Over the last two days, I was reminded that sometimes it takes a while for my grateful heart to reappear after the crisis passes.
This week began our annual season of thankfulness and gratitude, followed by the season of love. Each year I love it.
Nick enjoys everything about air travel. Tuesday afternoon we were traveling back home from a fun-filled short trip to Atlanta, Georgia. He was having a typical amazing experience: the process of checking in, going through security, waiting at the gate… Even a last minute gate change didn’t deter his joy. After boarding he watched the ground crew load the plane, began watching a movie after taking off and waited for his drink and snacks. Everything was wonderfully normal, until it wasn’t.
I ordered a cheese snack tray. I barely noticed Nick reaching for a piece of cheese and one of the apple slices. Then he choked. Time stopped. Immediately I noticed that he was still breathing. I asked him to say hi mom to me. “Hi Mom” he said, but he looked worried. He choked again. He was still breathing but obviously something was stuck. Since he could talk and breath, we believe that it was in his esophagus. Chewing has never been easy for Nick. Arden and I felt terror and guilt. We should have reminded him to chew. What if it moves into his airway? What can we do in this small space on the airplane?
Over the next three and one half hours of the flight, Arden and I hovered over him, encouraging him, comforting him. The Heimlich wasn’t appropriate because he was breathing and talking. He can’t stand up or walk very well, so we couldn’t use natural movement to try to dislodge it. After all that time, we knew that Nick needed to go to an emergency room to get the blockage removed. When we were finally at the gate, we asked the flight attendants to have the EMT’s (emergency medical technicians) meet us in the terminal.
Arden and I have a lot of experience with EMT’s although this was the first non-seizure related ambulance ride. Through a series of bureaucratic and arcane policies and miscues the piece of apple was eventually removed approximately five hours after we arrived at the emergency department (ED). During that time, we had to call and talk to Nick’s epileptologist because although the ED staff said that they would, they hadn’t. We had to explain the seriousness of Nick not receiving his seizure meds on time to all of the staff including the doctors. The hospital we had been instructed to go to was not equipped to do the required procedure so Nick was transferred to a second hospital. A second stressful ambulance ride. Neither hospital was familiar with Lennox Gastaut or SUDEP. They didn’t understand the seriousness of Nick’s seizure situation. We finally had the hospitalist on duty (a medical doctor) come down to the ED. After talking with us, he understood and was able to get things moving along both on the Endoscopy procedure and the IV seizure medicine.
Through the entire experience I had to literally fight with the hospital personnel to let me stay with Nick. He was very scared. Anyone would be. He didn’t understand what was happening to him and he needed his mom with him. By the time the piece of apple was removed, it had been stuck in his esophagus for about 10 hours. After everything was over and I was with him in the recovery room, two different doctors came in and apologized to me. I am thankful that they realized that their treatment of me was not correct. It would have been so much easier on Nick and me if those people had initially listened to me concerning what Nick needed.
We arrived home about 2:30 in the morning, nearly eight hours after we expected to. We got Nick into bed. Yesterday, Nick was tired. He was physically exhausted, mostly from all the extra medicine he needed during the procedure. I was so strong during the whole ordeal. After we got home and all day yesterday, I kept crying. I was emotionally drained. I kept thinking about Thanksgiving and I wanted to be grateful. Nick kept on hugging me, laying his head on my arm or my shoulder. Gradually as the day’s hours passed, I felt myself regaining balance and perspective.
Today, with half of my grandkids loving on me and running around with each other, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on the TV and my kitchen full of all of the cooks, my heart is full, and the tears are finally ones of gratitude and love. This year my journey to holiday joy took a short detour and the whole experience is a poignant reminder that sometimes it takes time and hindsight to feel the gratitude. Happy Thanksgiving from all of us!
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