Our last admission at Mott was possibly the hardest. Faith had three trips to the OR. We were in isolation. She had all but a few inches of her colon removed and she went seventeen days without being able to have anything by mouth. We were there a month. The longest month of my life.
One afternoon I was checking my email and I saw that my blog had a few comments. I hadn’t posted in a while so it seemed strange to me. I checked the comments and there was a message from a woman who only identified herself as a mother of a girl named Ashley who had the same issues as Faith. I was very skeptical. Really, no one had the same issues as Faith, she asked if I would please call her. A few weeks earlier I received a similar message on Facebook from a Grandmother of a four-year old boy who had just died of Hirshsprungs Disease, a disease much like the disease Faith suffers from. I contacted this grandmother via email and she told me that her grandson had died and they were just looking to share his story with me, in hopes that possibly they could help Faith somehow. I was grateful, but honestly it came at a horrible time and really just scared me more than anything.
Ashley’s mothers message came at the perfect time, I just learned that we were going to be discharged within a few days, and I was in a fantastic mood. I had the hospital operator connect me, so that she wouldn’t have my cell phone number. The phone rang twice and I decided that if it rang four times I would hang up, that possibly we were not meant to speak. Ring three….A woman with a very strong southern accent picked up the phone. You would think that conversation would be uncomfortable at first, calling someone I didn’t know, but instantly we connected. She asked how Faith was doing and understood everything I was telling her. She understood malabsorption, and told me what great success they had with Ashley’s GJ. She understood our worries of blood flow and new issues we were having with SMA Syndrome. If I had any doubt that this woman was not who she said she was, it was gone, she knew it all. A mother who had spent years dealing with what we were dealing with. We spoke about Faith for twenty minutes and I was thinking how great it would be for Faith to meet Ashley. A teenager with a colostomy bag, and feeding tubes, just like her.
I then asked Ashley’s mom what seemed to be a very appropriate question. How is Ashley doing? The minute of silence that followed that question made the answer completely clear to me. Ashley had died. She was gone for a year. She, like the four-year old, had got an infection and very quickly died. Something to do with sodium levels.
In my professional life I used to teach classes on building relationships, teams, doctors, nurses, I used to pride myself on knowing how to talk to anyone. Suddenly, there wasn’t a single word that seemed appropriate. All I could think to say, and what I find myself saying more often than I would like, to the other parents up at Mott is, I don’t understand. I then asked if there was something I could do for her, I didn’t really understand what that would be, but I felt as if there had to be something she needed from me. But there wasn’t. She asked if there was something she could do for me. Yes…I thought, tell me what you did wrong, where did you let her go, who was she with, did you let her go to school, what about public places with lots of germs, what about flu season, what did she eat, and what happened that in twenty-four hours your daughter went from good to being gone. I had everything to learn, I could protect Faith, I would not make the same mistake. Her answer would change my life, it would change how I do everything. But my question came out, in a much different fashion. What would you do differently? Her answer, is changing how I do everything.
She said. “I wished I would have stopped waiting for the storm to pass….because it doesn’t. I wish I could have learned how to dance in the rain, because Ashley missed out on a whole bunch of dancing.”
Our conversation ended at that point, mostly because I started crying and was unable to speak. I thanked her for contacting me, and for having so much courage. I told her that she and Ashley were going to be helping Faith, because Faith loves to dance and I am always turning off her music.
As a parent you want to protect your children. You want them to be safe. But what happens when you can’t protect them. A stomach virus, flu, or any other regular infection puts Faith in harm’s way, and immediately back into the hospital. Faith is a chronically ill child, three-quarters of her immune system is in her messed up digestive tract. In kindergarten kids get sick all the time…So, how do you decide? How do you decide what to do?
I have thought about Ashley everyday since I spoke with her mother and I keep asking myself are you waiting for the storm to pass? It’s going to take some time to learn how to dance in the rain, I’ve lived my entire life waiting for the storms to pass, and it has been a very scary couple of years with Faith. But I know that when I look back on Faith’s childhood, if all I have to hold on to is hospital stays and her illness, I will be sad for her, because she deserves more than that.
This afternoon I was looking for airfare to Orlando, a place we used to go all the time. She said, Mom are you going somewhere? I said, hopefully we are all going to Florida. She said, Mom Florida is too far away from Mott, we can’t. I reminded her that I made her a deal that when she was all better we would go to Florida to see Auntie Barbara, Avery, and Mickey Mouse. She says, But Mom, I am not better and I don’t think I am ever going to be better. So just forget it. And she walked out of the room.
And that is how I decide. Six year olds should aways want to dance in the rain, I am just going to have to show her how.
Ashley’s mother didn’t have the magic solution to keeping Faith healthy, but she did have the solution to keeping her living…Life isnt about waiting for the storm to pass its about learning to dance in the rain.