We are home. Well, we’re home at Marty’s house. Julia and Neville are spending one last night, each with one of my dearest friends, so Marty and I can have this one quiet night at his place, getting Will settled into his usual surroundings without the chaos of adding an excited little lunatic who would be barreling around the apartment, bouncing off the walls…or the dog, either.
It’s been a long road. The days blurred together in a haze of doctors, nurses, techs, therapists, surgeons, consultants, dietitians, social workers, hospital staff, and friends trailing in and out of Room 4539. When Marty called me on May 22 and told me Will needed to be admitted to the hospital, our pediatrician thought we would be there for a day or two. By the time we left Shands this evening, Will had been in the hospital for eleven days. In some ways, it felt like we were there forever; we fell into a bit of a routine and got to know the compassionate, talented staff. But for the most part, our time in the hospital flew by because we were so busy and worried. Will’s status changed by the hour, sometimes by the minute, and there were moments when I smiled and sang to Will through a procedure while wondering if he was going to die.
As good as it feels to actually have brought Will home, there were moments, I’ll admit, when I was afraid to do so. In fact, yesterday, I was reminded of The Shawshank Redemption, to draw a completely false parallel, when Red, who has been in prison all of his adult life, identifies himself as, “an institutional man.” “These walls are funny,” he says, “First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them.” And while the hospital is certainly not prison by any means, we certainly hated being there initially, and we were not in control of how long we would be staying. As time went on, somewhere along the line, I started to fear leaving. What if I couldn’t learn all this tube-feeding stuff? What if we got home and Will refused the tube feeds? What if his “button” got infected or pulled out or if there was some other problem I didn’t even know could happen? At least in the hospital, there was help. There were people there around the clock, looking out for us. Here, we’re on our own.
I’m sure those feelings were exacerbated by the fact that I hardly left Will’s room, let alone the fourth floor. In fact, the entire 11 days he was there, I left the hospital for a grand total of about two hours. When we left this evening, I hadn’t been outside since walking downstairs for a few minutes with a friend on Tuesday. It just occurred to me that that was six days ago. It’s not that I didn’t want to go take a walk or run to the store. And Marty certainly offered to take the night shift and let me go sleep at his place. But I just couldn’t leave. Partly, I was irrationally sure that something bad would happen while I was gone. But it was also simpler than that: every single person who works at the hospital is on a different schedule. The pediatricians, med students, surgeons, nurses, therapists, consultants, everyone. They all come … whenever they come. And if I were to leave for an hour and miss the pediatric team doing rounds, for example, that’s a big deal. I’m Will’s advocate. I’m the one who asks questions and explains his history and navigates the foreign terrain of medical-land. That’s my job. So I stayed.
Almost every night when Marty went home, I would go to sleep when Will did, or close to it, knowing we would be woken throughout the night and hoping to get a few hours of sleep in a row. And almost every day, I would hold Will still through blood draws or sing through tears during a procedure, or rub his feet and legs while he played with his iPods and high-fived the nurses.
Now that we’re home, there will be a new routine. We started it this evening by organizing all of Will’s feeding supplies and doing his first home feeding. We will get into a routine here, just as we did in the hospital. We will start taking turns working and tending to Will. Julia will go to camp. Neville will snore under the table. Life will get back to normal. A new normal.
And sooner than I think, Julia and I will go home to Kansas City, and Marty will live in this new normal with Will. And we will all miss each other. And I will cry more than I admit, knowing that my son is so far away, always feeling like part of me is missing, just as I know Marty feels about being away from Jules. But the thing is, we’ll do it anyway. Because no one is ever promised a problem-free life. We aren’t even promised a life. So when we get a second chance at it, when we come that close to losing it all, instead of focusing on the fear or the sorrow, we owe it to ourselves and our kids to live each day with pure gratitude for the opportunities to succeed, screw up, love, struggle, laugh, play, work, grow, learn, and simply BE. Because otherwise, what were those 11 days for?