Perspective is Everything

Putting words to my feelings, after a medical experience with Anthony, is always so important to me. Most times my therapy is writing. Transferring how I feel to paper heals me, releases my anxiety, allows me a chance to exhale.

The experience of the three days in Boston was a roller coaster-heart breaking, life changing, eye opening. Of all the feelings that have run through my body, I think humbled sticks out to me the most. Walking away from Boston, this time, I have a different view of the little man that I’m lucky to call my son. I learned things about him I never knew, or was too busy to notice. He taught me things that have made me a better person since I left Boston last week. Once again, he has changed me.

My general attitude when going to Boston Children’s Hospital is one that focuses on how lucky we are. We come face to face with sick children, some much sicker than our son. Their parents are pushing them around the cafeteria, in wheelchairs, with chemo machines rolling beside them, wearing masks to shield them from the danger of the air that all us “normal” people are able to breath with no issues. I watch Mom’s leave their newborns with a hospital volunteer, while they run to get their cars, wishing they could afford valet as they scrounge through change to pay the parking attendant. I watch Anthony interact with kids who are older than him, but can’t talk, are still in diapers, and appear to have struggles much greater than anything we have endured. Many times I look in awe as Anthony befriends a child with physical disabilities that many other two year olds might notice and draw attention to. Our son’s only focus being making a new friend, talking about his dog, introducing his Mom and Dad, asking to meet their parents.

But, this time, when we went to Boston, this trip was different for me. This trip completely shifted my view of our journey. My view of what goes on when we walk through the doors to Boston Children’s Hospital. My view of our son. Our Anthony.

I saw things I had over looked as I walked through the doors of that hospital for the past year. This place seemed so different. It was as if I was walking through the doors for the first time. A new experience. But really, a new perspective on what I have been experiencing all along but not taking the time to pay attention to. And with that came a little bit of embarrassment, a little bit of sadness, a little bit of shame. Because while I had walked through those doors before, I was always looking around. I was never looking down at the hand I was holding. At the sick kid I was rushing around the hospital. At the brave warrior whose battle should be the only one that gets ANY of my attention.

I’ve always approached this situation with a positive mind that feels, despite our struggles, in the grand scheme of things, we are so so sooooooo lucky. In our journey, we’ve watched parents say goodbye to their children. Forever. And I’ve worried about that often. But, I’ve decided to focus on how Anthony, and us as a family, can take this experience and make it into something positive.

But, last week, something struck me in a way I had never experienced in the almost three years that we have been going through all of this. Something drew my attention to the feeling of a pulling on my hand, and, sadly, for the first time, I zoned in on Anthony. On his battle. On his struggle. On his strength. On his perseverance. On his resilience. On how truly amazing he is as an individual. This time, it was different. This time I looked at my son and felt (I hate to say this) kind of bad for him. This time I felt the hardship of Anthony’s struggle and I developed a great sympathy for my little son. I developed a sense of awe at his journey. I looked at him in a different light.

From the moment we walked through those doors, my son was a warrior. He was ready to face this battle, strong attitude, understanding of the tests that lie ahead, knowledgeable of the importance of this for all of us. While this was his battle, his struggle, his concern was everything and everyone but himself. Whether it be the infant coughing on the elevator whose Mom was directed by Anthony to give him some water, the girl in the lobby who took his favorite toy but “needed it,” or his parents, whose necks he put his arms around as he proclaimed, “I’ll take care of you guys.”

In what, I feel, has been his most difficult situation, I’m proud to say, Anthony handled as a gentleman, a warrior, a mature individual who understood that, although it may not be easy, this is his life. This is our normal. And, although he can make it miserable, difficult, and exhausting, he handles it with a grace that only someone of his nature would be capable of exuding.

Unfortunately, I feel as though I have focused so hard on Anthony remaining positive, more than I have sympathized with him for his struggle. As friends say things to me like-“He’s who he is because of his wonderful parents.” “You do so much to teach him to be respectful and caring.” “You guys all inspire us.” I feel, so often, as a Mom, that I fail in so many ways. That I’m the lucky one to have been blessed with such an amazing son. That I fall short of what he deserves as a parent. That I just want to be so perfect for this perfect human being that God trusted me and privileged me to parent.

From the three hour drive to the newness of an overnight experience at the hospital. From walking into a room filled with cameras and machines to be hooked up with wires and probes and taped and glued and stuck in a bed surrounded by big cushions, when you were used to sleeping comfortably snuggled up to your Mom. The way Anthony handled this whole situation has left me completely speechless. When speaking to those closest to me, my conversation went something like this: “I know I say this all the time, but I am so proud of him for how he handled his situation. I am so in awe of how strong he is.”

The truth is, this time, I looked at this boy from a stranger’s perspective. I watched him sit calmly as the sleep study tech covered his head with scary probes attached to wires and stuck to his head with glue. As they covered each probe with a piece of tape, he pushed it into his skull and said, “I’ll squish it for you.” I watched him wake up throughout the night calling out “MOMMY!” When I suggested he go back to sleep, I never imagined he would take only a little bit of comforting. He understood how necessary this test was. Not for himself. But, what he felt was to help other people.

During this trip, I watched my son wake up after only four hours of sleep, smile on his face, greeting the technician with a friendly “A’ morning!” As she rushed to rip the probes off his head, blizzard on its way, his only comfort became reaching out for a hand to hold. No tears. No complaining. No fear towards the person doing this to him. Just an understanding that this was what needed to be done, and he needed to cooperate.

After that moment, I swore he wouldn’t allow another technician to put those probes back on his head as we headed to the 24 hour EEG. I said that he would be so turned off from the pain of ripping them off that he wouldn’t allow them to put them back on. Besides his excitement of wanting to talk to the new technician about Paw Patrol and Fireman Sam, he sat completely still for another 45 minutes while his next test was administered. We threw the backpack on his back and were on our way, in the middle of a blizzard, for our 30 minute drive to the hotel.

Once there, his imagination kicked in. He wasn’t a kid with this limitation from the itchy, annoying, and limiting test on his head. He was the star of a talent show, singing and dancing. He was a firefighter, using the hotel room phone to put out a fire.

We walked down to the lobby, where other boys and girls were heading to the pool. He watched from the window, understanding that he couldn’t bring his test into the water, and clapped as the other kids had fun. He sat with the old man who, with no family around, had come to get shelter from the lack of electricity from the storm. He entertained the front end staff. He pulled stranger after stranger over to the hotel kitchen to show them how the refrigerator held yogurt in it, which reminded him of Rich and Mary’s house, and he proudly told each person how Precious, Rich and Mary’s dog, would lick the yogurt container clean.

Anthony kept strong through the entire night. He woke up in an uncomfortable situation of pain and irritation. I explained that he needed to stick it out, and our conversation ended there. The fact is that, at almost three years old, I can reason with this child more than I can with most adults. He amazes me. His only request in the morning broke my heart. “Can we go home, Mom. I want to see my friends.” I wondered if he felt homesick during this situation. I wonder if he understood that we come here for his treatment. I wonder if he associated traveling with being sick.

I understood Anthony’s battle in such a different light last week. Don’t get me wrong! I have always been so proud of my son for how far he has come. I have always, always felt blessed to be his Mom. I have watched in awe as this little life, that I created, has taught me more at two years old than most people have taught me in my lifetime. His whole journey to me has felt like a dream. Each obstacle that he has overcome, I have never understood how he did it. But he did. For that I am proud. For that I am thankful. For that I am so so so relieved.

I looked over at my son in the afternoon and talked to him as we approached the time to get the EEG off. I told him we needed to get his test off before we could head home. “Will it hurt Mom?” He asked as we headed towards the hospital. “No silly!!!!” I lied in this moment because I wasn’t sure if it would hurt him or not. If it was anything like the night before, then yes, it would hurt.

I am so thankful for the technician who took such special care of taking his EEG off. She waited long enough to soak his glue covered bandages that they would just fall off. She washed his head in a therapeutic way, asking me if his scar was sensitive. She combed the last of the remnants of glue out of his hair, most of it probably left over from his not so great experience the night before. Anthony sat up, gave a “woot-wooooooooo” (which is his version of a whistle for looking good), as he popped down, high fived, and knuckled up with this woman that just took such good care of him.

We walked into the lobby, to wait for our car, where our son interacted with the other kids around him. As he watched a little girl grab his favorite toy, I told him “you have others so play with your car.” She handed it back to him and Anthony graciously said, “You have it. I share.” This was who he was. Despite how much he wanted something, he understood that, at least in this setting, someone else might need it more than he did.

The ride home was quiet. Anthony immediately fell asleep. Rob and I didn’t have much to say to each other outside of discussing what we would do for Anthony when we got home. To show him how proud we were of his courage, cooperation, and understanding. We were mentally and physically exhausted from the last three days. In addition, we were both somewhat speechless. Where we had expected temper tantrums, screaming fits, hanging wires that were ripped off because he wouldn’t want to wear this thing, misery, stress, this trip was everything but what we had anticipated.

How do you explain to a two year old that they need to undergo a sleep study overnight, in the hospital, attached to machines and wrapped up like a mummy, then go to another area to have your head wrapped in a similar way where you would need to carry it around with you for 24 hours? We used the best analogy we could think of. “The doctor’s need to watch you sleep and watch how you act throughout the day so they can teach other kids to be super heroes. If you set a good example, you will officially be Batman.” Little did we know this fib we created would stick in his mind the way it did.

As we walked out of the hospital to head home, Anthony went up to one of the Boston police officers. “Thank you for my service.” he said. We often chuckle at his misuse of pronouns in his speech. Since he was wearing his cape, the police officer shook his hand, smiled, and said “It’s really nice to meet you super hero.” Anthony’s eyes shot open as he rested his tiny little hand over his mouth with a gasp! “Are you Superman?” the police office asked.” No,”  Anthony replied. Expecting him to talk about how he became Batman, my son uttered the words that made me most proud during that trip. “I’m Anthony.” I walked away from that moment repeating our son’s response over and over in my head.

When we got home Rob and I wanted to tell him something. I volunteered to do the talking as long as he would listen. Over the crunch of Cheetos and the excitement of the anticipation to make the Peep’s Rice Krispy treats that his Aunt Alice sent us the recipe for, I wanted to make this quick. “We are so proud of you for how awesome you did in Boston. You were a super hero before, but you came home as an even stronger super hero this time. You aren’t Batman like we promised, but you are Anthony. And, to us, that’s an even better super hero.”

His response. “Aw. Thanks guys! I’ll take care of you.” For me, those words identified his super power. HE takes care of ME. And I’m so humbled and grateful that he does.

 

 

 

9 Things We Learned from Opposite Sides of Our Son’s Hospital Bed …

Besides my husband, who couldn’t miss me balled up on the floor next to our son’s crib every night as my gut kept telling me that something was wrong, no one knew the struggle that started from the minute I first laid eyes on our sweet little boy. And, as we spent many days and nights staring at each other from opposite sides of a hospital bed that was way too big for this tiny human being between us, that same gut feeling gave us the chance to learn a few things that neither of us could imagine would be part of our parenting experience.  

1.)    It isn’t easy.

It is definitely not easy. In fact, it is pretty damn hard. It is so hard that it will take your breath away, knock you right on your butt, and leave you wanting to curl up in a ball in the corner of this cold, sterile room. And, unfortunately, things don’t get easier as time goes by.

2.)    How others view you is the complete opposite of how you view yourself.

I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me “I don’t know how you do it,” “you are so strong,” or “I couldn’t imagine being in your shoes.” While everyone around me tells me how strong I am, most days I feel like there isn’t a muscle in my body that works anymore. I question myself constantly. A simple decision quickly turns into this ongoing battle in my mind that leaves me physically exhausted. I always feel like I am choosing the wrong path. When we end up in the hospital again, I try to think back to which of MY decisions has landed us there. I feel like the shaky fate of this amazing little human being is lying completely in my hands and I’m waiting to turn the corner where I fail miserably and am the reason everything falls apart. I look in the mirror and I see the complete opposite of the strength that everyone claims to see in me. I look at my son and wish I could be so much more for him, that I could have all the answers he needs, that I could take all the pain and suffering away. But, I can’t.

3.)    It is painfully exhausting.

Sometimes I think the degree of tired I feel is close to what it must feel like to be ready to die. My entire body shakes from the inside-out. My heart races. My limbs ache. My chest feels heavy. I tell myself every night that tonight will be the night I sleep, but it never works that way. Usually the nights I seriously consider sleep are the nights that go wrong. I make a pot of coffee at 11:00pm and hop into bed to begin the real work of trying to stay awake to make sure that Anthony is safe. Sometimes, as the sun rises, I sneak an hour or two of sleep. Something about the light of day makes me feel safe. Makes me feel that I can rest my head momentarily. Only a few people know exactly how tired I am. One of them being Anthony’s Grandpa Bob, because, for some reason, on my worst days, when I hear his voice, I can’t help but break down crying and say “I’m just soooooooo tired.” He’s just that person for me. The other person being my husband. But we wouldn’t dare have a conversation involving that topic. The last person you want to complain to is the one who actually does understand what you are going through. You never want to be the one who brings up those fighting words…the ones that compare who lacks more of the thing that is keeping you from your sanity. In our case, the one who got less sleep.

4.)    The day can change in an instant.

There have been many days where I called my Mom with excitement for the day ahead, only to be knocked down from a sudden episode that left us at the mercy of the medical world. I can hang up the phone one minute on top of the world, and call my Mom the next minute in a complete panic amidst some chaotic emergency. Life changes that quickly for us. And the uncertainty of our son’s condition is probably the hardest part of what we’ve been through.

5.)   You won’t feel sorry for yourselves.

Although I would love to be able to take this all away from him, this journey has been a blessing to us in many ways. And, while people say, I feel so sorry for you guys, I feel so sorry for Anthony…strange as it sounds, we don’t. Through this, we have met some amazing people. People whose paths we would never have crossed had we not been forced to be here. People who have carried us on our bad days and celebrated with us on our good ones. Our people. Our family. Our tribe. So, considering the circumstances, we are pretty lucky. And, one thing about this journey is, you are forced to be part of a community where, when you think you have it bad, you are humbled by meeting someone who has it much worse than you do. And, the beauty of it is that, those who have it the hardest are out there inspiring everyone else to keep fighting. Many of the world’s bravest heroes haven’t even cut their first tooth, and we’ve been blessed to meet them.

6.)    You can smile, even though you are crying inside.

Just because I have a smile on my face, doesn’t mean it is real. I have become very good at putting a smile on my face during a difficult battle. Truth is, you learn to be positive for your child. You learn to smile, even when the thought of it makes you want to vomit. And, faking a smile often leads to laughing at the most awkward and inappropriate times. I can’t tell you how many nights my husband and I looked at each other in the darkness of a somber room in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and burst out into a fit of laughter. I remember saying, “What is wrong with us?! We’re so weird!” But eventually, our laughing fits were joined by a little boy who was way too happy for someone who just had brain surgery or who minutes earlier was completely unconscious, and it strangely makes sense that we can laugh.

7.)   You will realize you missed your calling as a medical professional.

Funny thing is, before this happened, I couldn’t even walk into a hospital room without feeling faint. Now, I hold my son’s hand and watch nurses slide IV needles into his veins while him and I talk about what’s happening as if it is normal procedure for every two-year-old. I talk test results, medications, medical conditions, side effects, symptoms, and evaluations like a doctor whose been practicing for years. Sometimes, I have to correct the doctors we are seeing, knowing they are wrong. I administer medication several times a day. I have been covered in blood, sweat, tears, and even Cerebral Spinal Fluid. I have acted as a chemist on a team dedicated to come up with a concoction for curing the world’s worst diaper rash.  And we probably should have set up a patent for it. I am an expert when it comes to pediatric brain tumors and everything that has gone along with the experience. Knowledge has been our key for survival, and I’m hell bent on watching this kid beat it all.

8.)  What you need most is people to be there for you.

So many family members and friends call to beg that we let them do something for us. So many of our people apologize that they can’t do more. Truth is, just being there is what we need the most. While the delicious cups of coffee, hot meals, cold drinks, and warm blankets help to revive us when we are hitting rock bottom, it is the prayers, the texts, the calls, the visits, that really charge us. And if we don’t answer when you reach out, please know that just hearing from you really did make a difference in our day. Sometimes we are just too emotional or exhausted to even think about picking up the phone.

9.)   You wouldn’t want to change it for anything.

Yes, life with a chronically ill child can be tough. It can be debilitating, overwhelming, frustrating, and painful. But, more than anything, it has opened our eyes to a lesson that most parents are not fortunate enough to learn. The beauty of each setback that we overcome, each milestone we never thought we would see, each comeback that we prayed for, is something I’m sure can only come from knowing the darkness we have faced. As I think of the moment they rolled him by us, lifeless, a machine breathing for him, not knowing if I would ever see our smiling little man again, I’m immediately drawn to the excitement of our reunion. Standing by the door of the family waiting room. Hearing the rush of nurses and doctors wheeling him down the hall. Catching that first glimpse of my tumor-free, strong, little warrior. A baby whose will to fight is something of an imaginary super hero whose magical powers give him an advantage over the average human being. That first glimpse carried with it a pride that I assume will go down in history as the best feeling I will have in my lifetime. For that tiny moment in time, that split second when he rushed by, that fleeting glimpse of the answer to my prayers, that miracle moment- brought me to realize this. There is no journey I would rather have. I wouldn’t change this for the world.

So, while it took some time to get used to looking at the scars, that would remind us of our moments of intense fear, I truly understand what they mean when they say your scars tell a story. They talk about why we should appreciate life a little more, complain a little less, be kind to each other, and be grateful for what we have. They give meaning to the saying “it took a village,” or in this case an army, as we’ve realized that Anthony’s Army is comprised of many different hands that each have a unique role in helping to raise our son into an amazing human being. Most importantly, for us, his scars tell the story of a baby boy who, with the odds stacked against him, went on to teach those around him the power of love, hope, and faith that comes when you believe. And the greatness that becomes possible when we can all work together.