I never expected I'd be writing a post about this. About our little three-year-old son Ethan, who clapped his hands around a birthday cake and thrilled over a toy backhoe, just hours before we whisked him to the ER for vomiting and more symptoms of shunt complications. Ethan has hydrocephalus, and we adopted him more than two years ago: a tiny thing with gorgeous black eyes that looked, looked, looked up at us as if seeing into our very souls.
Since then we've spent three days at the local Brazilian public hospital, which runs together with all the hours and days spent in the previous week doing CT scans, taking blood, waiting in hospital waiting rooms to hear verdict after verdict. His shunt, which drains away the built-up cerebral fluid, had apparently malfunctioned, leaving him with dangerous levels of brain pressure.
And so we handed him over to a neural team to replace the valve and insert the new one.
Ethan was recovering well, his head wrapped in a bandage "cap," but the doctor's face didn't smile as he looked over the newest CT scan this morning. "There's bleeding in the brain," he said, pointing to some white streaks in the dark area of brain tissue. "If it clots around the valve and obstructs it, we'll have to take this valve out and insert a new one."
I felt like a wall had crumbled and hit me, sitting there in a third-world country hospital room overlooking city lights and a prominent shopping mall. The TV didn't work, the one chair in the room broken, and there were dark red stains on the concrete shower floor like blood. I shut every window and door to keep out the dengue-carrying mosquitoes which tormented my son, and both of us had to hunt down nurses to help us squeeze dangerous air bubbles out of his IV. It took an hour and forty minutes to track down help during the night. I'd slept on the bathroom floor on a single towel covered by a used hospital scrubs shirt. My husband has barely eaten any food in three days.
I could barely breathe, thinking back over the hours spent in the ER just two nights before - sights I'll probably never forget. Sick and injured people packed on gurneys lining the walls, no curtains between them. People sleeping on the bare floor and in folding chairs. To get a sample of brain fluid to test for infection before surgery, the neurologist helped carry Ethan to the only spot available: a counter in the midst of a busy trauma unit. We stepped through open stretchers full of mangled people just pulled from car wrecks, blood pooling on the stretchers and dripping in puddles on the floor. Body fluids glistened on the concrete floor. Medics rifled through the cabinets just over Ethan's head as we held him down, screaming, for a needle to drain out a syringe of fluid. He cannot even see a nurse doctor in a white coat without panicking now.
The nurse on duty got angry when I didn't know how to tape Ethan's IV tube myself, instead enlisting the help of a nearby patient. They used no anesthesia. Ethan's sheets were stained with something orange, and when they put in his IV, blood spilled into a small scarlet pool on the floor. When I walked by hours later, long after we'd been released to the neurosurgery section, those same spatters were still there on the floor - along with the stained piece of cotton gauze they'd used to stanch his bleeding.
In the swirl of shock, revulsion, and utter exhaustion, after spending twelve long hours in a crowded corner of that same ER, a pink-clad hospital worker brought all the accompanying parents a piece of bread and a cup of weak coffee for breakfast. My husband, stalwart soul that he is, refused to eat any of it and gave it to me, so I took it in my shaking hands and broke it open.
It struck me, in one of those unexpectedly jarring moments that rises to the surface of our consciousness like an afterthought, that I was breaking bread. Just like the disciples around the table with Jesus, splitting open a simple loaf. Communion - right in the middle of a busy ER, with a boy across from us sobbing, a girl asking for a trash can to vomit just inches away, and my son crying in his cramped bed while we tried to help him turn over with the painful IV in his hand.
"If you remain in me...
...then you will bear much fruit."
Is it really that simple, Lord, to remain in You, to remember You, even without words? To "do this in remembrance of Me" - and speak the simple prayer of faith in silence?
To know, even thought my outward body is exhausted, dirty, stained, and tear-streaked, that the One who calmed the storm and raised the dead lives IN me?
I ate, chewing the softness of broken bread, remembering His broken body on the cross for me, for my husband, for our precious son. And then when my back hurt from sitting so long in the backless chair, I leaned my head forward onto Ethan's bed. Resting my eyes just inches from a fish pattern on the woven blanket.
Bread. Fish. Christ again, there in the ER among tubes and poles and cell phones and people moaning for help. Was it not the Son of God Himself who multiplied miracles using simple fish and bread from a little boy's lunch? Feeding thousands with complete sufficiency? Certainly He has enough for me. I close my eyes and watch Him walk the shores of Galilee, telling His disciples to throw their nets on the other side. And even disbelieving, disheartened, they obeyed - pulling up a catch bigger than they could haul into the boat.
"The miraculous catch," we call it. Because what we really need is a miracle.
We need the miracle of salvation - the sacrificial death of Christ to atone for our sins so we can grasp the righteousness of God.
We need the miracle of faith - faith that rises up in the midst of scans and bad reports and tears and says, like the saints of old, "I believe in HIM!" - and in whatever comes from His hand as a gift.
We need the miracle of His constant presence - His "I will never leave you nor forsake you" - and His strength to deal with the long hours, the hard floors, the grim face of the doctor. To swallow our own fears and reach through the metal bars of a hospital bed and grasp the hand of an exhausted woman and say, in my stumbling Portuguese, "May I pray with you?" To look into our son's agonized face and kiss his fingers, and say, "The Lord loves you, and He will only do good to you?"
We are home now, with my son's shaved head and stitches and painful tears, and we are awaiting another miracle. The clotting of the blood in his brain, and the desperate prayer that it will not obstruct the valve and require yet another surgery.
A friend, hearing our cry for help and prayer, reminded us this way:
I am sorry for these late news. But I am sure that Ethan has a whole army of Christians who love him praying for him. Do you remember when you first picked up Ethan, and the doctors said the valve needed to work, and the fluid on his head had to be drained, or he would have to do the surgery again? Do you remember how you asked so many of us to pray, and how Ethan got well, never needing to redo the surgery? We will all continue to pray and hope in the Lord. Ethan belongs to him. Please, don't let your spirit be dismayed. Hold firm! God can do what we can't - even help you to look at Ethan's stitches and seeing God's love and mercy in them.
Always remember: you are not alone. The Almighty One is with you!
Praying for you all.
What a beautiful reminder that this is not the first time Ethan has needed a miracle - and been given one. When we brought him home from the hospital at five months, his valve had begun to leak fluid under the skin - and nothing the doctors did, for an entire month, was able to stop it.
Until we prayed.
And I don't mean "we" in the sense of my husband and myself. No, I mean the "we" of a greater community of faith. After five days of unsuccessfully trying to reduce the water-swelling under the skin, my husband and I sent out an agonized email to praying, Christ-believing friends all over the globe - from Japan to Indonesia to Cameroon to the U.S. And when we got up the following morning, all of the liquid had completely receded, never to appear again.
For you see, we are the body of Christ, and in Him we are made complete. In Him our gifts are distributed and apportioned for the building up of us all as a whole.
In Him, we have communion with one another and with God.
I do not know what tonight will bring. What tomorrow will bring, or the next moment. As I huddled in our borrowed Taurus with no air conditioning for the ride home, cradling Ethan's shaved and stitched and precious head, I wondered what we would do, and how we would cope, and what if God did not come through for us in the way we wanted?
And then as I gazed out at the passing cars and trucks, speeding down a dusty, overcrowded road toward the edge of town, I remembered the trauma unit. The huge number of traffic fatalities that caps the top of the list of deaths in Brazil. The premade ER sheet at the hospital we'd just left which listed eight different types of traffic accidents for the attendant to check, since apparently it happens so often it's not worth writing it down each time.
I realized, as I held my son, that we may not even make it home.
We are not God, and we know nothing past this singular passing moment.
Except our faith in Him.
Instead I was reminded to close my eyes and enjoy the feel of my son's warm breath on my arm, and his little body sagging against mine. His thick eyelashes closed against beautiful clay-brown skin. The tiny heart beating, by God's grace, that could have stopped on the operating table yesterday. Or three years ago, never giving us a chance to know and love him beyond all reason.
As I think over these precious gifts, I am breaking bread again.
And I am asking you to join me - in communion with Christ for our son Ethan.