All of the air had been sucked from my world. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't think. The weight of my airless world came crushing down on top of me in the time it takes to answer the phone.
I remember telling the doctor to keep me in the loop. It was the day after he coded in my arms, turning blue, not breathing, monitor alarms ringing, nurses running....
I made him promise that he would call me if the time ever came when nothing more could be done. He assured me that day--the code was not due to his heart. He had just aspirated a little formula. He was doing well. And honestly, I never truly believed I would get that call. But I did.
The phone rang early that morning, right at shift change-before 7 am. I remember standing in the kitchen listening to the doctor. "I promised you a few weeks ago that I would tell you when we had done all that could be done. Do you remember? Can you come talk to me today? Now?"
Did I remember? Of course. Yes, it had been several weeks earlier, but how could I forget having such a conversation? I hung up the phone and turned to relay the message to my husband.
That is the moment the air left my world.
We sat with the doctors, numb and in shock, as they told us that our baby's organs were failing. No kidney function, no brain activity. We had to make a choice-we could do nothing, we could pull his lines or some of his lines (medications, nutrition, etc) or we could pull all life support. Not much of a choice. I stood above my baby's crib, looking down at his swollen little body. I knew that choice number one was not an option. We had to do something. Pulling his life support, though? Wow. How do you guarantee your baby's demise? I couldn't do it. I elected to pull his med lines and go from there. I sat down beside his crib and I waited. I relived the past 9 weeks and begged God for mercy. I had been making deals with God for 2 months-it wasn't too late for Him to take me up on one. I was desperate.
It's automatic, the reliving, the remembering of that time. Some years it's as real as the original. Other years it's like watching from the outside. Like it really happened to someone else and I'm being given a glimpse of what Hell on earth looks like. And some years, it's fond remembrances of the good days-there were good days. Especially in the beginning....
I spent a lot of time watching the light over the ICU door. A red light meant I couldn't go back, while a green light meant I could. The red light might be on all day, depending on transfers, procedures, death....
We all sat, waiting and watching that light. I can hear the television playing in the background-game shows, soap operas. I can smell the sanitizing soap and cold, stale coffee. I can see pain all around me. Pain and shock and numbness. Zombie moms waiting on the green light.
I can't help but stare when another mom comes through that door and out into the the hall, her grief all heavy and loud as family members attempt to take her away from the place she last saw her child alive. And yet, I never, ever believed I would be one of them. I never, ever thought my child would die. I didn't know anyone who had buried a child. I knew my son was very sick, but I was certain I would eventually take him home and live happily ever after. Then I got that phone call. It came when I least expected it. In the new year. January 2, 1993....
After sitting beside his crib for several hours, I knew. I had to pull it all. I had to let him go. The ICU doctor came and prepared me for what would happen. He took me to a consult room-the Death Room, we had called it, the room they took the parents when the child had died-and told me what to expect. He was kind, yet direct. They would take the ventilator out, clean him up and remove the medical equipment from his room. They would bring in a rocking chair and let me hold him until he passed. It could be hours and he might struggle to breathe. What had I done?? What if this was the wrong decision? Oh, God...
I sat numb and shaking. I looked at the clock. It was 3:45 pm.
At 4:09 the doctor was back. His face was tight and grim. He sat and told me that my baby was gone. He only took one breath. He seemed genuinely sorry that I was not able to hold my baby as he left this earth.
I think he was already gone.
Overall, it was confirmation that I had made the right decision. The nurse brought my son to me and I held him there in that little room. We cried together, all of us, nurse included.
Later, I walked out with a cardboard box filled with my son's belongings-his tape recorder, tiny socks, and assorted medical paraphernalia. His whole life was in that small box.
I walked out into the hall and didn't stop, didn't look up into the faces of the zombie moms. I couldn't. I didn't stop until I stood at the entrance to the hospital. I opened the door and the air-a cold blast of winter-hit my face. My air was back.
My son was gone, but he was no longer suffering. I walked out a different person, thanks to my son. I stopped making deals with God-He doesn't work that way. I stopped asking,"Why?" and started asking, "Why not?" And eventually, I started breathing again.
In Loving Memory.....
James Clint Schaffer
Oct 26, 1992-Jan 2, 1993
My CHD Warrior Angel