The Five Greatest Hours
It was still dark when I woke up. I opened the sliding glass door and stepped out onto the porch, only to see the faint outline of the trees in my backyard. The first day of spring was almost here. I felt the cold dew on the wooden deck underneath my feet. I remember hearing the birds chirping, as if to welcome the morning sun. Today was the day I had been anticipating with both joy and fear. Today was the day I would meet Kristy. My wife was eight and a half months pregnant, and today was her scheduled C-section.
Originally my wife, Fem, was pregnant with twins, but tragically one was absorbed leaving Kristy alone in my wife’s womb. We knew Kristy had been diagnosed with Trisomy 18, but we still had hope. Anxiously, we gathered our prepared bags and began the short, yet seemingly longest, drive to Mercy Hospital. A man stood by the entrance, reading a small black book in his hand. He looked up as he heard us approaching and closed his bible. He was from the local Catholic Church, St. Stephens. He introduced himself as Father Paul. He expressed his sincerest apology to us for what we were about to experience. He knew what his job was. He knew why he was there. He had spoken with my wife previously and understood he was there to baptize our Kristy as soon as she was born. I didn’t know it then, but sometimes the truth is hard to accept, especially when your daughter’s life is at stake. Whether or not I had accepted the truth of the situation, nothing could have compared me for the next five hours.
Before we embark on my greatest endeavor together, let’s take a step back. When my wife and I found out we were going to have a second baby we couldn’t have been more excited. My daughter Kaitlynn was just over a year old, and already wanted a sibling. This was the perfect time to add to our family. Within a few months, my wife was as big as she was when during full term with ultrasound, we never expected to discover she was carrying twins! Unfortunately, that excitement was short lived. Within a few weeks I had to rush her to the emergency room because she was having terrible stomach pains. After waiting for what seemed an eternity in the waiting room that smelled of sweat and cigarettes, we were finally called into the back. Our second ultrasound was devastating. We could only see one embryo, as the second had been absorbed and was now gone. The doctor expressed his empathy for us and explained that this is a common thing. After the heartbreaking news we decided to complete a full panel test on the remaining fetus. Nothing could have prepared us for what we would soon find out. The panel tested positive for Trisomy 18, Edwards syndrome. The doctor explained that this was a 100% terminal disease. Who knew a third 18th chromosome would be such a big deal? At this point the doctor’s medical opinion was to terminate the baby. For my devout catholic wife, this was not possible.
Now where were we, Oh yeah! As the three of us entered the automatic doors into the emergency room, I noticed a subtle smell of bleach. A large woman sat at the counter. Her hair was unkempt, and she had a half dead glaze in her eyes. I asked the woman where we should go for our appointment, to which she replied, “Keep going down this hallway, then turn left at the elevator and you’ll be there. By the way congratulations!” At this point the word congratulations has a certain numbness to it. It no longer seems a word of happiness, but one of dull repentance. Unable to come up with a reply I simply nodded my head and began the long walk down the hall towards our appointment. The halls were meticulously clean. Pictures of saints, priests, and nuns lined the bright white walls. The shiny floors caught my attention, leading me to the source of the bleachy smell. We passed picture after picture, statue after statue, until we finally arrived at a brown wooden door with our last name in its placard. This door wasn’t special in any way, it was the same as every other door in the hallway, yet the thought of entering it frightened me. My wife was led away by a nurse to begin prepping for her surgery. Now it was just Father Paul and I. Time seemed to stand still inside this small clean room. His discomfort of the situation showed on his scrunched brow. Yet he still managed a small smile and a comforting, “How are you doing?” With a galaxy of worry in my mind all I could find were a few insincere words, “I’m OK.” The uneasy silence then continued until we heard a quiet knock on the door. The doctor opened the door and motioned us to him. He leaned towards me and put his hand on my shoulder, “Are you ready?” he said to me. Through a short choke, I barely managed to get out the hardest “Yes” of my life.
Father Paul and I entered the operating room to find more than a dozen people inside. I could feel 30 eyes penetrate me. I felt naked, like I was in a nightmare where I showed up to school with no clothes on. I was worried about my wife’s surgery as I was worried about our unborn daughter inside of her. My wife was lying in a bed surrounded by doctors and nurses. All I could see was her upper torso. She had a blue hair net on that matched the cloth blocking our view of the operation to come. Next to her head was a small steel stool, in which I quickly decided would be mine. I really needed to sit down, that’s all I had wanted since I entered the room and the weight of the situation hit me. I could feel the cold stool through my jeans. Father Paul decided to find a spot with a better vantage point of the operation and found that spot at the foot of my wife’s bed. As the operation proceeded, I focused on calming my wife and talking with her. Now and again I would glance at Father Paul and see him gazing, as if memorized, at the doctors who were hard at work. His eyes opened so wide it almost seemed his eyeballs may fall out. His mouth was slightly open making him look like a vulture waiting for its prey to finally succumb to its end. Quite suddenly the doctor stepped back and began walking the baby across the room to another group of doctors. I didn’t hear anything. I sat frozen, unable to look, unable to comprehend what was happening. I sat frozen unable to breathe. It took 30 seconds of panic, 30 seconds of not being able to find any air in a giant open room, until I finally heard a cry. It was 8:29 a.m. March 9, 2015. Jumping to my feet I quickly moved to my newborn daughter’s side. There she was, the most fragile and precious thing I have ever laid my eyes upon. Father Paul followed close behind me, he had a job to do and he knew he may not have a lot of time to do it. He began reciting something inaudible to me, moved his hands around as is performing a séance. Like that, his job was done.
The next five hours were among the greatest moments of my life. I was escorted back to that frightening brown door, which now seemed more welcoming. Inside the room were flowers that seemingly appeared out of thin air. I liked this; it made the room feel more alive. I waited anxiously for any news about my wife and daughter. After what seemed hours, in this timeless room, I heard that familiar knock. My wife’s bed was wheeled in, she was asleep. She looked as if she had just glanced at the other side of life. Her skin was pale, and her eyes closed tightly. Following behind her was a nurse carrying our little Kristy. The nurse placed Kristy in my arms. I instantly pulled her in close to me and held her firmly against my chest. She wasn’t crying at all. She just looked up at me with huge curious eyes, ready to take in the whole world. Continuing to hold her as if she was everything, I’ve ever worked for I sat down for some much-needed rest. As I started examining her, I noticed differences in physical features that are common with Trisomy 18 babies. Her ears were much lower than mine, they were in line with her nose. In fact, she had my nose, my lips, my eyes. Her hands and feet were near perfect copies of mine. To me she looked to be a healthy happy baby girl. Yet I could tell there was something wrong. Her hands were purple, her breathing heavy. She didn’t seem to be in any distress, only happy to see my smile. With a reflecting smile on her face she giggled at me. I asked the doctor why her hands were so purple, a question to which I was not ready for the answer. Her heart wasn’t fully developed, so her blood wasn’t flowing properly through her body. I asked what we could do to solve the problem, another question I wasn’t ready to hear the answer to. The doctor explained, “There is nothing we can do. We can put her on machines and keep her alive, but the longest she could possibly survive with her condition is a few days. I suggest you enjoy what little time you have with her.” The answer to my question devastated me. I knew I had to make every minute count. I put on some music on my phone, Owl City. I wanted something relaxing, warming, comforting for her to hear. My wife had woken up and was excited to hold our little Kristy. For a few hours we all laid together, smiling, laughing, and crying. After some time, I looked over and noticed Kristy’s hands were no longer purple, they were white. It was 1:34 pm March 9, 2015. For the next 5 hours I experienced the greatest pain in my life.