Last Wednesday the word seizure shot back into our vocabulary. In an instant the normal of the morning vanished when Noah, in the middle of breakfast, wandered confused and lost. Mike and I stood dumbfounded, and Avry began to cry as the neurons in Noah’s brain misfired for the first time in nearly two years. If you’ve visited Noah’s Road to learn about our journey, or you’ve followed us from the beginning, you might have imagined what that first day was like, the first moments on Noah’s Road. Let me introduce you to the day it all began.
The room was surprisingly bright, sun stretching across the rounded chairs that lined the perimeter. The sliding glass doors closed behind me, and for a fraction of a moment I was taken off-guard by the disarming quiet. Then I ran to the front desk. “I’m looking for my son,” I said. The gray-haired woman didn’t look up at me. Her hands were spread over the keyboard. She typed a few letters. “He’s an infant,” I continued. My skin was the only thing keeping me from spilling out in panic and this woman moved slower than a snail in southern heat. I leaned over the counter. She looked up, seemingly unimpressed with this young blonde thing standing in front of her, and she pointed her finger to my right.
“Follow the yellow footprints,” she said.
I dashed in that direction. An older man looked up from his magazine at me for a brief moment. “Where do I go?” I yelled back to her. I must not have listened. I didn’t see any footprints in front of me.
She waved her left arm, her hand flailing limply. “Follow the footprints,” she repeated.
I looked to where she’d gestured and then back to her.
“Go through the double doors,” she said.
I still couldn’t see what she meant. How was I missing this? I stopped and backed up. The walls all looked the same. Panic had changed the landscape. I forced myself still, closed my eyes. Reset the picture. When I opened my eyes again I saw the yellow footprints along the wall, toes pointed toward the pediatric wing. I walked through the double doors into a hallway with more hallways. I didn’t see yellow footprints. Please don’t make me go back out there. I turned to the right and saw a nurse with colorful patterned scrubs. I reached my arm to her.
“Please,” I said. “I’m looking for my infant son. He should have arrived by ambulance. He was choking.”
She told me to follow her, which I did, just beyond her shadow.
Only forty minutes before I’d been at work, packing up for the day, laughing and goofing off with my co-workers. As I’d recovered from a laugh, my cell phone rang.
“Hold on a sec,” I said, holding up my hand to quiet the conversation. “It’s Trudy.”
Trudy was Noah’s daycare provider. She’d never called before.
“Noah choked on milk.” It was a young voice, nervous, a child. Not Trudy.
“What?” I said. “What do you mean? Is he OK?” There was silence on the other end. “Hello?” I said.
My coworkers looked at me. Their faces had shifted from humor to concern.
“Mrs. Whitmer?” The voice was different again. A man.
“Yes,” I said. “What’s going on?”
The man said he was a police officer. His gave me his name, which I forgot instantly. He repeated that Noah had choked while drinking his bottle.
“The paramedics are working on him. He’s pretty lethargic,” he said.
I’ve been a writer all my adult life. I remember words. Lethargic confused me; it was nondescript and left too much to my imagination. I tossed items from my desk into my purse, long-armed sweeps of anything I might need. I searched for my keys, turning in circles, not remembering where I’d put them. I’d managed to lose my way in an area no bigger than a bathtub.
“Take your time,” he said. “We don’t want anything to happen to you on the way there.”
The nurse stopped for a brief moment outside a doorway on my right.
“Here,” she said and disappeared. There was no sense of urgency, no alarm on her face.
I stepped into the room and fell into a scene I was unprepared for. Frenzied doctors and nurses huddled around the center of the room, moving in and out of each other, white jackets, pale blue scrubs, shoulders in and out, backs turned and twisting in every direction. I heard the rumble of voices but couldn’t make out words. A woman looked up at me. Her gaze helped me focus. And then I saw Noah, stretched out before her.
I couldn’t trust my initial senses when tragedy unfolded before me. The way I remember that first moment is with him lying naked in the center of a table, silver like a tray used to deliver medical tools to a surgeon; I know this memory is wrong. It was a bed. They’d been trying to warm him with blankets because his body temperature was dangerously low. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that Noah was stretched across the cruelest slab of metal, as he seemed so close to death that no amount of warmth from a blanket could change that. His legs were spread, knees bent and fallen outward. Chest arched just slightly. I couldn’t see his face, only a blue mask pushing artificial breaths. His fresh skin replaced with the palest shade of gray, a storm cloud threatening.
“Are you Mom?” The woman extended her arms to me as she spoke.
I must have nodded, though I can’t remember moving.
“Your baby was working really hard to breathe and he exhausted himself.” She moved a hand forward in a kind gesture, but didn’t touch me. “So we’re helping him a little.”
When my husband Mike finally made it to the hospital, I witnessed what shock looks like. We can experience something for the first time, but not trust it. I’d already lost my ability to see clearly, missing primary-colored footprints on a wall. I’d been turned around and back again. I’d heard loud voices but hadn’t understood words. When Mike came into the room, this man I’d shared my most intimate moments with over the course of our eight years together, I watched his eyes grow wide before tears crested and slid down his cheeks. I couldn’t be trusted to receive and process information clearly, but I trusted my husband. His eyes always betray his heart, spilling the truth even when he tries to hide it.
After a few minutes of watching the crowd work on my baby boy, I stepped out to call my mom. I knew her reaction would be bigger than I was willing to hear so I altered my voice, attempting a singsong sound that betrayed me as soon as it erupted falsely from my mouth. She was frantic. Crying.
“What happened?” she must have asked.
“He’s going to be fine,” I said, I walked up and down the hallway, framed images of doctors and nurses along the wall, nothing but smiles on my right and left. Their faces masked the seriousness of their work.
“I’m leaving now,” she said.
Already I could sense movement in her voice, shuffling. You’d think there would be stillness when news like this crashes down on us. But there isn’t. It’s the strangest thing. Momentum builds immediately and stillness is another detail lost in the past.
“Don’t bother,” I said.
It was a useless request. I knew it as soon as the words spilled out casually. Pain punctuates the space between our thoughts and our words, and our tongue betrays us.
I was slow to walk back to the room, standing lost in the hallway of smiling doctors, attempting, I suppose, to grasp my reality before I went back into it.
My father called and said, “Your mom is too upset to drive. I’m on my way to pick her up.”
When I returned to the room, the doctor updated us on the next steps in Noah’s care. She was in her early forties, with deep honey-colored hair swept away from her face. I focused on the color of her lips, a soft brick red. She wore a small gold chain with a charm that rested on her freckled chest. I shifted between her lips and the necklace as she spoke, a hint of warm apricot in her skin.
“We’re going to do a CT scan to see what might have caused the seizures,” she said. Mike and I nodded. “That should help us learn what might have happened to Noah.”Pain punctuates the space between our thoughts and our words, and our tongue betrays us. Encourage a Friend
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