My three-year-old daughter stood on the scale last night, looked down at her feet and mused, "Thirty pounds and twenty-two, mommy." I beamed and told her that that was wonderful, it was the perfect weight and I wished I weighed the same. She waved her hand and shook her head, interrupting my glee. "No, no," she corrected. "Thirty-one and twenty-two." I put on a perplexed face and repeated her newfound weight. She confirmed that indeed, that was the result on the scale and she walked away, satisfied at my confused state. I laughed out loud and of course, predictably, I saw her lying on a hospital bed and I heard the sound of beeping machines and I shuddered as I do everyday and whispered, "Thank you, Lord, she's here."
If you know me then you know, of course, what happened to Alanna early last year. I tell everyone that my husband picked up the swine flu from a local gym where he worked out religiously three times a week. I tell you these gyms are a laboratory for germs that'll kill you if you're not careful. Wlad picked up the swine flu and then Nana got real sick, etc., etc., so I'd stay away from these gyms if I were you! But the root of the virus' origin and how my husband and Alanna came across it I don't really know but the gym theory sounds plausible and so I tell it with conviction as though I myself had swabbed the equipment in the place and discovered H1N1 under a microscope. I get "wow" and "oh really?" and then, a thoughtful reply, "I don't think the gym I go to has the swine flu, though. It's pretty clean." And so the message goes unheeded.
Alanna's fifth day in the hospital will remain seared in my memory for as long as I live. There were numerous, harrowing moments lived in the depths of hell during that hospitalization but the morning of Alanna's transfer from Staten Island Hospital to Columbia Presbyterian will never leave me. After never leaving her side, hardly ever sleeping and neglecting to use the bathroom that resulted in a bladder infection, my cousin, a respiratory therapist, and my best friend, a doctor at John Hopkins, convinced me to go home and get some rest. My two-year-old was already on a respirator and all she needed now was close observation. She had fought the doctors and nurses the night before as they struggled to put a C-Pap on her to help her breathe and she finally conceded, in pure exhaustion, but laid on her crib with a look of horror on her face, her mouth frozen in a frightened state, teeth exposed for a long time, an oversized mask over her tiny face. She was paralyzed with fear and she searched my face with her large, bewildered eyes and I stood over her, helpless, asking for her forgiveness. I could not help her and I could see that that was the only thing she wanted. I called my husband who was recovering from the swine flu himself. He had been begging to come and see Alanna but we all decided that it was better for him to stay home and regain his strength. I told him to come. Alanna might not make it in the morning and then I went to the bathroom, laid in a fetal position, and sobbed quietly.
The next day, she was placed on life support but before her elected intubation I looked at her and said, "Nana, you're going to sleep for a while. You'll play with Gabba Gabba and eat all the strawberries you want." I didn't want to frighten her with my tears so I fought them back. She was fatigued, burning with fever, and every breath brought her excruciating pain. The large mask on her face made a loud sound of air pushing in and out. The nurses prepared to move her crib. I said, "Nana, I love..." and through the sound of the machines, her fever, pain and exhaustion, Nana said loudly, "you."
That night, left in the care of ICU nurses and under the close eye of my cousin and my friend, I went home to get some rest. By five o'clock the next morning I received a text from my friend. Something had gone terribly wrong. Alanna's lungs which were filled with infection had both collapsed. I remember running wildly in the quiet hallways of the hospital, the security guards looking at me without asking for identification, their conversations diminished into concerned whispers as I kept repeating, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus," under my breath. I got to the 4th floor and I could hear the sound of loud, furious beeping. I could hear frantic commotion and when I got to my daughter's room doctors and nurses were running and there was my baby girl in a paralyzed coma, a tube in her mouth, her body sunken in the bed and life, life was clearly leaving her. I stood over her bed and shook, "You fight, Nana," I pleaded. "You fight, baby girl!"
I was ushered out of the room and they closed the door. I could hear the angry alarms of the machines and I could hear feet running. I collapsed on the floor and I yelled out my daughter's name. People say that life flashes before your eyes before you die and I think that may be true. Because all I could see while I screamed was Alanna smiling, eating, laughing, and watching her cartoons. Snapshots that I had just seen her do the week before. And I wanted to rewind time to go back to the week before. I wanted it to be the week before!
How maddening it is to live in the shadow of death!
An orthodox Jewish friend of mine whose company I truly enjoy surprised me with this information outside of the scriptures about Sarah, the virtuous woman: "She died of a broken heart, did you know? Goth, the giant, coveted her and told her that Isaac, her only son, was dead. And she died on the spot. She died of a broken heart."
I told him that I could understand that. That losing a child may be the worst thing that could happen to any woman, virtuous or not. Then I thought, what a shame it was that Sarah did not realize that Isaac was not dead, that the pain she suffered from the loss was in fact just the shadow of death and that that pain, though harrowing and excruciating, one day would pass. But it's hard to tell a mother in the face of death that there's nothing to fear and that a miracle can happen.
I'm watching my daughter right now coloring and talking to herself, a smudge of ice cream across her upper lip. She bosses all of us around in the house and we let her. I remember asking God in her suffering to take her if it was His will. I was shaking and heaving and wailing. But God knew better. He knew that Alanna was just under the shadow of death and that my daughter's pain and my anguish, though harrowing and excrucitaing, one day would pass.
(To see Alanna's miraculous account please check out www.worshipandpraise.net and click under "testimonials.")