Hudson’s eyes looked trustingly at me. He didn’t like medicine (who does?) but at this point he could tolerate it well enough. It wasn’t going to be a wrestling match. This time. He groaned in gentle protest, like he knew what was coming, but he wasn’t up for a fight. It had been a tiring day and we both were spent. I could hear the heart monitor gently beeping in the background. We dimmed the lights as a couple nurses came in and fussed a bit, confirming his medication and trying to make the room feel less like the hospital we were in. One of the nurses asked, “Would he take it better from you?” I replied that he would without much thinking about it. It was true, of course. I had given him medicine countless times- we had a routine. Familiarity. Consistency. I was “safe”. That’s why I was there. I am Hudson’s person. My presence helped him stay calm. He knew me. Trusted me. Safety. Familiarity. Routine. That’s the key.
I will. Yes. I’ll do it. She gave me the syringe. Clear liquid. Taken by mouth. No biggie. “You got this, little guy. Daddy’s right here.” He takes liquids well. Aspirin. Ibuprofen. Vitamins. Done it a thousand times. Routine. Consistency. Repetition. “Ready?” I showed Hudson the syringe. His eyes told me he knew what was happening and that he was ready.
He opened his mouth a bit, and without any protest, without any spills, without anything happening worth mentioning at all really, medication that could stop a man’s heart slid silently out of the syringe in my hand and down my son’s throat.
The moment passed somewhat unceremoniously. No ground shaking or blinking lights. No gagging or gasping for air- no clutching at his chest or writhing side to side in agony like you might see in a movie. His heart had not, indeed, stopped. Not yet anyway. And so began the wait.
The nurse was watching. I might be wrong but I think she was a bit surprised at how fluidly it all went. With such little resistance. Maybe she thought this was our first rodeo. It wasn’t. I admit a feeling of satisfaction crept over me when I perceived how impressed she seemed. A boy and his dad. We done well.
But as the minutes ticked by, and with every “beep, beep, beep” from the heart monitor, the thought sunk deeper and deeper into my head. “They are monitoring my son to make sure that the medicine I just gave him doesn’t kill him.”
I hadn’t thought about it that way. I just wanted him to be at peace- to calm him by being the one to give it to him. But the thought took root and grew, creeping over me like a lengthening shadow cast from the setting sun. I gave him that medicine. I… gave it to him.
Would it kill? Or would it heal?
I’ll spare you the details of the agonizing minutes that slowly turned into hours, reluctantly giving way to an uneasy slumber. But I have run it over and over again in my mind like an old Grey’s Anatomy rerun. “Would he take it better from you?” Take what? The medicine that could have kickstarted a full cardiac arrest? Yes. I’ll do it. “I will.”
I’ll give it to him. Why? Because I love him. Because I wanted him to get better. Because the same medicine that could trigger an arrhythmia could also lengthen the QT interval of his heart’s electrical cycle, reducing the risk of an arrhythmia over time and (hopefully) delaying the need for heart doctors to crack open his chest to put in a pacemaker or a defibrillator. Because he’s my son and I love him and he was 5 for God’s sake and I wanted him to get the help he needed.
We spent the night without incident. He mumbled softly in his sleep like usual. I listened to his breath moving in and out, and I watched the subtle rise and fall of his chest from the six inches of distance I allowed myself that night. I watched his heart monitor until my eyes blurred and my eyelids sank down defiantly. The long day finally got the best of me, and we both slept. As well as could be expected, I guess.
His heart didn’t stop. Slowly but steadily his QT interval began to lengthen and we all began to draw easy breath once again.
All these thoughts and images have been crashing around in my head since that night. What if his body had rejected the medicine? What if it had sent him into a flatline? What would I have done? What would I have felt? How could I have lived with myself?
I don’t know.
I. Don’t. Know.
But I know I’ll never forget that night. I hope my son will not remember it.
I know too, that I learned something about being a dad that night. I won’t endeavor to encompass what being a dad really means, but I learned it’s more than changing diapers and giving horsey rides. It’s more than teaching a little human to read and ride a bike. More than snuggles and cleaning up vomit. It is those things. But that night it meant giving my son what he really needed, even though it might hurt him.
We all know this. All dads do this. We give consequences. We spank or lecture. We force feed our reluctant children vegetables. We give our children what we believe they really need. We screw up all the time, but we daily fumble our way towards providing our children with all they need for health and flourishing.
Just a few days ago one of my daughters, after being denied candy, said, “You must not love me then.” After a few moments of trying to compose myself (during which I had to restrain myself from yelling, “Do you have any idea how much we’ve..??!!”) I thought better of it. She literally thought that denying her what she wanted in that moment meant we didn’t love her. It made me wonder about how I treat God that way.
I confess that I have spent a lot of time angry at God. Angry about our son’s difficult medical conditions. Angry about the sleepless nights. The long days. The wondering. The worrying. The real and constant danger he is in. Angry over all we have had to sacrifice. Angry over what our sweet little girls have had to endure. Angry about the financial distress. The social isolation. Angry. Often.
Why doesn’t God fix it? I don’t know. But I wonder if I’m the impertinent child angry at God for not giving me what I want right now, when He has a much better idea about what we all really need.
I’d like to say I have come out the other side of all of this better. A shining example of faith and perseverance. But it would be more accurate to say that I have found myself battered and tattered, worried and worn. I’m tired. And angry. But I would like to believe that I see God a little more clearly. As the One who sees us, knows us, cares for us. And who walks with us, giving us what we need. What we really need. Perhaps all of this suffering is not in vain, after all. Maybe suffering is the medicine that has the power to kill, but that brings life in the end.
To that I cling. Jesus did. In the garden He prayed that His cup of suffering would pass from Him, if it could. But it couldn’t. God heard His prayer, but He did not remove the suffering. And Jesus drank the cup, even unto death, for all who believe.
He is my stronghold. I have no strength to cling to Him. Thank God He clings to me. And to Hudson. And to Melissa. And to Hannah. And to Izzie. And to Ivory.
My God. My Father. My Daddy.
But I can hear God whisper, “I will.”