I stood there peering through the double paned window feeling helpless. I watched as they prodded and picked on Christopher, my little baby boy. Although I knew they were trying to save him, it was cruel the way they were poking him over and over with a needle. Seriously, it was like he was a pin cushion. I can still see them sticking and sticking his little baby arm over and over. They were trying to get blood I realize, but it seemed to me, a mother with empty hands, like to them, he was a piece of hamburger. I had been so gentle with this precious life making sure everything was just so for him, and there they were, jostling him around like a rag doll. My heart gripped inside me as a twinge seized the back of my neck and tightened every muscle all the way up to my head. A sharp pain came to my soul with each stick to my baby’s arm, although, he did not feel a thing; he was not conscious.
The double doors that stood before me were like doors to a dungeon cell that would forever lock me away from my son. This last year my hands had been full of life taking care of every need this child had; feeding, caring, bathing, holding, loving, sharing, and hugging. Suddenly, he was taken from me; and there was nothing my hands could do for him. It was if they had been amputated. But I could still feel their need to pick up my baby, stoke his hair and provide comfort. It felt much like an amputee feels the pain of a limb that is no longer there.
My eyes were fixed on the team of doctors attending to my son. My body was stiff with fear, growing numb. I kept thinking what if my baby died and I had to forever live without him? I could not bear that thought. A nurse appeared in front of me, seemingly out of nowhere. She wasn’t just any nurse; she was a Nazi nurse with arms spread out wide like she was guarding my son, like a four limbed road block. Guarding him from who, me? I am Ava Moreland, Christopher’s mother. She suddenly leaned her chest into me and began to push me and scoop me away with her arms. I took one step back, eyes wide open in shock. A crinkle came on my forehead as my focus was snatched from my son, and I looked square into her dark brooding eyes.
“That is my son!”
“I know ma’am. You have to move. You don’t want to interfere with the team of doctors trying to help your son. You are in their way. They need to focus.”
“I am not doing anything, but standing right here outside the doors watching! How am I interfering?”
My empty hands suddenly did not feel numb any more. Totally unlike myself, with my arms at my side, I felt my fingers straighten and then tighten. I felt myself draw a fist. I had never before been confronted like this and had never before felt the need to draw a fist. This was my son; I was his mother. I only had his best interests at heart. I was not going to hurt him, or interfere with those who were saving his life. It was totally absurd of her to even assume such a crazy idea.
“I would not do anything to harm my son. That is my baby.”
She leaned into my chest harder, into the empty space where Christopher belonged; instead, he was lying on a cold hard table with strangers surrounding him. My chin tilted as my fist strengthened. It was a strength that came from deep within. It was deposited within me when I became a mother. I did not know it was there because it had been hidden away in a safe that was only unlocked when my baby was in danger. I was ready to take her out. You just don’t come between a mother and her child.
A look of surprise came over the nurse’s face as she glanced down at my fist at my side. Her road block arms retreated and she backed off. She could see that she had overstepped her bounds. Both of her hands with fingers sprawling went straight up in front of her in defense. She got the hint.
“Oh no, ma’am, I was just trying to help you. It is hard to see your son like that.”
Minutes before my mother and I were standing out in the hallway waiting for Christopher to be taken to Riley Hospital for Children when blue lights began flashing up and down the hallway like fireworks were going off. Only these were not celebration flashes of light. They were flashes of death. Ten nurses ran down the hallway coming from every which direction. They had called a code and an alarm was blaring. My mother and I looked at each other and went running after them.
“Did they just go in the room where they took Christopher?” I said in a low voice. “Oh no, is it Chris? It can’t be Chris.” Tears began to stream down my face and Mom’s too. My voice quivered, “My baby, my baby, my baby.”
My mother said nothing. We ran down the hall arm in arm. The pneumonia had taken over his lungs and his lungs drew no more breaths. He was not breathing. Mother and I stood in the hall way, standing in each other’s arms bawling our eyes out. Tear drops were falling to the floor as Chris fought for his life. My empty hands should have folded in prayer, but there was no prayer to be said, only panic and despair. Mom stood tall in strength, took my place and said all the prayers for me.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the events that led up to the moment when Christopher’s breath was stolen from him. I could see his whole life lying before me. For several days he had had a violent cough that only grew worse with time. The sound of that cough always brought on a fear that gripped my heart; it would grip any mother’s heart. It was a cough that turned heads, and I always knew what followed. He had been in the hospital five times throughout the first year of his life. This was the sixth time he had been hospitalized for pneumonia since he spent the first month of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital in Indianapolis. I didn’t get to hold him when he was born. He was born early and could not breathe on his own. They had to rush out of the room to help him breathe. My hands felt empty then, too.
We celebrated his first birthday only two days ago. We knew he wasn’t feeling well, but he was being treated with all the usual meds and breathing treatments. He did smile as we blew out the candle shaped as the number one for him on his birthday cake. Everyone, even strangers would come up to me and talk about how Christopher was the sweetest baby.
“He’s just so sweet; he has such a sweet spirit,” they would say.
The day after Christopher’s birthday, his cough only got worse, and I took him to get a chest x-ray. It showed pneumonia full length in both lungs. A picture appeared in my head of both lungs. How do you breathe when both lungs are full of fluid? Christopher’s doctor was on the phone and wanted to talk to me.
“Well, his lungs are pretty bad. Do you want him to go into the hospital?” he said.
Normally, I thought that was the kind of decision that a doctor determines, not a mother. I felt awkward as I was confronted with this question. It was a huge question, a big decision. Was I equipped to answer this question? But the decision was totally left up to me.
“He seems sick enough to me that he may need oxygen. And he hasn’t eaten much in two days and he won’t nurse anymore.”
This was the first time I doubted my son’s doctor. I had done research to find a good doctor, at least with what was available to me at the time, word of mouth. We didn’t have the internet then like we do now to research. Everyone I knew told me he was a good doctor. I thought my son was in good hands.
“Well, it is up to you, what do you think?” the doctor said smugly.
“I think he needs to go in.”
Sure enough Christopher needed oxygen. I couldn’t imagine if I would have made the decision to take him home. What if I had made the wrong decision? They put him in a clear plastic tent with oxygen in it. The moisture built up and beaded on Chris’ body and clothing, even the bedding was wet. It was like he was sweating bullets of oxygen right out of his lungs. They wouldn’t let me hold him or nurse him. His oxygen saturation monitor kept reading in the 70s, instead of in the 90s which would have been more acceptable to sustaining life.
I sat in quiet despair and watched the oxygen drain from his body. I did not have the knowledge I needed to save him. I was ignorant. If I was a nurse or a doctor, I would know. But, I wasn’t. Up until that day I was a kind respectful person who didn’t speak up much. I was smart; I was just quiet and not assertive. I am different now.
The nurse we had on that first night was a nice nurse, not the Nazi nurse. She was older, but not a nurse for very long. She didn’t seem to know any more than I did. I saw her run back and forth and back and forth to the phone. She was calling the doctor, but getting no answer. All night her feet were shuffling to the phone and back to our room. It was like she was a tennis ball and Chris was on one end of the tennis court and the phone was on the other. I was the audience with my head turning one direction and then the other following the ball, only the sun was not shining and it was not warm. The night was long and cold and dark.
Chris kept looking at me through the drenched plastic tent on the crib, reaching for me. He wouldn’t sleep; he wouldn’t eat, neither did I. The monitor kept ringing off in the 70s, sometimes lower. I couldn’t take it any longer. I left the room and went down the hall with head in my hands.
I called my husband who was at work. I poured my heart out to him. “I can see the baby worsening right before my eyes! He is deteriorating right before me. I feel so helpless.” Tim encouraged me and said, “I’ll be right there.”
I went right back into Christopher’s room as a different person. I was afraid he would die before my eyes if I didn’t do something fast. Strength came over me like never before. I was his mother; I was the only one who could make a difference. I became assertive.
I spoke boldly to the nurse, “I want you to get this baby some help, NOW!”
I didn’t want to be rude, but Christopher needed help. She just stood frozen and looked at me. I looked away from her and down to the ground knowing that I was being discourteous.
I repeated, “This baby needs help, NOW!” At this point I didn’t care about being graceful.
The nurse’s feet scampered once again to the phone. I saw her talking; she was pleading. I couldn’t hear her, but her free arm was moving with persuasive expression. She was unknowledgeable, but she was caring and an advocate for Chris. I was called to the phone.
Christopher’s doctor explained, “I have been stuck at home all night without a babysitter and my beeper was turned off. Sorry, I didn’t get the beeps and sorry I haven’t been able to come in. I didn’t want to disturb the pediatrician during the night, so I waited until this morning to call him, even though it is still a little early. I just called him and he will be there soon to look at Christopher.”
What could I say to that? I couldn’t think of a right courteous response. I just said okay and got off the phone. What did he mean he didn’t have a babysitter? He is a doctor. And where did social graces fit in when it comes to saving a 12 month old baby’s life? Isn’t that why hospitals are open all day and all night? Because saving lives cannot be put on hold for things like ‘babysitters’, and ‘sorry, didn’t want to wake you’.
I originally thought he was the best choice. He’s a doctor, and doctors are knowledgeable by definition, or so I thought. This doctor apparently wasn’t knowledgeable or caring, at least caring in the way it takes to come in and save a baby’s life.
The pediatrician that the doctor called walked in the room and expressed that he was outraged that nothing was done all night to help Christopher. He told Tim and me, “I am sorry, it is too late. There is nothing I can do for him at this point. If I was called earlier, I could have done some interventions that could have kept Christopher from getting this severe. He will have to be transferred to Indianapolis and be put on a ventilator to help him breathe. He is not getting enough oxygen into his blood by breathing on his own because his lungs are too full of fluid. We have already called Riley hospital lifeline team. They are on their way.”
Tim and I stared at one another in disbelief. How could it have come to this? When we brought Christopher here to the hospital, we thought he would get all the best care he needed. Help that he could not have received if he were at home. We thought he was in good hands. We were wrong.
As they rolled baby Christopher out of the room, he looked up at me and whispered with all he could muster, “Momma, Momma.” His little arms reached for me. “Momma, Momma.”
Christopher’s little blue eyes were locked with mine until they rolled him out of view, down the hallway to the area where he would be picked up by the emergency medical team. Tears flooded my eyes like the opening of the spillway for the Hoover Dam. My heart was breaking into many pieces and my hands were entirely empty.
After I convinced the Nazi nurse that Christopher was my baby and she wasn’t going to stop me from watching through the window outside the double doors, I watched. It was a grueling site, but I was strong. He was a rag doll in the arms of death. He didn’t look at me with those precious blue eyes and he didn’t say anything. He just lay there as they worked on him. He did not look alive and was not breathing on his own. He was pale and listless and his face was beginning to swell. I didn’t get to watch long because time was of the essence and it was time for him to go. His arms and legs were limp and flopped about as they rolled him through the doors and over the threshold. My arms and legs began to feel limp, too. They rolled him out of my sight, out the double doors and to the helicopter. The wind blew every which way, and I watched as the wind took my baby boy up, up and away.
The farther he was taken from me, the more heavily I began to breathe. I leaned over and looked down at my hands. They couldn’t help or hold or care for Christopher any more. My arms needed to hold him. My breasts needed to nurture him. I wrapped my arms around myself and longed to hold my baby. What if he did not make it? What would I do without him?
It was an hour long trip by car to the hospital in Indianapolis, it seemed like an eternity. The baby car seat in the back was empty. Tim and I sat without saying a word, just staring forward at the long grey road ahead. Black clouds were ahead of us and a huge storm was in the making.
We arrived at the hospital; I had the diaper bag on my arm. We were led to another set of double doors in the intensive care unit where they had situated Christopher. We were allowed through these doors. I looked at him with my eyes wide open in disbelief and did not see my baby; at least he did not look like my baby. His eyes were swollen shut. He was not conscious; he was heavily sedated. He did not look like himself; he did not look like my son. He had all kinds of wires and tubes coming from him leading in all directions. The ventilator tube that was helping him breathe was hanging out of his mouth and was taped to his face and another tube went through his nose. Was he going to live? Was I ever going to get to hold him again?
He was stripped naked. He did not have on a diaper; it was lying under him. They had placed a small plastic medicine cup that was cut in half over his penis in case he peed. It was taped to his body, not something a mother would do. I looked at him to see if there was anything I could do for him. I wanted to nurture him. I had been doing everything for him his whole life for the last year; I needed to do something for him. He was not eating; I could not feed him. I could not dress him, bathe him or even change his diaper, no need for the diaper bag. My breasts were full of milk and beginning to leak. I could not even touch him; I was told it would stress him. There was not one thing I could do for him; I was powerless.
I wanted to stay and watch over Christopher to make sure everything was alright. How was I to know they were going to make sure he was getting the care he needed after my recent experience? I needed him to live; I needed him to breathe. I felt like I was the one who could make a difference for Christopher and I was afraid to leave him alone. I scanned the small, cold, uninviting room. It appeared there was no place for me to stay or sit. A male nurse walked into the room and introduced himself. He was nice and disarming. I had no choice but to trust him. What was I going to do? I did not know how to make Christopher breathe. The equipment looked foreign to me. Christopher’s life was out of my hands.
To be certain, I asked the male nurse “Is there any place for me to stay here at all? I hate to leave him all alone.”
“No, I am sorry; you cannot stay in here. There really is not any place for parents to stay in the hospital. But we are here and will take good care of him. He is in good hands.”
I was told by another nurse that the only place to stay was the dark lobby and staying there was highly discouraged.
The nurse said, “We are not supposed to tell you about staying in the lobby as an option, however, parents do stay in there. We just look the other way. But I must tell you that the lobby is not safe. People have been robbed and even attacked. So be very careful if you do. ”
I do not understand how the hospital does not have a safe place for parents to stay. I live an hour away and I need a place to stay. I did not want to leave my baby; I needed to be there for him. The lobby was a very large room with many burgundy vinyl chairs. Some of them even pulled out into a bed. There was no one policing the lobby to tell me I couldn’t stay in there, so I found a place where I could use a breast pump and I risked staying in the back corner of the lobby. I was a short distance down the hall from Christopher. I could check on him as often as I wanted to be sure he had what he needed. He was improving; they were providing good care. I waited for Christopher to heal so I could once again hold him.
It was a whole week before Christopher was able to breathe on his own. We were told it was viral pneumonia which was the worst kind of pneumonia. Antibiotics were not an option. All we could do was spend our time waiting...and praying. My mother was doing most of the praying. Tim and I were just surviving, along with Christopher. The only thing we could do for him was visit even though he did not know we were there. I wanted him to be well again. I missed his smile.
I walked in on the seventh day and to my amazement, Christopher was awake and breathing on his own! I smiled at him. He looked up at me with his dark circled eyes and stared briefly into my mine, and then his eyes closed. He could not assemble a smile; there was no strength. However, the tubes and the tape were gone, only red skin and marks where the tape had been remained. He was recovering.
The next day he grinned and reached for me. Then he was moved out of the intensive care unit and onto the pediatric floor. He was back in my arms again. It felt like what a drink of cold water would feel to a lost soul wondering the desert without any water for weeks. I held him close to my chest and rapped my long awaiting arms around him. I held him for hours cuddling his head in my hands. After a few more days, we could go home.
On the day of discharge, I grabbed the diaper bag and packed all of his extra diapers, stuffed animals, gifts and cards, and blankets. I heard Christopher say something and I turned around and looked straight into my baby’s eyes.
Christopher reached out his arms for me and said, “Momma, Momma!”
This time he smiled when he said it and he was not fighting to breathe. All my fears of life without him were gone. Christopher needed his mother and I needed him. We were free to live life together. I gathered Christopher into my arms and I carried him through yet another set of double doors, down the hallway, down the elevator to the outside as Tim pulled up the car. We all three got in. It was a bright sunny day with a sky that was as blue as Christopher’s eyes. We drove down the road, Tim and I smiling. I looked back at Christopher nestled safely in his car seat. We were going home. I am his mother; I will protect him, feed him, bathe him, cuddle him and care for him. My hands were no longer empty.