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A little red light can change you

By Tim Linscott
Managing Editor
“Where are you?” Dr. Kalid Awad sternly asked my wife on her cell phone, our brief moment of brevity, a moment we had not shared in quite some time, interrupted.
We were sitting at a red light in front of the hospital and as I sat in the driver’s seat, could hear his voice meant something foreboding.
“We are just around the corner. We’ll be there in like two minutes,” my wife, Debra, responded.
“Get here...now,” Awad said in a very cold calculating and urgent tone.
The first sick feeling in the pit of my stomach started to settle in as we found the first available parking spot and ran into the hospital. The elevator to the fifth floor could not move fast enough.
As the doors to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) floor opened, we were met by Dr. Awad and the chaplain.
The pit in my stomach moved into my chest as it began to ache.
“I’ll be frank, your boy is very, very sick. I don’t know if he’ll live the next few hours or not,” Dr. Awad said to us in his even, cold manner, shooting me a direct look. “He’s back to 50-50 odds.”
A few weeks earlier I had that same look given to me by the same doctor about out son Elijah’s health. A few days after he was born I was told he had a 50-50 shot of living. The day he was born I was pulled aside by a hospital staff member at Children’s Hospital in Omaha and told he had a less than 10 percent chance of survival, a 25 percent chance at best.
As they were preparing to take my wife into surgery for his birth, staff told me that once he was born, they’d put him in an isolate and take him in the elevator downstairs. They wanted me in the elevator in case he did not live on the ride down, a family member would be there to witness his last moments. That was June 23, 2008 and Elijah was born at 1.5 pounds and over three months premature.
Seconds after he was born we took that ride down the elevator and the doors opened to where he’d be staying a while–as long as he could being given those odds.
Days went by and his odds increased with each day. I checked with the doctor the day before and he was at 90 percent odds of making it and then the phone call came to my wife.
The chaplain led us in prayer before Dr. Awad explained the situation. He believed an infection caused a rupture in his intestines and toxins were leading into his system.
A doctor noticed a strange protrusion on his stomach and figured out what was happening. They made a quick incision into his side and in a moment of critical quick thinking folded a piece of paper into a funnel and stuck it in the incision allowing the area to drain.
“The next few hours will be critical,” Awad said, going back to his rounds.
The chaplain consoled us as we were now left to let the gravity of the situation sink into our minds and souls.
My wife stared into the isolate without breaking her gaze for many hours, staring at her baby boy. I sat silently in a chair behind her, watching for nurses to give us updates and thinking of some of the things I was told that afternoon–and some of the choices we faced.
After a very long day, his condition stabilized somewhat and the teeth clenching intensity of the situation could subside just a fraction.
Debra finally stepped outside of the unit for a breather around 1:30 a.m. and I pulled a chair up to the isolate to keep an eye on him.
In the deep darkness and among the dull, repetitive droning of the ventilator, I dozed off.
My slumber was eventually broken by a small red light. I peered into the darkness of the room to see a tiny red light dance in the blackness. It darted around with fervor like a mad lightning bug. I sat up and tried to adjust my eyes to see what was going on in the room.
Elijah had IVs in him, a feeding tube running down his nose into his stomach, he was on a ventilator, had tubes for medicine and a drainage tube for his intestines sticking every which way.
To prevent him from pulling those tubes out again, they taped pieces of foam over his hands. To keep the feeding tube in the right position, they taped foam to his head and then ran tape across his chest to limit his upper body and head movement. He had lights on him at all times, so foam covered his eyes.
In the darkness I saw the red light dance. It was the red light of his blood pressure monitor, which was taped to his foot, the only thing not taped or weighted down.
He swung this leg around with great determination and zeal.    
With slim chances of living, his body taped in place, underdeveloped lungs and very little knowledge of what life would hold going forward, he swung that leg around as if to say “I will fight with all I have no matter what is put in front of me.”
I get asked how I handle stress. How I keep going from day to day and deal with having a son facing the challenges he faces (austism, ADHD).
My answer is simple: that little red light.
Making a deadline for the newspaper is easy. Finding enough money to pay the holiday bills is nothing to me.        Dealing with the stress of life is really put into perspective for me when I think about how my son was 1.5 pounds and facing each and every breath could be his last.
Knowing each second could be your last and raising up the only thing available to you, a little foot with a red light attached to it, and swing it around in defiance to have just one more breath, one more heartbeat, one more moment in this life, that is dealing with pressure.
Whenever the weight of the world feels heavy on my shoulders I think of how this little boy did not hesitate to fight with all he had to have one more moment of life on earth. If he can fight that hard, I can fight that hard.
That is how I do it.