It was a bitterly cold October morning when my husband Scott showed the first signs of a major Sickle Cell crisis. A committed teacher, he went to work despite how his legs, back and ribs ached. I was home with our beloved new child, just two weeks after his birth. We were both still flying high with the elation over the birth of a healthy son. My cheeks ached from smiling so hard. But when Scott called to announce that he’d be coming home early, our elation began to dissipate.
The emergency room was slightly crowded, but although the hospital personnel processed Scott quickly—we had been there at least an hour before he saw Dr. McDonald. She ordered an IV so his system could get better hydrated. “What do you usually use for pain?” she asked. Morphine was what they usually gave him for the excruciating invisible pain. They gave him doses appropriate for a man his size, but miniscule compared to his pain. He had received only two injections before they decided to put him on a different narcotic drug. Things went downhill fast.
Even though he was given doses of painkiller that would have killed the average person, it was not working. To make matters worse, one of the nurses discovered that his IV was infiltrating. “We have to place a catheter into the jugular vein in his neck,” a tall, distinguished doctor stated matter-of-factly.
“Who is this guy?” I wondered out loud. Scott had seen a different doctor every day and I had never met this one before. The panic ran through my body as I contemplated them jabbing a needle into the side of my handsome man’s soft neck. “Isn’t there another way we can handle this?” I pleaded.
The doctor explained that there were only three ways to get the medicine into his body. The first, and least invasive way is to use an IV into the arm or hand, but the arm had infiltrated and the IV technician on staff couldn’t get another one going. The second, more invasive, is to use a PIC line that goes into a larger vein in the upper arm, but that requires the skill of radiologists who were off that day and wouldn’t come in until morning. The third, most risky, is to put the catheter through the jugular vein. This was the option the doctor chose!
“You mean to tell me that because your people won’t come in on the weekend and the ones you have on staff can’t do their jobs right, you will risk my husband’s life?” Inexperienced with this scenario, my voice was shaking. I looked over to Scott’s best friend for comfort.
“Will you excuse us? I don’t feel comfortable with that option and I want to talk to my brother here,.” I directed the doctor and nurses out of the room. Scott’s best friend Jerry had posted camp in his room night and day to keep watch. We began to pray. We prayed loud and we prayed hard until moments later when a short, curly-haired woman in her late 50s came through the door with a cart of pins and needles.
“I’m Alice from the IV team. My coworker asked me to come up to see if I can get one started.” She began massaging Scott’s hand, rubbing steadily on the top of his thumb. “Here we go,” she said. I closed my eyes and prayed silently. “Got it!” she exclaimed. I looked to see the small needle standing up on top of his thumb, the pointed end firmly in his skin.
“Can I hug you?” I threw my arms around her tiny neck. My salty tears tasted bittersweet as Jerry and I looked at each other in disbelief. Then at the same time, we looked over at the newborn baby sitting quietly in his carrier, oblivious to what was going on.
By the third week, the room was blossoming with flowers in all sizes and colors, mostly from Scott’s 10th, 11th and 12th grade students. Visitors came in droves. They brought food from every corner of the world. It was such a blessing to have so much support, but it was also interfering with Scott’s ability to rest and heal. I finally had to put a stop to it and created a sign for the door that read “No Visitors. Please Check in with the Nurse”. Just as I was about to place it on the glass window of the heavy wooden door, a small African woman wearing a head wrap came walking toward the room. She smiled warmly toward me. As I opened the door to ask her to leave, I saw she was with a small girl in braids moving swiftly toward me in a wheelchair.
“Is this Mr. Robinson’s room?” the girl inquired from behind her wire-rimmed glasses. Scott was vaguely coherent, but he recognized the voice. Suddenly he popped up from the bed, the oxygen tubes hanging from his nose. He limped from the bed toward her and broke the first smile I’d seen in weeks.
“Haji, what are you doing here?” He was so surprised. He leaned over and kissed her forehead.
“I just had to come see you Mr. Robinson. To make sure that you’re ok.”
Scott leaned close to her and whispered, “You’re keeping up with your studies I hope?”
“Oh yes Mr. Robinson,” she humbly looked toward the floor. After a five-minute exchange, the girl and her mother went on their way. I had gone to the kitchen for a soda and returned to find Scott and his close friend Henry both sobbing uncontrollably. Scott, all six-foot-three of him and Henry with his seven-foot frame, looked awkwardly gentle. Neither said a word and I was too moved to ask.
Though there have been four similar episodes since this experience, the events of those 28 days will forever remain in our hearts. For it was through that experience that we learned to really appreciate the little things: the time we spend together, our healthy children, our challenging jobs, our supportive friends, and every moment of our existence in this life.