It’s December, 2006, and H is just weeks from his second birthday. Despite the negative swirl around the Little Einstein videos, I’ve picked its familiar Caterpillar logo for his birthday cake and invitations. I have the video’s puppets in the back seat of my car and am plotting the script for a puppet show to entertain our eventual guests.
H is sitting on my lap, and his pediatrician is listening to his lungs through the cold echo of her stethoscope. “You’ve given him the full dose of steroids?” she asks.
“Yes. And breathing treatments every few hours. This is the fifth asthma attack this winter. I just don’t know what we’re doing wrong.”
She rolls back a few inches in her swivel chair and watches me for a moment. Then she takes a deep breath and says, “What do you know about Cystic Fibrosis?”
I blink. “I’m sorry?”
“Please don’t be afraid. I think we need to screen H as quickly as we can.”
Suddenly, everything she says is louder. So much louder. It’s almost like I can’t understand what she’s saying. I bundle my wide-eyed baby in his winter coat, curse her silently, and walk out the door.
Two weeks later, GB and I have swathed H in three layers of clothing, wrestled him into a hat and gloves and scarf, and coaxed him to run for 30 minutes along the open corridors at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The purpose is to make him sweat as much as possible so the lab technicians can measure the sodium levels in his perspiration. One other couple is urging their tiny, smiley, tow-headed son through the same screening process. He and H find each other and play heartily as we adults look at one another in desperation.
And then, the technicians take both boys by the hand. We’re left to sit in plastic chairs for 45 minutes, staring at a room filled with distraught but friendly faces. We strike up a conversation with the other couple. They’re good people, but their son’s symptoms are enough to make me excuse myself under the guise of tracking down a water fountain so I can breathe and pull myself together.
When the hospital calls a week later with the screening results, I’m balled up on the couch with H. I clutch the receiver before answering, and exhale shakily when I hear he is in the clear. No Cystic Fibrosis. Just acute asthma. And while I’m dialing GB to give him the joyous news, I’m crying, thinking about the other family. Because what if their news today was different from ours. In my head, I break off a piece of my heart and send it to the boy’s mother, willing it to morph into some semblance of hope.
We’ve spent a lot of time at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Two asthmatic kids means lots of late-night runs over icy streets to what has become a bit of a refuge. There, they have a staff of top-notch doctors and nurses who know a hell of a lot more than how to cover a boo boo and send you home. On my last visit with O, when he wailed all night in his hospital room and pulled the plastic breathing fork out of his nose over and over, a male nurse wiped his tears and smoothed his hair while I forced the latest Albuterol treatment. And then later, a hospital volunteer arrived with a bag full of goodies for our family: a stuffed bear O still treasures today, plus snacks, bottled water, and a notebook and pen for taking doctors’ notes. Even if I knew dozens of different languages, I could never have expressed my gratitude for such comforting acts of kindness.
GB is on the Development Board at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. This year, he’s the chair for the Give a Little, Grow a Lot campaign, a grass-roots online effort to raise money for the admitting gift cart, which doles out care packages (like the one I described above) for every child admitted to the hospital. If you’re looking for charitable opportunities this holiday season, or if you’re looking for a decent tax write-off, this program may be a good one to consider. No obligations, of course. I’m just happy to talk up a program I really believe in. What good is a blog if you can’t shine a light on a good cause every now and then?
For more information about Give a Little, Grow a Lot, visit http://bit.ly/f80ypu.
Have a safe and very happy Thanksgiving.
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