Monday, January 26, 2009

Crossing the NICU Styx - Part 2

(If you haven't read part 1, you probably should start there.)

From across the water a shining figure appeared with an entourage and great fanfare, and even Cerberus whimpered in his presence. An angel of the Lord, I thought hopefully. He stared down at my child and the foreign words tumbled out, “Coarctation of the aorta... removal of the section and reconnection, deep hypothermic circulatory arrest...stopping blood flow to the organs, av canal...heart lung bypass...pericardium...sewing patches into the ventricles.” He spoke for some time describing his plan to secure the golden coin and the great risks it entailed. I could not listen to him, for my own voice was shrieking in my head, “He’s going to kill my baby, he’s going to kill my baby...” With sudden clarity I saw that he was not an angel. He was just a man, a man with no scars on his palms.

There are moments in life when you freeze, dig in your heels, and refuse to accept reality. You screech to a stop and the spinning world crashes into your back with its full force, knocking the air out of you. In a split second its pummeling affect leaves your body torn between puking and suffocating. With all your might you push back against it, struggling to reverse it just long enough to undo the tragedy that has befallen you. When that striking moment stretches into days and days stretch into weeks, you realize that your core is being smelted by God the Blacksmith. It hurts so bad.

Throughout the days and nights, I could hear the prayers of those in the Land of the Living beseeching the Lord with her name, Kimani... Kimani... Kimani. Hundreds, maybe thousands of voices pleading for her life. Mine too.

On Day 91, the gates of Hades opened up to receive my daughter. Cerberus drooled in anticipation. He would not let me pass with her. Somewhere beyond she would lay nearly frozen, disconnected from life, while the surgeon’s hands worked to fashion graceful conformity from a grave aberration. I gave her back to God that day. Still though, I called down every promise I could remember from His book. Then my husband and I, alone among the strangers on the river bank, waited the day through to find out if we had our baby or not. If not... if not... then part of me would forever stay there in that dark place.

Finally the heart surgeon came out to find us. His radiant smile gushed through my veins. He placed a glittering gold coin in my hand and I clutched it tight.

I paid it to the ferryman just as soon as I could and he loaded us into his boat. We made it almost half way across the rushing waters, almost. I was so focused on the light coming through the door to the way out that I did not see him coming. Cerberus. He lashed his tail at her, ripping her out of my arms. She fell into the water. No, not water... blood, poisoned blood... blood sepsis.

I screamed at God. I am no Job. I told Him the truth. "I am close to insanity now," I cried. "I need to be released now," I begged. He replied, "Go find her." He did not mean my daughter.

She was just down the bank a ways with her infant son. A mother like me, but not. A brokenhearted child like mine, but not. She needed me. Together we watched over our babies as their bodies labored to recover. Charon tormented us, flipping golden coins in the air. Heads they live, tails they die.

No, it doesn’t work like that I tell her. There is a God I tell her. Her eyes are hesitant but she wants to believe me.

After 113 days in the abyss, Kimani, all seven pounds of her, safely crossed the NICU Styx and entered the Land of the Living. I thank God everyday for sending her back to me.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


All that is left designating me third generation
The final barrier between child and grownup
Let me play here a while longer.

Fifty four years separate us, forever one day will
Then, no longer a grandchild, I will create them
for someone else’s smiles.

Your very oldness protects my youth,
sheltering me, where mistakes are easily forgiven
and parents aren’t truly grand, yet.

Put your hand in mine, Grandma, and keep it warm
Open your eyes and look at me, your grandchild
I am ready you say, but I am not I reply.

For when you are gone who will say of me,
This is my darling granddaughter, isn’t she beautiful?
Going with you, I the grandchild, will cease to be.

I wrote this not-quite-a-poem some years ago... before I had my children and while my grandmother was still alive. She died this past spring thus promoting me up a link in the chain of life. I miss her soft, gnarled hands twisted like tree roots and her wrinkliness. I miss her distinct German voice accentuating my name. I miss her thick, approving love. I knew I would miss being a granddaughter.

Monday, January 5, 2009


The woman examined her marriage as if it were a plate of leftovers retrieved from a back corner of the refrigerator. Holding the chilled dish in her hand, she lifted the foil wrapped edge and sniffed at it. A stale scent, with a hint of decay, gave her pause. She peered at the unrecognizable mounds trying desperately to remember what once had been there. Nothing came to mind. The fuzzy blue telltale signs of mold were not a surprise to her. Surely, she thought, no amount of spice infusions and reheating would salvage this. Pronouncing it a waste, she scraped the plate off into the garbage bucket under the sink.

A curling twang in her belly reminded her of why she had been rummaging in the fridge. She picked up her car keys and left home, headed down the road to a fast food drive-thru.

Now her husband and three children go hungry.

Watercolored Photo by Artist Anaa

Post note: My marriage was not the fodder for this post, although we do eat leftovers quite often here.