John sat in the front seat with the ambulance driver, road atlas in hand, trying to find the quickest route to the children’s hospital. We stopped on the side of the road to meet the paramedics, who gave Caleb anti-seizure medication. He finally stopped convulsing, but he never woke up.
Arriving at the ER, Caleb was immediately wheeled into a room where a doctor and a few nurses began working on him. I relayed what happened for the first of what seemed like one hundred times that night. What symptoms did he have? When did they begin? What did he eat? What medicines did he take? The questions felt like an assessment of my motherhood. Had I done the right things? If I had done something differently, would we still be here, or would we be home, snuggling on the couch?
Suddenly, out of nowhere, doctors, nurses, and technicians rushed in from everywhere, shouting instructions at each other. We were whisked out of the exam room, and the curtains were drawn. “What’s happening?” I asked, searching my husband’s desperate face for answers he could not give. “What’s happening?” I repeated to no one in particular, waiting endlessly for an answer that terrified me.
Anxiety squeezed my heart and my legs got weak. A single chair sat opposite Caleb’s exam room. A single chair in a crowded ER. That chair was for me. A small blessing, a reminder that God was watching. I didn’t miss it. I sat down before my legs gave out. John crouched next to me, holding on to me, and holding me up. Thank God for that man.
The paramedics that cared for Caleb on the side of the road would not leave until they knew he was okay. They stood sentinel at the openings in the curtain, like guards protecting our son from invaders, and protecting us from what was happening until it was time to know. The waiting is always the hardest part.
Eventually, a woman came out from behind the curtain and said, “He’s coming back.”
“He’s coming back from where?” I asked. My bewilderment betrayed me. I really had no idea what was going on, and I didn’t want to understand what she was really saying. Caleb had his third grand mal seizure in the ER. Because he had been eating before this all started, his stomach was quite full, and he threw up. Then he aspirated. I didn’t even know what “aspirated” meant. I do now: he almost drowned in his own vomit. Our precious two-year-old boy.
They intubated him and put him on a ventilator. We headed down the hallway, following behind the techs that wheeled Caleb’s bed to the CAT scan the doctor had ordered.
“God is here,” I whispered to my husband.
“I know,” came the soft reply.
“No, you don’t understand. I mean God is here, like right here.” I moved my free hand for emphasis. John was holding my left hand, and God was holding my right. Somehow, the two of them got me down the hallway.
Caleb had lots of tests that night, and none of them revealed too much about what had happened to him. He was in a medically induced coma, and medically paralyzed to keep him safely on the ventilator. Our pastor came, and my dad, who drove John home to care for Katie and Aidan. I sat by Caleb’s bedside all night, praying and crying and singing hymns. I rubbed a small spot on his little hand, the only bit of skin I could touch that was not stuck or taped with something. Even his eyes were taped shut. I cried out to God, begging him to ask me for something else, but not this. Please don’t ask me to give up my son.
As I prayed, angels appeared at the corners of Caleb’s bed, and a soft light glowed over him. Not the flourescent hospital-room light, but a light illumined by the brightness of the angels. I blinked and looked again through my tears, thinking I was seeing things. I wasn’t. They were still there. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what angels look like. All I came up with was flying naked babies. That is definitely not what I saw. I could not see them when my eyes were closed. I could only see them when my eyes were opened. Angels standing guard at the corners of his bed. God was there. It was enough.
The next morning a nurse told me the doctor had been checking Caleb’s monitor overnight and was concerned to see his heart rate increasing. “I told him not to worry,” she said, “Mommy’s singing to him.” My heart swelled. Another blessing. I didn’t miss it.
Later that day, I spoke with my sister on the phone. She is a nurse, so I gave her all the details. Once I had relayed all the medical stuff, I told her about the angels, despite the distinct possibility that she would think I was losing my mind. She got really quiet, and then choked up, “I was on my knees all night praying that angels would guard his bed.” Then we were both crying. Another blessing.
Sleep deprivation makes even the simplest events difficult to process, and I was going on six weeks with little to no sleep. Doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists came and went all day, floating in and out of Caleb’s room like a dream. I was exhausted and always close to tears, but I didn’t want to leave his side. I was afraid of what I might find when I returned.
I kept praying, but God was silent. “Where are You, God? I know you were here. I felt it. I saw it. Where did You go?”
Still, I prayed. And then I remembered. I remembered Abraham. Abraham, with his son Isaac, the son of the promise, the child of the covenant. Abraham, laying Isaac on the altar, ready to give the son back to God that God had given to him.
And then I did it too. I laid my son on the altar and I gave him back. I gave him back, because I was holding on too tightly. He was never really mine anyway. He belonged to God, and I was standing in the way.
Then I got sick. Sore, achy, chills, cold sweat sick. The thing about hospitals is that they don’t really want sick people there who aren’t the patients. And so I had to go home. My youngest brother and his wife swooped down from several states north to rescue me. I said goodbye to Caleb, not knowing what that goodbye meant, but with an unexplainable peace. John walked me to the car. That walk was the longest of my life. At home, I held my other two babies and cried. And cried. And cried. Holding them was like salve to my soul. Children are good heart medicine. Another blessing.
Two days after we arrived at the hospital, Caleb was taken off the ventilator. John was there, and so were our dear friends from church. Praise God for church. When Caleb woke up, John walked in and said, “Caleb, it’s Daddy.” Caleb looked at John, looked at our friends, and in a soft but determined voice exclaimed, “I want Mommy!” When John told me that later, my heart almost burst. Not only was our son alive and breathing on his own, he also knew who I was, and that I wasn’t there. The doctors had prepared us for the possibility of brain damage from the seizures and loss of oxygen. I felt like God was assuring us that Caleb would be okay.