Zach gave the nurse all his information then, she pulled out a wheelchair to haul him back to an emergency room. He refused and walked instead, still carrying his backpack. He isn’t grimacing in pain. He’s smiling and being polite. I’m wondering to myself, what is wrong with this child? We settled ourselves in a room, talked to the doctor and waited for the x-ray technician. Soon, I could see not one, but two doctors sitting at what looked like a television screen staring at x-rays. They had to be Zach’s. It was at this point things moved into warp speed.
Before I knew it, six to seven people were lining up against the walls of our room. I could hear mumblings about a procedure. One person told me they didn’t often get a chance to watch this.
I’m thinking, “Watch what?”
Someone pulled out a tray, shining stainless steel instruments were lain out nicely and the two doctors entered our room.
“He has a collapsed lung. We’re going to try to inflate it,” one said to me as he gowned up and pulled on those awful rubber gloves.
“Right here? Right now?”
“Yes, do you want to stay or go?”
“I’m staying,” I replied as I looked into Zach’s eyes and watched the color drain from his face.
I held his hand tightly as they gave him the shot to numb his chest, then tighter still as the scalpel cut into his skin before they pushed a tube into his side. I could now plainly see all the pain my son had been hiding. He had been in more denial than I ever had.
“Classic case,” I heard someone say, “Tall, thin, and male.”
Another x-ray and the lung looked good. I could breath. Afterwards, I walked out into a hallway trying to reach Zach’s father, who lives in Beijing. Hearing voicemail in a language so foreign to me, I hung up and immediately called my stepson. At this point, my voice broke and the tears began to flow. I’d been more tense than I realized.
“Please have Bob call me,” I explained.
While Zach was being admitted to the hospital, my phone rang.
“Should I fly home?” he offered.
“No, I don’t think it’s necessary. They way they talked this is a classic case. They keep him 24 hours, take another x-ray and probably release him to go home. I just thought you should know,” I told him because I honestly believed this was the worst of it. I was wrong.
Twenty-four hours later, the lung had deflated. Forty-eight hours passed and it was looking like surgery was in order. Not again, I thought. Bob kept calling but still, I told him he needn’t come home. They way the doctor talked, this is pretty common. He did over 155 surgeries like this in the last year. Things should be good, I tried reassuring myself as well as Bob.
Zach almost died as an infant. He’d been born with a hole in his diaphragm. His kidney and all of his intestines were shoved up into his chest cavity and only one lung had expanded. A nurse came into my room to take his foot prints. When she pulled back his blankets, he was blue. Time warp number one. He’d had surgery within two hours of his birth and spent weeks in the neonatal unit. In the middle of the night, I could hear him crying and calling for me. I’d rush to his side at all hours. This could not be happening again. All of the memories weighed heavily on my heart.
Seventy-two hours later he was getting a CT scan. Five hours after that, I was face to face with the surgeon. They’d found a mass in Zach’s chest. It wasn’t going to be the simple “attach the lung to the rib cage” surgery any longer. They wanted to saw open my son’s sternum, just like open heart surgery, and remove the mass. I didn’t hear the “80%” chance of not being cancer, I heard the “20%” chance it could be cancer and “six month recovery period.” Zach heard “school might not be an option this semester” and felt his life coming to a complete halt.
“Come home now, Bob,” I cried into the phone, “It’s more serious than we thought, please, come home now.”
It’s a twenty-four hour flight from Thailand, where Bob had been vacationing. He was home the next day and surgery was the day after that. I wanted my mother, who passed two years ago. I wanted to go back in time and change what had been. I wanted a miracle.
It’s been one month since Zach’s surgery. His biopsy showed no cancer. He’s back in school getting his Master’s and TAing a class. His father stayed with him for the first two weeks helping him get back on his feet. Zach has yet another scar on his chest to add to his collection. He’s telling people he got it wrestling tigers in India.I want to thank all my friends and family and all of Zach’s friends and professors who prayed and showed support for us while we were going through this ordeal. You are my miracle!!