Monday, April 9, 2007

Chapter 2: One Moment

There was ONE MOMENT in time I'll never forget. One moment that changed my life like no other. It was about 5 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting at my soon-to-be Mother-in-laws home listening to my uncle's diagnosis of my fiance's condition.

Melissa, my fiance, had been sick for the last few weeks on and off and incredibly exhausted. Of course her concerned and caring mother thought late nights with me were the culprit. Still, we all knew the combination of fever, cough, night sweats, and more were something worse than the flu or common cold. As well, below her collar bone a curious bulge began to protrude just slightly. Doctors had previously examined her, but claimed it appeared to simply be an inflammation due to a respiratory infection. This was a likely possibility, based on the brief discussion I gave my uncle over the phone. Yet, something else told us that further investigation needed to take place.

Fortunately, the next day the opportunity appeared. My uncle Jeff, was a generous doctor who happened to be visiting the area for a reunion with some old friends. Jeff was known as the lucky one, due to the fact he still had hair. His four brothers, including my own father, didn't make it much into their 40's without the need for a hat or some kind of protection, while in the sun. But the wisdom, and stress of life as a doctor who dealt with conserving life's breath and at times its last gasp had shown through in his slightly greying hair. He had invited all of his nieces and nephews in the area to meet him at Outback steakhouse for the evening. There were about 15 of us, including significant others, and I thought this was going to be a great night. After all it wasn't often a poor college kid got a steak dinner, much less a free one.

After we arrived at the restaurant, we found our cousin Casey, Jeff's Son. Though it was good to reacquaint, since our busy school schedules had kept us from mingling often, I couldn't push away the anxiety that sat in my stomach as we awaited the arrival of the Doctor. Once he arrived, I began to describe her symptoms and pointed out the protrusion on her upper chest. I fired away with questions as if he were a celebrity and I a reporter trying to find the next big story. He calmly answered each with the typical "Its possible, but more information is needed to be certain." Then while waiting for others to arrive and in the middle of a busy restaurant, he briefly assessed her symptoms. First he touched softly the area where her jaw met her neck and then down where her neck met her collar. After a few brief inquiries as to the sensitivity in those areas, he was certain, certain that we needed more information. "We should probably head back after the dinner to do a more complete examination." Those were the words he spoke but behind the words I could hear something more. Was it concern, fear, or maybe just a Doctor protecting his nephew from losing his appetite over what may be nothing?

The dinner was delicious, though his comments on her diagnosis continued to play in my head. As any doctor would, he knew he must maintain that delicate balance with satisfying our curiosity and the reality that he may have a critical diagnosis in his own family. After dinner was completed and goodbyes were said, Uncle Jeff followed us back to Melissa's home to meet her family. We arrived at the home just 5 minutes from the restaurant and after a quick introduction to Alberta, Melissa's Mother and her sisters, we explained Jeff's desire to provide a more thorough review of her symptoms. They graciously accepted his personal attention and then Jeff, Melissa, and Alberta stepped into a secluded bedroom. The examination time was brief, though to me it was more like a Christmas morning as I impatiently waited to find out the good news that things were just as I hoped, while fearing that possibly I would be severely let down. With solemn faces they left the room and all of the family was asked to gather around the kitchen table. Gid and Helam, Melissa's twin nephews were only 2 years old and yet even they seemed to sense the importance of this announcement. "Well," His words came slowly and after a long pause, "the growth under her collar bone and symptoms you describe mean one of 3 things cancer, cancer or cancer." That moment struck my heart like none other had before. Best case scenario it was cancer... worst case scenario.... it was cancer. How? Why? What? A flood of emotions would continue for days of testing until we knew exactly what this one moment really meant.

Hold on a second, maybe that's not where the story really begins. Let me back up to the beginning, that first moment, the moment when I met Melissa...

Friday, March 30, 2007

Chapter 1: A Moment in Time

I remember that moment, the first cry of my own child. It was incredibly intense. My wife had been putting every effort she had to the creation of this new life for the last 9 months and especially the last 3 hours. The time had come, she was exhausted, I was anxious and the doctor was gowned and prepped. A few more seconds and my own child would be entering this world. The name was chosen, his nursery was ready, all was in line, or was it. I mean seriously, who was I to raise a kid in this world. I felt I was still a kid myself. All I could think was whether he was really ready to enter this life with all of its confusion, and learning, pain and pleasure. Now that I think of it, I don't think I was questioning whether he was ready at all, but rather was I ready.

Suddenly, my mind was brought back into the room, he was here, I could see his head. His hair dark, though sparse, and damp. It was real. I was really, finally becoming a Dad, but something wasn't right. "Hold on, I need you to stop pushing." The veteran doctor calmly pronounced to my wife and all of us around her. We had been cheering her strained efforts for the last few hours with more enthusiasm than a Texas High School cheer leading squad at a the state championship game. Hours that to her appeared longer than days. Now the counting and words of encouragement halted abruptly.

I looked down to see the color of his small head quickly darken under the brown hair until it became purple like the bruise of a bullied black eye. "What was wrong?" I asked myself, uncertain what this moment I had waited years to reach would really bring.

The answer came immediately again from the tempered voice with a slight northeastern accent."The cord is wrapped around his neck a few times, I need you to stop pushing and everything will be fine." Immediately, I understood the reason for the silence from a child I thought would come out screaming. I knew now the darker shade of purple that had completely tinted the face of my own first son was not natural but rather the sign of a lack of vital oxygen to his helpless infant head. The moment was overwhelming. Could something go so wrong that my son may never get the chance to face this world. A world that brings so much pain and yet so much joy.

Prepared or not, at that minute I knew. I knew that I wanted the chance to raise him. The chance to take his little hand in mine and support him as he walks through this life that had taught me so much.

In my panic, I watched in awe, as the same cord that moments ago was feeding my child life, was now threatening his innocent first breath from ever being taken. It brought me back to that same realization I had been confronted with a few short years earlier, the reality of how dangerously fragile life really is, and how every moment counted, especially this one.

Then, as if he'd done it a hundred times the doctor gently and precisely snipped the cord. The color which was now one of the deepest purples I had ever seen began to fade as umbilical cord was loosened and removed, and a final hastened push freed the rest of this frail body into the incredible world that so long had awaited him. A vigorous rubbing and cleaning by the apparently relieved Doctor was sufficient to fill his lungs with life. And then I heard it, his first cry. A call for warmth and attention, devotion and love, a security his new parents were now more than ecstatic to give.

The impact compared to no other moment. My first child... this was going to change my life. Well, maybe I can't say, no other moment...