A couple of weeks ago, my chronically ill son, Peter hit the skids with a sodium level that was so alarmingly low, he was expected to have seizures. We hear this can be typical for chronic Lyme patients on long term IV antibiotics, but that made it no less alarming. We raced him to a nearby, (albeit substandard, ER), where he was given IV fluids and loaded with sodium. He then needed to be admitted and transported to a real hospital by ambulance. Understand that for his dad and for me, being in an ER is no easy feat. I mean, of course it’s not, for anyone. But, for us, it brings with it a whole slew of trauma triggers and it is an exhausting fight to maintain presence and not slip away to that dreadful night in 1995 when our then youngest son, Gregory, died. To this day, I still fight nausea when I see a racing ambulance and forever, the sight of vitals bleeping away from an IV sends me into a panic. But, with hard work, we can now differentiate and know that we are here with Peter, 16 years later and things are fairly stable.
So, Peter was admitted to Duke Raleigh hospital (a wise and self preserving choice made by dear husband, Shep as it is so much closer for us to get to) and I actually went to work for a few hours while this transfer took place. When I was done with work, I came and sat in a chair in Peter’s room where I stayed for most of the next day and a half. Peter convinced me to go home and sleep which I did, but other than that, I stayed. I spent a lot of time just staring at his ashen face, his emaciated body, his long stringy unkempt hair, his exhaustion that he describes as being “deep in his bones.” I stared wondering what had happened to the last few years of this brilliant, charismatic life that I had watched unfold with such pleasure and pride. Did I curse him in some superstitious way by always saying, “Ah, Peter has the Midas touch. Everything he does, everywhere he goes, everything he tries, turns to gold.” It was true though. He was so successful every step of the way, straight A’s all through school including the two years when he succumbed to deep, grief related depression. He was captain of every sports team in high school, won all the awards he could, including a totally free ride to NCSU Parks Scholarship program. He landed a summer internship with the NFL where he became so beloved that they pleaded with him to stay when summer ended. So, he stayed for a whole year before deciding he wanted to go to Harvard instead of back to NC State University and sure enough — he got in and soared through Harvard, graduating with honors. When he wanted to experience the NBA, he did, landing another summer internship! And then, after graduation, he became a very successful business consultant in Boston. His future held only the best of everything and he was star bound, although unlike many stars, Peter really had a deep heart and social justice commitment as well. The perfect combination!
So, when I sat watching him, I thought of all those things and more. I tried hard to get work done on my computer. I read Real Simple from cover to cover, vowing to be more organized. I went to eat lunch in the cafeteria and being horrified at the unhealthy offerings, left and hit Trader Joe’s. Then I , brought back with me as many salty snacks as I could fit in my canvas bag to pump Peter full of more salt. Peter and I laughed with horror at the food on his meal trays which ranged from yellow jello to a dark grayish “raspberry” sorbet to mystery meat to artificial sweetener included with all. How could the healthiest of us ever recover given a diet like this? Where was Jamie Oliver at a time like this? As usual, Peter and I vowed to work on making healthy hospitals sometime, someday. But, I wondered, “When? When will my boy get back to changing the world?” We were then told that he could not be discharged until he ate meals and walked up the hallway. Until then, all Peter was doing, all he had the energy to do, was sleep. But, one more look at the yellow Jello and we said, “Okay, we have to get out of here.” And so, he ate what he could and we made three painfully slow walks up and back to the nurses station. His stats were better enough so that by the second night, we got our ticket out of jail. Whew.
When I was in church the next morning, I had this sudden, shocking thought. Through the whole 48 hour incident, I believe I had forgotten to pray!! I wondered how this could have possibly have happened. I beat myself up for awhile. I questioned my faith and then my commitment to it, to my family, to myself. WHAT was I thinking? How did I forget to at least chant the Anne Lammott prayer of “Help me, help me, help me!” No “Lord’s Prayer? Nothing? I don’t know… I really don’t know how I lost my way and forgot to at least chat with the God I know is always with me. But perhaps, that is just it. I don’t need to call upon him, he is there. And maybe, I really was praying all along. Bearing witness, showing up, being there, not leaving, asking the doctor questions, encouraging my patient. Maybe, staring at my son feeling the deepest, most intense love and compassion that is available to us as humans, is in fact, prayer. My love running so deep from my heart to his, is this prayer at its heart? I am there. I am present. I show up. I have prayed.