Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dr. Canoe and Love that Heals

Motherhood is never a predictable journey. My journey began on October 19th, 1990 after 33 hours of labor. Russell was not in a hurry to get here. When he arrived he had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. He was blue and the doctors quickly determined that he had congenital heart disease. I was told we would have to go to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. I was scared. So I called my mommy. I cried softly into the phone and said to mom, “something’s wrong with my baby.” I then fell asleep exhausted from labor.

When I awoke my mother was seated next to me holding my son. To this day I do not know how she spanned the 500 miles between us in the blink of an eye, but I was grateful. When we arrived at Children’s hospital we were all anxious to hear what the experts had to say. What I remember was hearing a lot of big words I did not understand, with the exception of surgery. When I looked at the surgeon as he described what he needed to do to repair Russell’s heart, I did not hear his words. I only saw the size of his hands. They looked like canoe paddles. Russell in his entirety fit in the palm of his hand.
What I do remember is hearing the doctors say that Russell was too small for the surgery and that we were to take him home, watch to make sure he didn’t turn blue and to bring him back into the hospital each week to be examined. And so it began. I watched over him as he slept and kept him close when awake.
At five weeks old “Dr.Canoe”, as I had begun to call him, determined that he could no longer wait to perform the corrective surgery and would have to do a temporary procedure that would keep Russell from further spells of cyanosis until he was big enough for corrective surgery.  We spent Russell’s first holidays at Children’s Hospital and would spend a great deal of time there over the course of the next three years.
Motherhood is never quite what you expect. My second son, Joel was born on June 20th, 1993 after 90 minutes of labor. Within a week of Joel’s birth Russell was back in the hospital in need of immediate corrective surgery. Again, I called my mommy. It seems in my memory that again mom and dad traveled those five hundred miles south in the time it took me to hang up the phone.

Russell’s surgery was complicated and recovery was slow. Mom, dad and I fell into a rhythm as caretakers to a newborn and a two and a half year old in ICU. Mom and dad kept Joel in the hospital cafeteria and would call me down from the ICU when it was time to nurse Joel. I’d nurse Joel, and mom or dad would go up to the ICU with Russell. It was a crazy and difficult time.

Russell’s recovery was slowed by his absolute refusal to get out of his bed. Dr. Canoe kept insisting that Russell get up and walk around the unit and visit the children’s play room. At some point in Dr.Canoe’s frustration, he became aware that we had a newborn son downstairs in the hospital cafeteria. Against all hospital rules, he immediately asked me to bring Joel upstairs into Russell’s room. He then told Russell that the only way to see his brother was to get out of bed and push Joel’s stroller to the play room.

And so began our daily parade. Russell pushed Joel’s stroller, and we walked behind pushing Russell’s IV pole and monitors. We were quite a sight. During that time I learned that Dr. Canoe’s heart was as big as his hands and brotherly love is a force to be reckoned with. Surgery may have fixed Russell’s heart, but it was love that healed him. It is always love that heals.