Other trials are softer. Not so traumatic on the surface, yet the daily grind of walking through them day by day, sometimes minute by minute, steals the joy and energy out of life and makes it feel... wearying.
Our family has been walking through the second kind.
It seems, in some ways, like we are continually waiting to get our feet back underneath us. It is a slow process, like facing a never-ending hike through the desert. We keep pushing, putting one foot in front of the other, but it is a slow trudge through unfriendly territory and we're all pretty desperate to soothe our blisters, find respite from the hot sun and have a drink of cool water.
These last few months have been a lot like that, as I've slowly watched my body become more and more overwhelmed and it became clear that I could do less and less. With my mom here in these last few weeks, we were kind of in survival mode until Casey could come home and help relieve us.
He got home on Monday night (3/13) , and we all breathed a sigh of relief. We had one great day on Tuesday, getting doctors appointments and long-standing baby errands out of the way. We started the process of getting our feet underneath us. We had a little girl's seventh birthday coming up over the weekend, and 9 months of baby stuff that all needed tending to over the next four or five weeks. But it was do-able with two of us there to tackle it.
And then the coughing started.
By Wednesday night (3/15), it was clear that we were in for something else. Casey and I took turns pulling nursing duty. Leah skipped school on Friday, and we made the tough decision to cancel her birthday party as she was looking pretty bad. By Saturday, both Leah and Logan had it, and I spent most of Saturday and Sunday night nursing two kids whose hacking coughs had them up literally all night long.
Monday morning (3/20), we took our little sickies to the pediatrician, where it was quickly determined that there was a bigger problem: Leah's oxygen was only at 86. In other words, dangerously low. The pediatrician finally convinced me how low when she told me that if it was her child, she wouldn't let her be in the car without oxygen even for the length of time it takes to get to the hospital.
So, an ambulance was called. My baby was loaded into it. Off we went to Children's Hospital.
I am so lucky that we have worked hard to normalize doctors, police officers, firemen and ambulances. We take them cookies several times a year, yell "THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!" as they go by with their sirens blaring and regularly stop them at the grocery store to thank them as well. It pays off, people, because Leah was not remotely scared of being in the ambulance. Sick as she was, she lay there quietly and calmly and had sweet discussions with the firemen. Mom, you see, was not allowed to sit in the back with her.
I didn't take any pictures of all the scary stuff - I didn't get my wits about me enough to take pictures until the third morning, by which she was mercifully looking much better. Her O2 was low for the first 36 hours or so, and she required about 3 liters to keep her numbers north of 90.
It became clear very quickly that she was turning a corner. She was still sick - viral pneumonia was the final diagnosis - but her numbers rebounded after 2 nights on oxygen and we were discharged on Wednesday afternoon (3/22).
We went home, exhausted (the hospital is not a place for anybody in their 36th week of pregnancy. You can't sit. You definitely can't lay. You can't sleep. Everything in me was sore and full of worry until she turned that corner) but so thankful that what she had was so easily treatable. One of the respiratory therapists had passed on a list of classes and resources which also included "End of Life Transition" and "Sibling Therapy for End of Life"... it was humbling reminder of how easily we were taking our baby home.
Leah, Logan, and by this time, Casey and Olivia too were all in bad shape. I spent Wednesday night going back and forth between the bedrooms, nursing children, giving breathing treatments, changing cold rags and trying to give Casey a chance to sleep and recoup. I know that night, I didn't sleep at all until sometime after six a.m.
They all had a follow up appointment at the pediatrician the next morning, which Casey took them to so that I could sleep.
But it wasn't long before my phone was buzzing. Livvy's O2 levels were at 83, and they needed me to pack a bag and come to the office. We were about to repeat what we had just been through with Leah.
So off I went, watched her be taken out by stretcher and loaded onto an ambulance and we went to Children's North, supposedly for the same process big sister had just undergone.
It quickly became obvious that things were not going to be quite so neat and tidy. She stayed Thursday night at Children's North, on three liters of oxygen as sister had been, and she was getting worse, not better. The decision was made to transport her to the main campus, and off we went in an ambulance again.
Poor little pumpkin. When she got there, we climbed the intervention ladder quickly. First, they upped her 02 from three to eight. That didn't work. They put her on the next level intervention: heated high flow at 8. That didn't work. Next, they went to a pressurized oxygen mask called a Bi PAP. The next step was a breathing tube... fortunately, by the time they got the BiPAP turned all the way up, she was getting some relief.
Meanwhile, I was taking a turn for the worse. This was Friday - 37 weeks pregnant, coming down with whatever nastiness the kids had, and having slept something like 12 hours in six days.
It was determined that Livvy would be going to the ICU, and if I thought the regular hospital was inhospitable to pregnant ladies, the ICU was even worse. No in-room bathrooms. Constant monitoring. A crib instead of a bed, so I had to be on my feet even to support her. I was done. And terrified. What if Baby Boy should happen to make his appearance in the middle of this mess? What would happen to him? I was sick. Dad was sick. All his siblings were sick - enough to end up in the ICU! I couldn't even begin to think of how awful it would be.
Thankfully, my mom stepped in to give us some relief. She bought a box of masks and came - again - to run my house and care for my kids so that Casey could go to the hospital and take ICU duty and I could come home and attempt to rest and care for myself and the baby.
God bless that husband of mine. God bless that mother of mine.
I came home late Friday night. In tears. I cannot describe how deeply it hurt me to leave my precious baby behind me, inside that hospital because mommy wasn't strong enough to keep going. I knew my body was beyond what it could handle. I knew I was getting sick and had to stop and care for myself. I knew I was 37 weeks pregnant. I knew Casey would take excellent care of her. AND... it broke my heart to be leaving my sweetheart in her time of need.
It was awful.
She had already been given an IV. We were already on a regular deep suctioning schedule. They would add to that fun a feeding tube, continual EKG monitoring, blood pressure cuff, pulse-ox sensor and the full-time BiPAP mask. Poor little sweetheart.
Meanwhile, Leah had started an antibiotic that turned things around miraculously for her. She'd had no improvement in her symptoms for nearly 10 days; she started on an antibiotic and in 24 hours she was showing significant signs of improvement.
Logan was still coughing much of the way through the night and unable to find relief. I was getting worse all the time. And had given myself pinkeye in both eyes, because I am absolutely stupid. I had been wearing masks all week at the hospital with the girls, but it never occurred to me to seal those babies up along the nose and cheek line. So all week, as I was getting sick, I was breathing those germs directly up and into my own eyes. Say it with me people: DUH.
Sunday morning, I went to the doctor. And, mercifully, was given a good regimen: antibiotic for pink eye and sinus infection, steroid for bronchitis. If this baby was coming, I HAD to get well. I had to have some peace of mind that at least he would be safe in the arms of his own mother. I didn't know where we would go or how we would figure out any of the next steps, but I couldn't risk giving my little guy something with his first breaths that could literally kill him.
On Sunday, my sister showed up unexpectedly as I was getting ready to go to the doctor.
In the absolute kindest, most generous and wonderful act of service anyone has ever done for me... she cleaned my house.
Cleaned it from top to bottom. She put toys in the washing machine and in the dishwasher to sterilize them. She sprayed and scrubbed every single hard surface: banisters, cabinet fronts, every piece of furniture, baseboards, in between banister railings, window tracks and as many of the walls as she could reach. She wiped every fan blade and ran all the curtains on a hot cycle in the dryer. She washed all the sheets and every blanket and pillow in our entire house. That woman was determined that I have peace of mind and know that - whatever else might happen - at least my house was safe and germ free for the little guy of ours.
It's hard to explain in words, but she literally brought light and life back into our home. Walking by Livvy's empty room hurt my heart. But after Kelsey got her hands on it? Suddenly it felt like we were anticipating her return instead of mourning her absence. Instead of feeling sad and overwhelmed, I felt hopeful again for the first time in days. That clean, fresh house said: everything is going to be okay.
Livvy was still dicey, but by Monday morning she began showing signs of improvement. They disconnected a few of the bigger items (IV, feeding tube) and began weaning her down from the high level interventions to lower ones. On Tuesday, they moved her out of ICU and into a regular hospital room.
We petitioned our pediatrician to give us the same antibiotic for Logan that had worked so well for Leah. I was showing signs of improvement, and went to relieve Casey so that he could go to the doctor and have a full night's rest at home. My mom continued to man the fort, and somehow, everyone was getting through.
I have to mention: I am so humbled by the responses of my children through this whole ordeal. We've worked really hard with them to help them practice self-control from a young age; to understand that sometimes in life we have to do painful and hard things, but throwing fits, screaming and crying just doesn't help. They are not usually squeamish about things like getting shots, they love the dentist and their doctor and they all take the attitude that there isn't anything to be afraid of. Logan literally had his tooth extracted and shed only one single, silent tear. They're tough.
Our kids were absolute champions in the hospital. Both of them, but particularly Olivia. Every single nurse we had commented, in genuine awe, about the fact that she is so obedient, strong and willing to sit still and allow them to do those awful things to her. She would cry, and she would tell them how much she didn't want them to do it. And as long as the doctors and nurses would go slowly, validate her protests and tell her what they were about to do, we almost never had to forcibly hold her down for any of the procedures she had to endure. She would willingly lie down, squeeze my hand and look in my eyes, and be comforted through these awful procedures. It was truly amazing. And so humbling that such a tiny girl is even capable of that kind of poise and self control.
They were both amazing in the hospital, and everyone did just as well at home. There was serious disruption to every single aspect of their lives, and they not only got through it but did so with flying colors. I could not have been more proud of the way this family pulled together. We needed so much support, but our village rallied around us in a really huge way: meals, house cleaning, cards and messages and prayers, my mom giving up everything - her entire week and everything she had planned - to help us when we needed it most.
It was a really difficult experience. Some of the most difficult, uncertain, scary and emotional weeks of my adult life. But there were also so, so many tender mercies. Starting with the fact that Casey was home to begin with - this was the trip he cancelled because the baby was measuring so huge. I didn't go into labor (thank goodness), but it was worth all that uncertainty from the previous weeks to have him here with me. We absolutely couldn't have done it without him.
And, on Friday (3/31) - 9 days after she left - we got to welcome our little Olivia home. We were all back under the same roof for the first time, really in two weeks.
I could not have been happier, more relieved or more grateful. I cried all day that day. Tears of joy and gratitude. There is such great peace in having all the little duckies back in the nest; in knowing that we were all safe, healthy (for the most part) and together.
Liv is still on oxygen through the night and at nap times, but it is only a quarter of a liter. She has a follow up appointment on Monday, and we'll see if she gets the same antibiotic that has been so helpful for everybody else in this house.
And now... after literally months of waiting, of marking time, of overcoming obstacles... we can begin to go forward. I am 38 weeks pregnant, so how far we'll get remains to be seen. But I'll get to sleep in the same bed as my husband for the first time in almost three months. We'll get to enjoy our family, together. And, we'll get to do a few of those things that will help us choose joy and celebrate the little person who is joining our family.
It has been a wild ride. One we're thankful to say we can put behind us.