Excerpt from No Guarantees. To read previous chapters go here.
For the rest of my life, I would always remember this moment resplendent in all of its horrifying details: the exact words that the Doctor said, the fact that the air conditioning was on too high and the room was cold enough to freeze my arm hair into tiny ice sculptures, the dismal sounds of the clock ticking on the wall, the too-serious look in Dr. Brown’s eyes that shouted doom, the wail of a baby screaming a couple rooms down, the too-still heaviness of my son on my lap.
My beautifully built, perfect life collapsed into a pile of rubble after those few short sentences. The destruction started slowly but then quickly picked up speed. Looking down at my son leaning innocently against me, my heart constricted and my breathing stopped as I silently begged my seven month old to speak up and yell “I’m fine!” “That’s ridiculous.” Hurt? HA”
But his deliciously red lips stayed still except to drop open and release some drool down onto my shirt.
I wanted to deny it. I wanted to yell and curse at the doctor and tell him how ridiculous the thought that my son could be referred to in such a way, but I just knew. As my composure cracked, his words rolled to the cracks, sinking to a deeper level of my psyche. “Severe brain injury”- what does that really mean? How- What- Why-
No. Just no. Not possible. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to find the words to ask the thousand horror-laced questions that immediately flooded my mind, but I couldn’t bring myself to form the words let alone complete a question silently to myself. My worst fears were becoming my reality, and I didn't know what to say. Opening my eyes, I set Jacob back in his seat, wrapping my arms tightly around myself as if to hold in my composure.
“Did this happen when he….he fell?” I was surprised that even that raspy whisper came out because of the hysterics that I could feel bubbling under the surface.
“I can’t be certain at this point, but it’s not likely that this type of injury would result from that innocent of a fall. Did they end up sedating him for the scan?”
“Yes.” My lips were numb.
He nodded slowly and made a few notes on his pad of paper with a furrow on his forehead that seemed deeper than his usual concentration frown.
He said something else, but I couldn’t hear him because of a loud ringing in my ears. Bright stars overtook my vision, and the doctor disappeared into a blur of light. What did this mean for my son? What really caused this? Was this my fault? Would he grow out of this? Was he going to be OK?
I hesitantly opened my mouth, needing answers to the madly circling sentences with bold question marks, but I could no longer form a coherent thought so I soundless pressed my lips back together. I felt warm drops falling from my face, put my hand up to investigate, and discovered that I was crying. Large tears of hopelessness washed my face one drop at a time. The punch of emotion felt in that instant was the same as if Dr. Brown had just told me that my son had died. But then I thought that perhaps even that would have been easier to hear.
“I’m going investigate what exactly is going on with your son starting with calling the hospital to get his scan results and notes from his short hospital stay.” The Pediatrician continued gravely making notes now on his computer. “Do you have someone who can come wait with you?”
I nodded in response, silent tears continuing to stream down my face.
“I’m not sure how long it will take to get this information sent over, so you are free to wait here or go home for a couple of hours if that would be more comfortable for you. I will call you the minute I get the data I need to do a more informed physical exam.”
I was glad he didn’t suggest I wait in the waiting room- in front of all of those other waiting parents with their perfect lives still intact. I had lost everything this past hour. Crying in public and losing my last bit of dignity did not have to be next. This was supposed to be a quiet day at home with my recovering son. My brilliant, recovering son.
Was he not brilliant anymore? What does this mean? How did this happen? What did this to my baby? What did this mean for our family?
Even the guttural whisper refused to work, so I chose nonverbal communication; nodding again like mute, dumb, retarded seal in response to the Pediatrician’s words. Retarded. Oh my gosh. Did that describe my son now? Did I just use a word to describe my own insufficiency that will describe my son’s entire being? A word that I had used thousands of times before now seemed dirty; poisonous; wrong on every level.
I closed my eyes and wished for some more of those exquisite glass ornaments that I loved around Christmas time. I would take a handful and throw them as hard as I possibly could against the wall holding that stupid chalkboard that I envisioned my child someday writing on while waiting for his appointment. Would he ever be able to stand at the chalkboard? Would he ever be able to write?
I’ve been putting in all the difficult work of parenting. Growing a baby in pregnancy, pushing him out during that thing aptly named labor, and then staying up all night long for months and months. The end goal was to produce an intelligent, successful adult who will thank me profusely every day for the rest of his life for everything that I did to put him on the path to a happy life. The sacrifice is never-ending, but the reward of a happy adult making his own mark on the world through a brilliant career is enough to make it all worth it- or so I’ve heard.
But what does it mean if I don’t get that end result? What if something happens between holding that brand new baby and the arrival of the “intelligent, successful adult”? Was this that “something” for me? Was my dream dead?