Thursday, March 9, 2006

Oliver's Life: A story of death (Part One)

I stood still staring in front of me while the hustle and bustle of the store carried on as usual. I didn’t think I would be able to do it, after all, how does one decide which outfit is best for her son to wear in the coffin. I could feel tears brimming to the surface and sobs aching to come out, but I stealed myself against all but the tiniest tear, which I quickly brushed away. We’d had so many clothes for him that he’d never even worn, but after he died, so anxious were we to hide the ghosts that we gave away everything but a few choice pieces. When the funeral director asked us about something for him to wear, it hit me like a ton of bricks that not only was my son lying in a cold mortuary but he was not even wearing anything and again the guilt that I had not been to the hospital to see him waved over me. “His spirit is not there; it is with you.” Encouraging words that came to me from more than one source, but the thing is, they haven’t done their job to encourage. I’m still stuck in the events of the past, so try as I might, I just can’t separate my son’s spirit from his body.

Saturday morning it wasn’t a necessity. Everything was as it should be. My back had started hurting me the night before, but I wasn’t going to let it or any healing scars keep me down. Our little family was going to hit the town. I wrapped Oliver up like a little Eskimo, slapped on some makeup and our little threesome headed to London. I was so proud of my little guy and the way people on Oxford Street craned their necks to see the little one in the stroller and then look up at me and smile. It puffed my chest. I was the luckiest girl – beautiful baby, handsome stroller pusher (Steve), and a rapidly healing body. We went all around town. Oliver, well, he did what baby’s do – slept, but his big excitement for the day was getting his diaper changed and nursed in Harrod’s. Not too shabby. And we went, of course, to Hyde Park. By the end of the day, I was exhausted and my back had gone to a dull ache to a raging, full-on scream, so we returned to home, we happy family.

Sunday, the pain in my back was worse. I was absolutely miserable. Holding Oliver to feed him sent me into a fit of tears, so Steve did everything else and I lay in bed in agony. “It’s probably from the epidural,” was the most widely accepted theory for my pain, but I didn’t much care what was causing it; I just wanted it to go away. Steve and I agreed that after he came back from work, where he had to go for a couple of hours, we would go to the emergency room, because being in so much agony that you can’t even hold your baby is just no fun at all.

So while Steve was gone, Oliver and I lay on the bed together. He blinked his eyes up at me and made adorable little baby sounds, and I writhed in agony. I called my mom, because there is no one like mom to cry to about your aches and pains. She listened sympathetically as I ached and moaned, eventually my back started to feel a little better, so we started chatting about other things, but a noise from Oliver caught my attention. I looked down at the little guy and saw that he had spit up. I picked him off the bed. He choked a little. I patted his back. He coughed a little and spit up came out through his nose. Then normality. I laid him back down and picked the phone back up, “That was a little freaky,” I said to my mom. “That’s why the whole back versus belly thing seems like a toss up to me – you have either SIDS the one way or they choke on their spit up the other. But anyway, I don’t know if I am going to go to the hospital anymore. My pain is starting to ease up and the midwife is coming to visit me tomorrow anyway.”

“Well, let me know what happens,” she said, and we hung up.

Steve called me a few minutes later to say that he was on his way and could Oliver and I be ready to go to the hospital when he got there. Funny, the pain came back right after I hung up with my mom. I decided to go after all and told Steve we would be ready. As I got ready, Oliver spit up again and choked on it again. This time his body went a little limp. I got a little freaked out, but I’m thinking, kids choke on spit up all the time. He came around, so I finished getting his bundled up.

Steve came upstairs and picked up the car seat bearing the little guy, and we headed out to the car. “Sweetheart,” I said, “Oliver’s starting to worry me a little bit. He choked on his spit up and went a little limp. I wonder if we should have them check him out since we’re there. I know the midwife comes tomorrow, and I can talk to her about it, but it’s just a little freaky.”

Steve shot an alarmed look my way, “You guys are both starting to scare me.”

A surge of pain hit my back, and I gasped in response. Happy I was to see that there was only one other person in the waiting room. We checked in and moments later a nurse came through the door calling our names. We followed her into a small examining room.
Oliver cooed as Steve set the car seat on the counter in the room, and the nurse, Jennifer, looked at him and smile, “Such a cutie.”

I smile my proud mother smile and then proceeded to complain to my heart’s content as she questioned me about my pain. When she was done, she went over to Oliver. “All right, let’s check you out, mate,” she said lifting him out of his car seat. She held him to her and with one hand pulled down the neck of his sleeper and pressed a finger to his skin. She looked up at us and said, “I’m just going to get a probe from the other room.” She left carrying Oliver with her. Steve and I smiled at each other, full of proud parent glow.

But when Jennifer came back a couple of minutes later, she was no longer carrying Oliver. How I wish I could go back to the blessed wholeness of my life before she uttered her next words. “While I was in the hallway with Oliver, he went blue. He’d stopped breathing. He is in Resuscitation now where they are working on intubating him.” As she led us to a private waiting room nearer to where Oliver was being worked on, though the pain in my back hadn’t eased, the rest of me was numb. Jennifer was just supposed to tell us that babies choke on their spit up sometimes you stilly worry warts, now here is two painkillers for your back, call me in the morning. My son wasn’t supposed to end up intubated.

Jennifer got us seated in the room, “I’ll be right back. I’m just going to go check on Baby Oliver for you, okay?”
Steve and I nodded at her robotically. It still hadn’t sunk it. This was a dream, or a nightmare. Either way, we’d wake up soon.

When Jennifer reentered the room, Steve and I sat up and looked at her expectantly, but she wasn’t the bearer of good news, that much could be read in her eyes. She sat on the sofa across from us and took a deep breath. “They are having to breath for him and pump his heart as well. His blood isn’t clotting, so the places they have taken blood and tried to get a line started won’t stop bleeding. Oliver is a very sick boy.” She emphasized the very and looked at each of us carefully to make sure we understood what she was saying.

I didn’t – yet, “But he is stable though, right?” I asked calling on my ER guided medical terminology.

Jennifer shook her head slowly and with sympathy repeated, “Oliver is a very sick boy. Right now his condition is very critical.”

And that last word was the one that hit me over the head with reality. I crumpled into Steve’s arms a sobbing mass. “He was fine. He was fine.” I repeated again and again. This wasn’t happening.

Jennifer pushed the box of tissues our way, “You guys can come and see him if you like.”

“I can’t. I can’t.” I sobbed. The idea of seeing my son flailed out on a hospital bed with countless people working on him was too much to bear. Steve held me closer and whispered to Jennifer that we needed a little time. She nodded and left the room after telling us she would keep us abreast of any changes.

“It’s going to be okay. Oliver is going to be just fine; you’ll see,” Steve said as he rocked us and pulled his fingers through my hair, but at that moment, I didn’t think so.

(I have to do this in two parts. The emotions that arise while writing it are very hard to bear in large doses, so I must stop here. Today, Thursday, March 09, 2006, would have made my son one month old. Tomorrow is step one in the saying goodbye to the little guy’s body. We have the viewing at the funeral home. Steve and I will be the only ones there.)