I am writing from my son’s hospital room. This is our fourth night in the hospital since Brave’s X-ray showed he had pneumonia. Thankfully our two-and-a-half year old is stable. He is sleeping soundly, now accustomed to the IV line in his arm and the oxygen mask over his face.
I have been here before. When Banner was five years old, he also came down with pneumonia. I remember the anxious moments when our firstborn son was taken down to the hospital basement for an X-ray. It was uncharted territory for us at the time. An overnight hospital stay stretched into five days as we prayed for his oxygen levels to improve and for the fluid in his lungs to recede. It was memorable timing—Banner’s hospital stay overlapped with my PhD graduation. Even though he couldn’t attend the crowded ceremony, he was well enough that the doctors let him sneak out for an hour to join us for a celebratory lunch outside the hospital.
Even though that was a trying week with Banner, it became a cherished time. After we got through the harrowing first couple of days, Banner starting feeling better and we were able to enjoy quality time together. There is nothing like a hospital stay to force quality time with a child. Everything outside of the hospital fades in importance and we have the opportunity to read books, play games, eat meals and enjoy concentrated one-on-one time together.
I wrote in Banner’s journal during the hospital stay, “These brushes with our mortality make me more grateful for the son you are, make me want to cherish each day together, trouble and all. Hopefully we get out of the hospital soon and we don’t have to come back for at least 6 more years!”
I made the last comment because Banner was six years old and hence six years beyond his first hospital stay as a newborn. I never fathomed that we wouldn’t even have another year together; just nine healthy and energetic months later he passed away suddenly. Ironically, when Banner’s heart stopped in March 2018 there was no extended or even overnight hospital stay. He slipped from this world before we even made it to the hospital. We look back on the extra nine months we had with Banner as a gift from God. Interestingly it was because of this hospital stay that we had a complete medical record of his strong heart and overall health, which made his sudden death even more baffling.
I also couldn’t fathom just how many hospital stays we’d have over the ensuing years. Since Banner’s stay at Bayindir Hospital in spring 2017 we haven’t even reached that six year mark and we have had at least ten overnight hospital stays with Banner’s siblings, mostly for asthma/breathing issues that weren’t on our radar at that time. We’ve joked that Bayindir has become our “home away from home” because we have spent so many nights there with our kids since. To put a positive spin on it, I’ll say to the sick child “We get to have a sleepover at Bayindir.” Just a few weeks ago I had an overnight stay with River as she battled Rota virus. “It’s like we get to have a really long date together,” she said several hours into the extended hospital stay. When our children are breastfeeding babies, Kara is naturally the one who stays overnight if they are hospitalized, so she can feed and comfort them. But otherwise I am usually the one who stays with the child because I am able to sleep better on the futon and she has often been pregnant (as she was with River during Banner's stay) or nursing a little one back at home.
We’re thankful for the phenomenal medical care we have received at Bayindir. They have a 24-hour pediatric clinic, so in the middle of the night when a child is having breathing issues or an incessant cough, a pediatrician is just a 10-minute drive away. We’ve been there more times than we care to count. We thank the half-dozen doctors on rotation, who all know us, and the slew of nurses who have cared well for our family the last several years.
Another quirk of our overnight stays is that we have an in-patient medical insurance plan. If we leave after a regular doctor exam and some medical tests, we might owe hundreds of lira, but if we are admitted overnight, the stay becomes entirely free. We’re thankful for comprehensive medical coverage. We know not everyone has the opportunity to visit a qualified hospital with attentive doctors and comfortable facilities.
After Banner went to Heaven, I suppose we expected a free pass on major health issues with our other kids. But the first couple of years were brutal with continual sicknesses for his siblings. We feared losing one of them too. We gave ourselves permission to be more quick to take the kids in to the doctor if something did not seem right, because we did not have the capacity to make stressful medical decisions. The pandemic years ended up being a reprieve. We had two remarkably healthy years when the kids weren’t picking up viruses from school. It is of course refreshing to be back in school now, but along with it comes a steady stream of sicknesses and a return to Bayindir.
One lesson we have learned is that we have to hold joy and sorrow together. We can’t wait until everyone is healthy until we can be happy. We need to make the most of each day, each night we have together, even if it is a night in the hospital. Losing Banner also helps us keep the hospital stays in perspective. As long as a child is stable, we have much for which to be thankful. Waiting out even a multiple-day illness is a welcome contrast to the grim alternative.
So the next time you or a kid has a sickness, pray that it passes, but also pray for the grace to appreciate that you are alive and to savor the time that you have with those around you. When life gives you hospitalization, make it a sleepover.
I am writing from home 24 hours later. Brave’s lungs were thankfully clear and we were discharged from the hospital this morning. When I told Brave that we were going home, he said he didn’t want to leave. Despite the needles and nasal mucus cleaning procedures that he hated, he had come to appreciate our time there. His response was just like his big brother Banner’s five years ago. I ended my journal entry to Banner, “By the end of the stay you were saying you didn’t want to leave. I’m thankful for the trials that draw us closer and make us more thankful for each other. I’m looking forward to continuing our reading together and more sleepovers without a beeping IV :). Love, Dad.”