“Um, yes,” Rich Han responded. He was listening to the doctor, but wasn’t doing a great job of grasping what he was saying. The doctor had probably been talking for five minutes, but Rich only really heard four words. ‘He probably won’t survive.’ That had been the second sentence the doctor said and despite all of the many sentences that followed, it was the only one that really meant anything.
Two months ago his wife had an emergency C-Section. He was told that she only had a 25% chance of surving and that the child most likely wouldn’t. His son weighed one pound, was 5” long and was four months premature. The doctors always tried to temper any hope that he had about his son. They told him that when babies were born too small, they were classified as having low birth weight. If they were much smaller than that they were classified as very low birth weight and if they were even smaller than that, they were classified as extreme low birth weight. His son weighed half of the extreme low birth weight category.
Every day felt like he was playing a game of Russian roulette. He would get off work and immediately drive to the hospital to see his son. When he was at work, he was able to pour himself into it and mostly hide from the pain and worry. When he left work and had the near one hour drive to the hospital, he couldn’t escape. All he had was time to think.
He would get to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and see his wife sitting there staring at their son in the incubator. She had been there all day. She spent most days there from the moment visitor hours started until the moment they kicked her out. He had never seen someone in so much pain. Was today the day their entire world would come crashing down?
He wanted to believe that everything would work out okay and he and his wife would be able to live a happy life with a healthy child. He really did. His concern was if his son did die, and all the evidence pointed to the inevitable fact that was going to happen, and Rich had convinced himself that he would live, the pain would be so much worse. He began to feel like if he would just accept the inevitable, when his son did die, it would be easier to take. How many times could he and his wife be told such horrible news and be expected to keep a positive outlook?
“As I was saying,” the doctor continued. “You son has a perforation in his intestines. We will need to go in and repair it and clean out his abdomen.”
“A perforation? What does that mean?” Rich’s wife asked.
“Essentially, it means that there is a hole in his large intestine and his waste is empting into abdomen.”
“You said the surgery is dangerous. Can we just not do it?” Rich asked.
“The surgery is very dangerous, but if we don’t do the surgery you son will certainly die and it won’t take long. This surgery is not optional.”
“Have you done this surgery before,” Rich asked.
“Yes I have. I am considered the expert on the surgery in this hospital. In fact in the entire city. I have done the surgery hundreds of times.”
“Have you done it on children?” Rich asked. He wasn’t sure why he was pressing the doctor with questions. The longer he kept the doctor here, the longer his son would be able to live. His beautiful son who had been born so early that he had to wear a blindfold because his eyelids were still partially clear. His son that had to be covered in baby powder because his skin was so thin that it would stick to itself and tear when pulled apart. His son that was potentially going to be denied life before he even had a chance to live.
“Yes I have done the operation on many children.”
“Ever on a child this small?” his wife asked.
“Well, no. There aren’t many children this small. I really need to hurry and do this operation. I need your approval.”
“Okay. Do the surgery,” Rich said. His wife was already crying and Rich knew she wouldn’t be able to speak.
The doctor turned and hurried down the hall. Rich didn’t dare look at his wife. He knew if he saw her crying, then he would start crying. He knew it was an outdated concept and his wife would be angry if she knew he thought it, but he knew that he need to be strong for her.
They sat there for what seemed like forever. Both staring at the floor, afraid to speak. They held hands. Every now and then, Rich would give her hand a squeeze just to make sure she knew that he was there and loved her.
Eventually the doctor came back down the hallway. The doctor had such a serious look, but Rich couldn’t figure out what it meant. Was the surgery successful or not. Was his son still alive, or would their lives come crashing down right there in the hospital hallway. Would the smell of disinfectant be forever linked to death and pain? Finally the doctor was close enough to speak.
“Mr. and Mrs. Han, your son…”