Thursday, November 20, 2014

Happy returns

While Thursday around the old blogstead is usually the time when I focus on my own little ones, today I just wanted to say a bit about a baby who is not mine, but maybe the next closest thing: my Little Bro’s baby daughter. There’s been a bit of an elephant-in-the-room vibe of late (again, as with so many things, obscured by the whole Halloween thing) and I’ve been putting off saying much of anything, but now is a good time to finally get to it. (In other words, this story starts out sounding pretty dire but I assure you all up front it has a happy ending.)

My niece arrived back in July and had a reasonably uneventful first few months of life, going to the pediatrician every month or so for newborn well visits, as you do. The pattern repeated in October, which you might recall kicked off in my neck of the woods with my wife having a minor, alarming but fortunately non-disastrous cardiac episode and hospitalization. After my wife had been home again for a few days, my Little Bro called me to see how we were all doing and sound out whether or not we were still planning on roadtripping from Virginia up to New York to meet our niece over Columbus Day weekend. That segment of the conversation went a little something like this:

Me: “Oh, sure, we’re still coming, we’re looking forward to it and my wife feels 100% better. I mean, we think there’s some connection between her job and the stress she’s been under there and the coronary vasospasm, so she needs to look for a new gig, probably, but she’ll get to that. It’s a drag but what can you do, blah blah blah, it’s always some damn thing, blah blah petty discontent, blah.”

Little Bro: “Yeah, OK.” (pause) “So, um, we took our daughter to the doctor the other day and they think she might have spina bifida …”

Me: (dropping dead of mortification)

I immediately began to backpedal and volunteered to cancel/reschedule our visit, because at the time they didn’t know for sure if the baby had spina bifida (handy Wikipedia link if you don’t know what that is), although it seemed more likely than not, and they also didn’t know the extent or severity of it, although it seemed on the mild side given how happy and healthy and normal the baby had seemed the first few months of her life. Still, there were going to be second opinions and consultations and plans of action rolling along at a steady clip in the coming days, and if at any point someone had said “this infant needs surgery NOW” and that happened to be Friday of Columbus Day weekend, we didn’t want our brood (and all their floating daycare germ colonies!) to be underfoot.

As it turned out, surgery was the recommended course of action but it was put off until mid-November. So there was a month there, as I alluded to, where it was just kind of out there and often impossible not to think about, but there was nothing to be done about it except wait it out. Then the day of the surgery came and went, and with great gladness we learned that it went well and the baby pulled through like a champ. A couple of days later my whole household was roadtripping, not to New York but to Delaware, where we have extended family, very conveniently because the surgery was performed at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. And my wife and I got to visit Little Bro and Sister-in-Law and finally meet our niece, who looked amazing. All in all it was kind of like letting out a big breath I had been holding since early October.

The word from the surgeon was that he was very glad they had agreed to the operation, because things were even more complicated once they opened everything up than had been suspected. But, not so complicated that it couldn’t all be addressed, and the prognosis for my niece is now pretty good. Her recovery has been remarkably speedy, and while they had warned my Little Bro the hospital stay could be as long as 10 days, they ended up discharging the baby 72 hours after the conclusion of the surgical procedure. My brother sent out word today that the trip home had not been as bad as they’d feared, either, and they are all three now home sweet home. Good times.

I try (no guarantee about success, just the trying) to leaven most of my complaining on the blog with frequent acknowledgements of how, at the end of the day, I know I lead a pretty charmed life. Just like I may grumble about the absurdities of my job on one hand while being sincerely grateful to have a reliable means of bill-paying on the other, I get pretty cranky about losing sleep when a toddler has a mystery bug that wakes them up inconsolably at 1:30 a.m. (hey, it literally happened just last night!) BUT I do feel immensely fortunate to have never had to deal with any health crisis involving any of my children that was more serious than jaundice or an ear infection. It’s humbling to have even second-hand contact with a series of events like what my Little Bro, his wife and their daughter have been through of late.

Little Bro referred to the ultimately good outcome of the whole process as a “miracle of science” and I think that’s an incredibly apt turn of phrase. I’m thankful for all the health professionals who noticed something was up with my niece, got the diagnosis right, and did something about it to put things right. There really is no other proper response to a miracle other than gratitude, unless it’s a little extra thanks for not needing those extraordinary interventions more than we do.

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