from the onset of the injury, during which if the right remedy is applied, then the patient is likely to PHOTOBYMARTINRATTER The Blue Poppy A blossom’s beauty is undiminished by the sad fact that it won’t last forever, maybe not very long at all. When KATHLEEN WILLIS MORTON’S baby dies, she learns to appreciate the flower-like beauty of his brief life.