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a Thursday Theme entry
I was taught a lesson in anxiety when my son was first born. The lesson was heightened nearly every day for the first month of his life. The doctors just kept finding other things wrong. And they couldn’t figure out what was causing what. His kidneys were affected, lungs, heart, everything was in rough shape. Finally, they moved him to another hospital, for a fresh set of eyes to look at him. There, they decided that the first thing we needed to do was fix his patent ductis arteriosus. So, heart catheter surgery was slated.
They didn’t know if the open duct was causing 10% of his problems, or 65% but it had to be done, so they did it. My wife and I sat for hours in the waiting room. It was pleasant enough; cornflower blue wallpaper, comfy seats, generic, inoffensive hotel artwork. I stared at the fish tank for a while. I found a little piece of detached distraction in watching the fish swim around. I watched the other people in the waiting room, too. We were all somewhat silently suffering. Dropping things, adjusting ourselves in our seats, moving from one side of the room to the other just for a change of scenery, reacting like fire ant bites to cell phone sounds. We were in our own fish tank, of sorts.
I asked my wife if she wanted to play Sudoku. She said she didn’t know how to play. I said I didn’t either, but I bet we could figure it out. So we did. We learned how to play and we double-teamed those first early puzzles and powered our way through the long wait. It dragged on and on.
Waiting does something to you. Especially when you’re finding out news about health. Especially when the person in question is a relative, or a family member. Especially when it’s a life on the line. It is a slow capitulation; an undoing. You can feel it tearing at you. No amount of cornflower blue helps you. Watching fish only makes your blood boil. Sudoku is just replacing one form of torture with another, you can feel it bouncing inside your brain like a bullet, ricocheting off the points of your skull and filleting your nerves into unrecognizable stuff.
The surgery was a success. They closed the open duct in my son’s heart with a little device. The blood flow was fixed. His organs started to return to normal. The next day, he was a different kid. We finally let out a sigh of relief. Until they told us that the little device was too small, and things were going downhill again. They needed to put in another, bigger device. So they had to do the surgery all over again, another four hour heart catheterization.
We said screw this. And we went to the bar next door to the hospital for the duration. There’s only so much the nerves can take. We certainly learned that a few months later, when a bowel catastrophe cost my son 30% of his small intestine, and we found ourselves back in the hospital waiting room, counting down the seconds, holding hands in pure, white-hot hope, and feeling our nerves fray to the edges. Phineas survived that, too, by some miracle, and if we learned anything about worry, we also learned something about strength. If he can do it, so can we.