Six years ago this week we became parents for the second time. The pregnancy and birth was routine, every step as expected. After all, why shouldn’t it have been? We were old hats at this baby thing. Nathaniel was almost two years old by then, in big boy diapers now. We used to worry so much then, not so much now. I remember how we laughed about how one or the other of us would wake up every couple of hours when Nathaniel was tiny, peek over at the crib and watch for that steady movement of his chest, listen for the soft rhythm of his breathing. I remember that split millisecond of panic when we didn’t immediately hear or see it, always followed by relief when it inevitably came.
Babies, especially first ones, seem so fragile, like just a second of inattention could result in dire, tragic consequences. We’ve been told new parents are chronic hypochondriacs. The clinics and emergency rooms are full of them. Annoyed doctors send them on their way with a, ‘there there, that 99.5 degree temperature will pass when the routine, everyday virus your child probably has does.’
We tried to NOT jump to conclusions with every childhood ailment. Only when every measure at home was exhausted would we call the doctor. Why flood a child with antibiotics when the virus would likely go away on its own? Why needlessly expose our children to the bugs, bacteria, and other baddies that notoriously lurk in hospitals and doctors’ offices? This is the way we typically are, even today.
So when we brought our little girl home from the hospital that day we didn’t expect anything to go wrong. Nine days later, our world was rocked to the core.
That morning I woke up as usual and went to work. When I came home for lunch, Kim told me she was concerned about Abby. She was fussy, didn’t want to eat, and felt warmer than usual. I picked her up and held her, laid her on the bed and took her clothes off to change her diaper. By then she was screaming at a high pitch, making herself beet-red in the process. I felt her forehead and her stomach – she had a slight fever – when we checked it was less than 100, low grade.
Kim and I talked about it. We both were sensitive to the whole hypochondriac thing – the last thing we wanted to do was bring our child to our family doctor with a false alarm, but there was a gnawing uneasiness in both our spirits – something just wasn’t right and, without really knowing it, deep down we knew. We prayed about it, and decided for Kim to take her to the doctor. It was probably, hopefully, nothing, but we wanted to be sure. I went back to work when Nathaniel’s Nana came to watch him, but the uneasiness didn’t leave. It was still there, in the pit of my stomach.
Kim took Abby to Dr. B’s office. He was tied up with another patient at first, but in a few minutes he came over. He took one look at her, then immediately scooped her up. He wanted to do a spinal tap. Dr. B is an intense guy, hyperactive, always moving at a faster pace than everyone else around him. Today he was at rocket speed, back and forth, like we were the only people in the building. When he took her in the back room for the procedure he asked Kim not to come back to watch. She obliged, knowing the sight of that huge needle in that tiny screaming child would be too much. (Listening to Abby cry in pain was hard enough!)
He was right. By the time I got there Dr. B had the spinal fluid in a vial. It was cloudy, not clear as it should have been. Something was dreadfully wrong, but what? Dr. B told us, “Guys, this is the real thing, big-time.” A Christian doctor, he prayed with us, comforted us, but he didn’t offer us any false hope or illusions. Whatever was killing our daughter, this was going to be a tough road. He immediately admitted her to the hospital next door, prescribed a strong antibiotic, then sent the fluid to the lab for analysis.
Much of what happened after that is a blur. I remember the agonizing moments when they tried, time after time in both the doctor’s office as well as the hospital, to get an IV started. I remember thinking that with every second that passes whatever is in her spinal fluid is attacking her brain, killing her, and yet her tiny blood vessels refused to accept IV that would administer the antibiotics to stop it. We both stood there and prayed, earnestly and specifically, that God would allow the IV to be inserted correctly. Almost immediately after we finished praying, they were able to get the IV in.
The culture came back – bacterial meningitis, an infection of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord, caused by the escherichia coli (E coli) bacteria, likely acquired in the birth canal. Dr. B didn’t want to keep her at the hospital we were in because they weren’t as well equipped to treat infants, so we took an ambulance ride to a neighboring city. It was going to take at least three weeks of intense antibiotic treatment. Dr. B prayed with us before leaving. His and our purpose, he told us, is to make sure Abby fulfills HER purpose – thank God for Christian doctors!
The weeks crept by. The days and nights seemed to last forever. I stayed at home with Nathaniel, driving over each day to visit Kim and Abby in the hospital. I would spend my evenings praying, worrying, thinking, and reading internet descriptions of the disease that made me WORRY more (up to 25% mortality rate, significant chances of serious complications after such as deafness, cerebral palsy, seizures, and neurological disorders). Kim slept on the couch beside Abby, waking up every couple of hours to check her breathing. As tiring as it was for me, it was ten times more exhausting for her.
Finally, after three weeks, the doctors did another spinal tap to make sure the infection was gone. Her fluid was clear, thank God. When she was released Abby was almost one month old, having spent more time in a hospital than all her family combined.
Her troubles weren’t over. Intense antibiotics, especially at that young an age, tend to cause hearing issues. Her first hearing test at the hospital during her illness showed mild hearing loss, but a test she took a month later showed severe hearing loss. Deafness was a real possibility. Over the following weeks and months we prayed. The next test, at six months of age, came back in the lower range of normal! God had healed Abby’s ears.
Over the years there have been telltale signs of Abby’s infant trial – her hearing issues, we believe, caused some speech delays, some cute but concerning idiosyncrasies in the way she pronounces certain words. (‘Princess’ was ‘bapas’ for a long time.) As a baby she cried more than any of our others, had a harder time falling asleep. But overall, over time, her healing has been complete, total, miraculous.
The gnawing, foreboding feeling Kim and I both felt with Abby’s fussiness and low-grade fever; the way Dr. B just ‘knew’ something was seriously wrong and did a spinal tap in his office; the IV that had so much trouble inserting but finally did; the hearing that got better and better with each passing month – we are eternally grateful for the way God has worked along each step of the way to heal our daughter.
Today Abby is a sharp, curly-headed, inquisitive, loving, emotional, shy, kindergarten girl who loves to play with her brother, sisters, and friends. God has big plans for her (and all our children!), and the calling He has given us as parents to ensure they are equipped to fulfill their purpose is a high one indeed. May we live worthy of this calling, every single day.