Saturday, January 11, 2014

Audrey's Miracle Christmas

The promise of meeting four-month old Audrey sparked our holiday plans. She'd be arriving from Indianapolis with her family for their traditional post-Christmas visit, capped by First Night in Rockport.

When Audrey caught a respiratory bug our plans wavered. As her condition worsened, it looked like Marco might be coming with just the older girls. Then suddenly Audrey was in Community Hospital North, struggling to breathe.

In talking on the phone to our adult kids we listen at least as much for tone as words. Marco's voice reflected disappointment at the cancelled trip, and an unfamiliar parental concern.

When the phone rang at six in the morning Kay and I went on full alert. A few hours earlier during an emergency transfer to Riley Children's Hospital, Audrey had lost her struggle to breathe. Life Line service revived her. Now she lay in the ICU, stabilized, intubated, ventilated, attended by a round-the-clock nurse. The medical staff could optimize collateral care but battling the RSV virus was her own existential fight. If she hadn't won, and smiled winsomely at us ten days later, I wouldn't be introducing her to you now.

We shared a week on two simultaneous wavelengths, the choppy riffs of anxiety and the uplifting swells of love. Kay and I spent the days uptown with Lillian (7) and Vivian (4), nurtured by family friends. Julie vigiled with the baby. Marco took care of everybody's business from downtown headquarters at the Ronald McDonald House, a residential sanctuary on the hospital campus.

We'd walk through these doors to our daily mid-afternoon family rendezvous. The first thing you see is an enormous toy box where every child can rummage freely among the donations for something to keep. Everything says welcome, an all-expenses-paid hostel with vaulted ceilings and fireplaces for bewildered families.

Upstairs, a plaque on the door of their room carried the name of a corporate sponsor. We'd catch up on news, open mail, then head over to the hospital.

All the buildings seemed to be named for benefactors like the Simon family that owns our North Shore Mall, although the hospital itself honors Indiana native James Whitcomb Riley, 'The Children's Poet' who authored Little Orphant Annie.

By six o'clock we had to be back at the Ronald McDonald House for dinner, home cooking served by spirited groups from all over the area. We had the amazing experience of charity, of lining up to be sustained by people we didn't know. Many of the volunteers had had their own lives touched here in years past, not always with the gift of successful recovery. Dinner began with a prayer.

From the eighth floor of the pediatric wing we looked down on a rooftop helipad for the neediest patients. We could see the monorail called "The People Mover" that wound around the campus carrying faces with every sort of story and concern. We always had our eye out for wagons in the long corridors.

Our medical news became cautiously optimistic. Our wonderful Audrey was extubated and held by Mom and Dad. We wondered how to give thanks.
As we became aware of her real personality we saw a twinkle in Audrey's eye and a bit of swagger. Marco dubbed her a real cutie, but watch out guys because she's going to be the toughest kid on the playground. He stumbled through a rendition of the Elvis song he'd sung at her first homecoming, "I can't help falling in love with you."

Audrey greets 2014


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