Cory was doing better (relatively, of course). “Well” meant, first and foremost, he was Alive…..weeks after they said he wouldn’t be. He was showing signs of healing. He was cognitive and clear-minded. We had just written a “schedule” of our daily routine on a white-board, made up of waking up, sponge baths, prayer/meditation, reading, physical therapy assignments, occupational therapy assignments, times of ENT doctors coming in, times of BMT doctors coming in, times of Infectious Disease doctors coming in, times of rounds and visitors, times of meds.
I met Amy in the “parent-room” of Floor 5, Pediatric ICU at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. A place where there was constant coffee, on Tuesday’s pizza provided by LaRosa’s, and lots of Tears on cell-phones. It didn’t even phase you to see a parent on a couch in the Parent Room Sobbing and sharing on their cell phones the all familiar words of blood counts & breath counts & open eyes & words said & inputs & outputs….. Sometimes, we talked to one another, sometimes we didn’t. Usually, you just walked by to fill your coffee like you were walking in the mall seeing anyone on their phone, because it was just the way it is in the ICU. But everyone had the same Despondent look in their eyes….it’s like nothing else, and we (Cory’s Parents) would talk of it often. Passing parents in the hallway…everyone had the same Look. A look of sadness, desperation, hopelessness and hopefulness all mixed up.
Anyway, Amy was actually more upbeat than others (she’d just arrived, that’s why)…her son was 24 (a year younger than Cory), had a bone-marrow transplant 11 days before (Cory was going on 74 days), and had lung issues, so was sent to ICU because needed to be on a ventilator. They were from Kentucky, and her husband and she shared their pans of Lasagna and Tuna Casserole with me. They had the cutest Kentucky accents with a smile with every word they said. They uplifted me just while they talked.
We passed each other daily for about a week, in the hallway, the cafeteria, the elevator, or the Parent Room. “How’s he doing?”….and we would get all the STATS(which we both completely understood because we had a crash course in nursing against-our-will).
Then one day, an ordinary PICU day,
Cory had just fallen asleep. I got up to go get more warm blankets, to refill my cup with ice, simple things, opened the sliding doors to Cory’s room and sensed EMERGENCY. Nurses from who-knows-where and doctors and lots and lots of people were flooding the room next door…(in the same room they all came flooding in when I’d arrived with Cory in the ICU.)
Bur this was Amy’s baby. Everyone running, machines rolling in….I knew to shut our sliding glass door and stay in. It’s slow-motion from this moment on…..
I turned to the right, and through the small rectangle window that connected our rooms, or maybe it was just outside our room? I can’t remember exactly, but doesn’t matter….
My eyes wide open and shocked seeing the mass of people in that room and the doctor take the paddles and place them on his chest and the words I couldn’t hear. His body jerked and arched, then relaxed, then jerked and then relaxed, and again jerked and relaxed. I turned away, sat on the floor and cried.
How is my child still alive after 82 days and hers is dying after 18? How? Why? Whaaaat? I prayed the Our Father 3 times. I prayed, “Let their baby live” 12 times. I panic-prayed.
It breaks my heart still. I would give those days to any parent, sibling, or person in an instant if I could. Really would give my whole life for that.
And seeing the paddle stuff in real life on a real human being, on a real Amy’s child….is NOT like seeing it on TV.
I stood back up. Thank Be that someone shut those blinds. I went and stared at Cory with my heart racing and tears flowing for at least an hour. I was afraid to step back out of the room.
He died. Take that in….Jonathon died. He lived 24 years. Twenty-Four. I was barely getting started at 24. Thanks, Cancer.
I knew he died, because the next morning the room was empty, the bed was made to crisp, and there was no Amy or Jonathon to be found. I missed her, I wanted to hug her, and she was just…gone…and I only knew her first name–Mom.
The “survivors guilt” was overwhelming. And still, in a way, is. I had over a month more with my son….30 more days of conversation, and touch, and physical therapy, and prayer, and hugs and kisses….that she didn’t.
I had told Cory about his neighbor when they were admitted. To give him a sense of Solidarity or that he wasn’t the only 20-something year old in the pediatric ICU of a children’s hospital that had cancer, then a bone marrow transplant, then complications that sent them to the PICU.
I didn’t tell him about his neighbors outcome, and I prayed he wouldn’t ask. He never did.