When my daughter was five weeks old, she got sick — the kind of sick where you don’t always get better.
We spent 11 weeks living in a children’s hospital, from New Year’s Eve to St. Patrick’s Day.
During that time, I learned a lot of things: about the fallibility of well-intentioned doctors; about the value of dedicated nurses; how to shove a tube up my daughter’s nose, down her throat, and into her stomach; how to avoid lines at the hospital cafeteria.
And then she got better. Now, she’s a happy, healthy baby.
The only souvenirs she has from her long winter are a couple of scars and a pricey, hypoallergenic formula.
She’s developing typically, and there’s no reason to think the thing that nearly killed her will return.
She’s OK — as OK as any baby gets to be.
And I’m OK too, most of the time. Occasionally, something will trigger me — a sight, a sound, even a smell — and my mind will return to that hospital room.
For example, I know the sound of my baby’s scream — not a typical cry, but the wail she makes when a doctor drills into her shinbone. Sometimes, that sound wakes me up at night. I can still hear it.
But my story is a happy story — even if it doesn’t always sound like it — because I got to take my baby home.
A lot of parents don’t.
So, yes, I sometimes get anxious or angry or taciturn. But when I get too mired in these feelings, I count the reasons I have to be thankful.
1. My wife and I are fortunate that my in-laws are retired and could watch my son while we stayed in the hospital. When one child has an emergency — the kind that swallows whole months — you can’t help but neglect the other. Fortunately, good grandparents made it so both of our kids could get the attention they needed during these pivotal times in their lives. (We’re doubly lucky that my in-laws are retired educators. I never had to worry if someone was reading my son his bedtime stories.) In general, we benefitted from a parade of family, friends, and coworkers who paused their lives to help us.
2. We’re fortunate that our jobs supported us. Some days, it felt like the hospital was filled with abandoned babies — just infants, alone in their big, white, antiseptic rooms. Those kids likely had parents and grandparents who loved them, too, but those parents might have had to choose between caring for their kid and being able to afford caring for them.
We’re thankful — so thankful — that we never had to make that choice. It may have felt horrible to be at my daughter’s bedside while she suffered, but it would have been so much worse to be anywhere else.
3. We’re lucky to have good insurance. It’s easy to go broke when your kid is sick.
We’ve spent about $10,000 on my daughter’s healthcare this year. That’s a lot of money, but it’s barely one percent of the total cost.
My wife and I both have decent jobs, but we didn’t have a spare seven figures. So we’re fortunate to have insurance that covered the vast majority of my daughter’s expenses.
4. We’re fortunate to live when we do. The fancy, hypoallergenic formula my daughter needs probably didn’t exist 100 years ago. Neither did the helicopter that flew my daughter to
the ICU. It’s easy to roll our eyes at medical professionals when they can’t immediately diagnose our problems — I know I’ve done it — or to disparage the sometimes obscene expense of medical care. But it’s something akin to a miracle that my daughter’s still alive, and those sorts of miracles are happening every day.
And we should never take that for granted. That’s why now — during the most difficult year of my life — I have the most to be thankful for.
Jason Lea has a son, daughter, and a full-time job at the Mentor Public Library. He also blogs for Northeast Ohio Parent in his nonexistent free time. You can find this East-sider on Twitter at @jasonmarklea or read his blog at northeastohioparent.com/bloggers.