Elijah's feet will be amputated tomorrow at 7:00 a.m. Central. Tonight, both sets of grandparents are at their hotels, and so is Melissa and my sweet daughter Sophia. It's just me and Eli in the hospital room, watching TV and trying to settle down after a long day of blood draws, x-rays, measurements and several dozen forms to read and sign. Everybody keeps asking me how I'm doing tonight, because they can see something dark in my eyes. I'm trying to stay positive, but I'm somewhere between moderately jovial and barely coherent. And let's face it -- I've made it my personal mission in life to be the one who reassures everyone else, who always sees the silver lining and the ultimate goal. So when you hear me admit that I'm making the people around me sad, it's doubly upsetting, because I'm usually the person you go to when you feel sad.
About ten minutes ago, I finished pouring some food into Elijah's tummy via his G-tube. After I removed the tube, I turned off his little TV. He fussed, and I said, "I just want to talk to you for a minute." He looked at me with those trusting eyes and said, "Okay, Daddy." I began, "We're going to have another surgery tomorrow morning." He said, "Yeah," muffled by his pacifier. Then I asked, "Elijah, where are your feet?" He lifted his legs and touched his feet. "Where are your toes?" He did the same again. Then I said, "Elijah, tomorrow we're going to--"
A knock came at the door. "Come in," I said, exasperated and on the verge of screaming. A nurse I'd never seen before said, "I thought you'd like a snack." She had a tray filled with frozen ice cream bars and cups of applesauce, because they really do think of everything at the Shriners. Eli whined when he saw the nurse, but I said, "She's just giving us some yum yum." Eli perked up and said, "Yum Yum!" So of course, I had to get the applesauce.
The nurse closed the door and I started again, this time as Eli examined his individual cup of applesauce, still with the lid on it. "Elijah..."
The phone rang.
"Phone," Eli said, but I assumed we were both hearing the phone at the nurses' station right outside our door, because no one would possibly call the phone in our room; everyone has my cellphone. I started talking again. "Elijah, tomorrow, we're going to take away your feet." I rubbed his toes, his chubby arches, his soft heels. Meanwhile, it slowly dawned on me that the phone I heard actually WAS our phone. "For crying out loud..."
I picked up the phone. "Hello, this is David." The voice belonged to a man who said, "Is Stephanie there?" He was hard to understand, and I'm a glutton for punishment, so I said, "Could you repeat that?" This time when he spoke, he made no sense at all. I said, "I believe you've called the wrong room." I could still hear noises on the phone, but the man was no longer responding to my voice. I said, "Okay, good night," and hung up the phone.
And believe it or not, I still had no clue what was going on. But when I walked back around to continue my conversation with my 3-year-old son, I stopped to wonder if perhaps I wasn't supposed to continue. I wondered if maybe it wasn't my job to have the perfect explanation for every situation, nor to make everyone feel better when I wasn't capable of making myself feel better. More importantly, I wondered what my motive was for trying to give Eli a heads-up. As if Eli's severe communication setbacks aren't a good enough reason to avoid this particular talk, there remains the fact that making him aware of what's happening won't help him decide this is the right thing to do, or that it's fair, anymore than it will comfort him after the fact. So why do it? Could it be that I'm feeling guilty, and this little heart-to-heart was meant to make me feel better, not him?
What my job IS is to comfort him after the fact, and not with facts. I hold him, I play with him, I attend to his needs, and I somehow make myself feel better in the process. It's not just a good process; it's a good life. Elijah may be dealing some truly terrible medical problems, but his circumstance demands that he and I spend a lot of time together having fun and loving each other, and I'm really happy to spend my day like that.
I'm stopping just short of saying that I'm okay with all of this. What I'll say instead is that I trust my wife, I trust that we've made the right decision, I trust the doctors and nurses who will operate on him tomorrow, and I trust that Eli will make the best of this situation, just like he has every situation that's come before.
And I trust Jesus. That's hard to type, because he and I both know that my brain isn't completely trusting him. But my heart never stopped, and he knows that, too. I'd like to think I wouldn't have needed an interrupting nurse and an intelligible phone call to hear him speaking to me, but I suppose he knows what I need better than I do. And the same must hold true for Elijah. Part of me really wishes my son could have a chance to say goodbye to his own feet, but if the alternative is that he won't remember losing them, I'll make that trade any day.
Please join me and my family as we pray for Eljah tomorrow morning, January 5 at 7:00 a.m. I know some of you will gather together to pray for him, and a few of the finest prayer warriors I've ever known will even be fasting. If there was any doubt that something good could come from what has happened, that doubt is gone. Say a special prayer for Dr. Gates, Eli's surgeon and Godly man who really does love little Elijah.