Time was ticking. We didn’t know when the biological bomb in my son’s chest would detonate. We only knew the hour was late and there wasn’t much time left. Would Mitchie’s heart stop on the drive home? Or would we have a few precious days with him? There was no way of knowing whether death would come suddenly or slowly … or whether it would be painful or peaceful. The only thing we knew for sure was we has that very moment.
Little Mitch had just received his PICC line that pumped medicine through his arm and directly into his heart. Within about 30 minutes of this photo we would leave the hospital with heavy hands, anxious hearts. The blue bed to the side of Mitch (on the right) was where Natalie and I cried ourselves to sleep. We never really slept. We drifted somewhere between this world and that world of dreams. With each beep of the heart monitor, interruption of the nurse, or any noise at all, we’d spring to our feet to see if our son was okay.
If he were to go, we wanted to hold his hand and let him know he wasn’t alone. We were spared that agony for a few weeks, but soon came to know that hell in the quiet of a winter night.
In this photo, Mitch is looking at a photo I took with my iPhone of the sunset a few hours earlier. Mitch said in a soft, breathless tone, “Is that from tonight?” He paused a moment then said, “I wish I could have seen it with my own eyes. Maybe tomorrow I’ll see something like it.” I kissed the top of his head and said, “Son, I want to see a million more with you.” My throat began to tighten and I struggled to find my breath – I was about to lose it. Somehow, I gathered my wits and kept from weeping until later that night.
As we packed our things so Mitch could live out his final days at home, I struggled to reconcile with reality. Mitch didn’t look sick and part of me kept thinking the doctors had it all wrong. I also kept saying to myself, “Is this a dream? When will I wake from this nightmare?” But then I’d see the pump on his lap which gave his weary heart a steady drip of medicine and I was reminded of my son’s unforgiving truth.
As Natalie pushed our son in a wheelchair, Mitch looked up at me and smiled softly as if to say, “Dad, I’m so glad I’m going home.” My eyes were bloodshot from a week of unending, salty tears. I smiled back and once again fought the urge to weep.
The thought occurred to me that though Mitchell’s body was broken, he wasn’t broken where it mattered most. I was grateful that hospitals weren’t like country clubs. We had fantastic doctors and (mostly) amazing nurses who fought valiantly to save our son. I remember the moment we were told Mitch likely had days to live – the chief cardiologist fought back tears as the father in him was pained over such hard truths. When he saw the look of devastation on my wife’s face, he struggled to keep it together even more. Opinions are divided as to whether doctors should be strictly clinical – but as a father, I prefer a human over a robot. Compassion is a form of medicine, too.
What would the world be like if we traded country clubs with hospitals? When I say hospitals, I’m not referring only to medical institutions … but places that have the potential to fix broken things. The last time I checked, everyone has broken stuff. Humanity could use more mending and less isolating.
I've seen people turn the very places meant to help and heal into places that hurt others. Whether at school, church, support communities, and other groups, sometimes people hurt others when they shouldn't. I then try to remember that hurt people, hurt people.
In our race to save my son’s life, I’ve come to understand that sometimes we are broken so that we might be set straight. I wish it weren’t so – but it seems the order of Heaven; tender lessons are sometimes taught through hardship. Losing my son broke me … boy did it break me. But the new me, at least who I hope to be, is better because of it. If everyone on earth is broken to one degree or another, perhaps we could all learn the healer’s art and help each other mend broken things.
The heavenly paradox is in helping others heal, we heal a little, too. That's a good thing.