Friday, November 21, 2008

Parenthood -- The Conclusion

Okay, here it is. The final installment of my saga into parenthood. Again let me say thanks to all of you have taken the time to read and comment on these long very personal posts. They have been tough to write and this last one was by far the hardest. Until now I have shared very few of the this details even with my friends. If you missed them you can read part1, part 2, and part 3 here. I promise future stories will be less tear inducing than this one has been.

Parenthood ... the conclusion.

Doctor #1, the cardiologist that had treated my son when we first arrived in Dallas, began running tests to confirm the original diagnosis. She made special note that under no circumstances was Versed to be administered and after being in Dallas for so long we were right back where we started ... with a diagnosis ofcoarctation of the aorta.

In the meanwhile, I continued staying at night in my son's room. Sleep was tough anyway so I ended up staying up deep into the night listening to the medical chopper take off and land and watching CNN. This was during the time of hanging chads and Florida and each night I watched the drama between Al Gore and George Bush play out.

One night I'd finally drifted off to sleep when a nurse shook me awake and said it was time to feed my son. I shuffled off to the little kitchen where the milk my wife had tortured herself over was stored. Each baggie of milk had a hospital provided label with the parent's last name and so forth. I'd noticed that among the collection of baggies there were several that bore the nameLangenbrunner.

An unusual sir name to say the least and unless you are a sports fan, and in particular a NHL hockey fan the name probably means nothing to you. But I am a hockey fan and a fairly rabid Dallas Stars fan at that, so I knew they had a winger by the name of JamieLangenbrunner.

Still, I never expected to walk into that little kitchen at 3 gawdawful in the morning and run into an NHL all-star. And guess what? He was warming up a little baggie of breast milk just like me. Between the sleep, my shock at seeing him, and not wanting to come across like a mindlessdoofus I merely nodded and said hello. He responded in kind and then shuffled out the door.

The next day Mr. Langenbrunner sat at the end of the hospital wing and signed autographs for hours. Much as I would have loved to talk to him, I didn't get in line as I didn't want to take any of the time he was giving to all the sick kids who really needed a pick me up. Besides, how stupid would I have look standing there like a big 6'5" overgrown kid amongst all those ill children with shaved heads and roll-around IV carts?

Once the initial diagnosis of coarctation was confirmed, the cardiologist sat down to talk over what should be done next. She said surgery was the least appealing, but probably necessary. However, she first wanted to try medicating the problem. She said it was possible that the troubled area would widenout on its own as he aged or that surgery could be postponed until he was older.

And to give us a break from living in the hospital she said we could take our son home for the weekend. Problem was we were nearly four hundred miles from home. So we checked out of the hospital and set up camp in the hotel room Jennifer and my mom had been staying in. Her parents and her sister's family had an adjoining room.

Truth is that weekend was far from restful. Without trained medical staff around I felt uneasy the entire time. I watched him breath. Sleep. Eat. All with a worried eye. Over the course of that weekend I slept worse than I had in the hospital. That may have been the longest weekend of my life as I left that room only to fetch food for the rest of us.

Monday morning we went back to the hospital with the understanding that if our son's blood pressures were near equal in both his feet and arms that we could go back to Amarillo. And if not -- surgery would be required. The disparaging blood pressures were a result of the narrow passage.

Monday morning dawned and we headed off hoping that maybe we would get to go home.

It wasn't meant to be.

The differences in the blood pressures were as stark as they'd ever been and we met with the surgeon that very afternoon. I remember staring at his hands as he talked. He explained the procedure, how they would go in from the back just below the shoulder blade and cut the narrowed portion out and then sew the two ends together. The concern would then be if that surgically joined portion would grow with the rest of our son. If not subsequent surgeries or procedures could be needed. Through it all I kept looking at this man's giant hands and wondering how on earth they could fix something tiny and delicate inside my baby.

The surgeon went on to say he did this particular surgery all the time. Matter of fact, he stated, "I did this very surgery today on the newborn of a professional athlete."

Of course I knew what athlete he was talking about and the knowledge comforted me. Money might not buy happiness but it does buy things such as top notch medical care and I figured that an athlete, that made hundred of thousands of dollars a year, possibly even a million would seek out the very best to help his son. I didn't have that kind of bank account, yet the exact same surgeon would be performing the same surgery on my son as had his.

The surgery itself was a slow torturous affair. I don't remember breathing much less talking. We sat in a tiny room and stared at each other -- waiting, wondering, and praying. At his time in my life I was very anti organized religion and bordering on being a non-believer, but spinning the common saying away from foxholes let me say, there are no atheist parents in a children's hospital.

Then word came. The surgery was over. The procedure had gone as well as possible and according to the surgeon, our son lost no more than a thimble of blood.

We breathed a sigh of relief, but there was one draw back. It was back to the NICU unit.

The Intensive Care unit was somewhat easier this time around as the uncertainty was gone. It felt as though we'd reached bottom and were not heading back up. That was partially true, our son had reached bottom, however I myself, still had a ways to fall.

During that second stint in the ICU, Jennifer and I befriended another couple. Their daughter was older, four I think and she was in recovery from something like her seventh or eight surgery. They were pros at the whole they and using theirexperience they guided us along making life much easier.

A few days later my son got to go to move to regular room. So did our new friends' daughter.

Things were looking up, but then word came from Amarillo that my grandfather had taken a turn for the worse. My uncle told me mom she needed to come home, as it didn't look good. Knowing that her first grandchild was fast improving, my mom caught a plane and flew back to Amarillo to be with her dad during his last days.

Early the next morning friends drove down from Amarillo and surprised Jennifer and I with their visit. While they were there my son made a soft cooing noise and smiled. "Ooh look he's smiling," our friend said.

A nurse in the room said "Babies do that when they pass gas."

Our friend shook her head and said, "He's still smiling. Look at his face. You'd think someone had just whispered a joke in his ear."

Ten minutes later the phone rang. I answered and received word that my grandfather had passed away and in that instant I knew that someone had indeed whispered in my son's ear.

The writer in me wants to end there. To say my grandfather had one private conversation with my son. That would be a fitting ending to this story, but I'd be leaving out a big part of how this event changed me. I'd be leaving out my nervous breakdown.

That night as my son continued to improve, I thought about my grandpa and all he'd meant to me, and the fact I never got to tell him good bye, or tell him about my son. As I wallowed in regret for the things I hadn't done, and pity for the things I'd never get to do, I broke inside.

I shattered, and the shards of my sanity were jagged like a smashed piece of pottery.

I felt the darkness taking hold so I left my son's room and found a dark waiting area where I could be alone. I stared out the fourth story window that overlooked the lights of Dallas. I stared outside and cried. I cried, my body shook, and when Jennifer came looking, she found me curled on the floor in the fetal position. She tried to console me, but in that instant I couldn't be reached. She cried and brought a nurse who tried to pull me back out of the murky depths, but again, I was unresponsive.

They sent for the hospital clergyman, but he was unavailable. On some level, I knew everyone was concerned for me. and even though I wanted to get it together, I simply could not find the strength to do so.

Then he showed up. My new friend. The father of the little girl who'd had heart surgeries every few months for her entire life. He sat with me an talked, low and steady. His voice, his words, his sharing of his experiences, wrapped around me and pulled me back.

He'd been in the same position I was. He'd broke down after the third or fourth surgery. He's crumbled under the pressure of feeling he had to do it all and yet not be able to. Like me he'd slept by his babies bed, tried to be strong for his wife and child far longer than either his body or mind was able. Like me, he'd finally hit bottom and realized parenthood was not something you had to do alone. He talked me back from the abyss I put myself in and I am sad to say, I never got to thank him.

Given the circumstances, the doctors and nurses allowed us to leave early. The very next morning we checked out and drove home to Amarillo.

We buried my grandfather the very next day and it still saddens me that he never got to spend anytime with either of my boys.

I am very blessed to say my son has not had one iota of heart trouble since the surgery.

He is the same boy that took not one, but two years of tap and ballet classes, and just finished his first season of flag football. He is a very vivacious and happy child and I owe the cardiologist and surgeon from Children's hospital more than I could ever repay. As I do my angel of mercy. Deep into that long night in Dallas he talked and slowly brought me back. He gave me back my sanity and sadly I never got any contact information. I could not find him that morning we were sent home, but I can only hope his story has turned out as well as mine. I think of him often and I pray that his little girl's smile is ever bit as bright as my son's.


Sepiru Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sepiru Chris said...


When your son is a young man, I am sure he will want to read this story. And when he chooses his life partner, and it is time for that partner to get to know you better, I am sure that this story will be shared.

You hear people say that all journeys make people stronger. I am never positive about that, but I would be willing to bet that you were pleased to be finished with this particular path.

Congratulations on all those journeys, including nailing this one to the paper.


Liz said...

Wow. I can't even think of what else to say. Sometimes words just fail, but you managed to put this into just that: words. Hard to type when my eyes are filled with tears. Hug that boy and never doubt that your grandfather did whisper in his greatgrandson's ear.

Bubblewench said...

Wow. I'm just blown away. I'm so glad you wrote this. This is truly from the heart and shows your humanity as a man and father.

Good tears fall.

Monnik said...

Oh my gosh. This is an amazing story, and you are a true storyteller in every sense of the word. I had goose bumps and tears throughout each segment.

You have a gift, Travis. Don't ever give up on your writing because you truly to 'speak' to people.

Melanie Avila said...

Thank you again for sharing this with us. I'm sure it was difficult, but it's wonderful that now you have it to share with your son.

Stephen Parrish said...

Travis, I've always loved your blog, you've written many posts that have held my complete attention, but this series about your son's birth really stands out. Thanks.

Janna Qualman said...

Travis, thank you so very much for sharing your story so openly. That you went through it is one thing - but to put it out there for others to read about is another. May your family be blessed.

Hi! I'm Grace said...

oh yeah, very long story.
but I like the way you care for your girl... and for other kids as well.
God bless you.

Susan Adrian said...

Amazing, Travis. Thank you so much for sharing that!

Merry Monteleone said...

Thank you, Travis, for sharing such a beautiful, albeit heartwrenching, story.

Annie said...

Darn it! I put my make-up on BEFORE I read this. I knew I should've waited.

Travis, this is a terrific story and one that would/has inspired others. If you haven't, you should consider this for publication. It's wonderful.

I'm so glad things have turned out well and that you are man enough to share this deeply moving event.

Thank you.

Barbara Martin said...

This was a very touching ending to your introduction to parenthood. The baring of your soul to strangers of the challenge you endured is closing another door on the stress of the emotional pain.

You had better get this published.

Kristen Painter said...

Our 6 year old niece is about to undergo heart surgery and reading this is a comfort. Thanks for sharing.

Shauna said...

I'm at a loss for words, but the emotions are thick. Thank you for sharing this most personal part of yourself with us. I am glad that your nightmare had a *happy* ending and that you were given a special angel when you most needed one. I'd say your prayers, both uttered and unsaid, were answered beyond your expectations.

Cloudia said...

Dear Travis:
This is one of the best things I have ever read. Ever.
I will not compromise the amazingly open emotion I am feeling after reading it to make some left-brained "interesting" comment. Thank you for your fearless honesty that I know healed me and others who share it.
Thankyou so much- Aloha-

ChrisEldin said...

Travis, this is beautiful. It made me cry. I'm glad you didn't stop at the Grandfather whispering in the ear of your baby, because that really wasn't the true ending of this story.
I'm so glad he's okay now, and you're okay. Stress can pile up very fast under circumstances like that. I'm sure you would do the same if you saw someone else in pain.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Words fail. I'm so thankful you had all those angels (in many forms) around you in the greatest time of need. Sleep deprivation and heavy stress are bad things. But, oh what a happy ending!

Travis' Wife said...

I think you did well sharing this story. I was there...but I think like child birth God helps mommies not truly forget, but numbs us alittle. It was pure hell however looking back it seems like a life time ago not just 8 years ago. I do have many things to be thankful for. Three of the most charished things are my boys. Travis, Boogs, and Z.

Anndi said...

What can I say that hasn't already been said?

Thank you for sharing your beginnings as a father and your growth as a human being. And I am grateful that you graced us with a view into such a private struggle.

Melissa Marsh said...

Wow. I'm so glad that your son is doing well, and that you had the courage to post this. I think it has touched many lives. I know it has touched mine.

Ello said...

Travis, I shed tears over your story, it moved me so much. Thank you for sharing it. And I know your friend is aware of how much gratitude you feel for him. Thank goodness for people like him in all of our lives.

Charles Gramlich said...

I understand about the breakdown. There's only so long you can carry the weight before it bends you in two.

What a powerful and wonderful piece of writing. I enjoyed it even through the mist in my eyes.

March to the Sea said...

save this for sure and have him read it one day.

Excellent post(s) and you are stronger as well for it all!

Aaron said...

A wonderful conclusion. Thanks for sharing, Travis.

Poetry Sue said...

The miracle of life is not the birth of a child... but the life of a child and the parents who cherish that life...

Terrie Farley Moran said...


Thanks for telling us all about this troubled time. I am so glad your son is fine. Blessings on your entire family.


CamiKaos said...

I couldn't bring myself to comment until this last post. Thank you so much for sharing all this. I can't say anything else, but thank you for sharing it. I'm so happy for your family.


Bee said...

This is such a moving story. I'm sorry that any parent has to go through such a thing, but I'm so glad that you and your little boy got a happy ending.

Anonymous said...

Very powerful stuff. When my son and daughter-in-law lost their unborn baby girl, their first child, they learned all too soon the heartache that having children exposes us to. They are pregnant again and my prayers are that they will soon know the great joy that children bring into your life.

SUV Mama said...

You & my husband really do have to meet one of these days. Share NICU breakdown stories while shooting elk or something. Jenn & I can shoot breast pumps.

:) You rock. You have a great voice for writing. If that makes any sense.

spyscribbler said...

A happy ending all around, but I still bawled my eyes out.

Thanks for this series, Travis.

Janet said...

OK, I admit. That brought tears to my eyes.

It's not just big tough men who try to hold on too long. I persevered my way into a topnotch depression once, although I never realized it until after. I was just "discouraged". In fact one of the things that made me laugh the hardest during that time was a description of a clinical depression. "Is that all?" I said.

Georgie B said...

Nothing I could say would sound right, but.....

You are indeed blessed, both as a storyteller and as a parent.

Thank you again for sharing.

Now I'm gonna go clear up the fog that has seem to settle on my glasses.

debra said...

Travis---this segment really isn't Parenthood: the Conclusion. It's Parenthood: the Journey. I'm so glad that you share the path.

Patti said...

travis, if you ever doubted your ability as a writer, i am here to testify that you needn't ever again. seriously, brother, you have a gift. on top of all your blessings of family, of course...

Bea said...

I was so moved by your story. What an incredible miracle. Thanks for sharing.

Robin said...

That was a heart wrenching story. Although I feel awful for what you went through, I'm so glad there was a happy ending! Congratulations on making it through that experience with enough love and compassion to be able to share it with others.

Robin said...

When I saw "the conclusion" in your title. I almost didn't click on it. I've seen pictures of your beautiful boys and as much as I hoped that the oldest was the one in the story...I don't think I could've taken it if he wasn't.

But you sucked me in. Beautiful, Travis, your honesty, brevity and stark language hit me in the solar plexus, I couldn't breathe.

And let out a whoop of joy later. Roller Coaster. I hate to be redudant, but thi is a publishable story in your beautiful had the courage to put it to us.

What about it? Thanks for sharing, and doing it so beuatifully....


Vodka Mom said...

Travis- that was really, really incredible. I loved your story, your writing, and I am just in awe.


Hilary said...

That's an incredible story of love. I don't doubt that your Grandfather whispered in your son's ear. I'm sorry your family went through such a difficult time and am so glad that all turned out well.

Doctors with God-like egos are dangerous. I'm glad you were your son's advocate.

Thank you for sharing your difficult story.

angel, jr. said...

I am so glad that this story had such a happy ending.
I am sure that this man (an angel) knows that you thank him every day for bringing you back.
I couldn't fight back the tears this time...reading this last part.

sundawg said...

Usually, you're words make me laugh. Today, they brought tears.

Only the most talented have to ability to reach the emotions of others with mere words. You my friend have that talent in excess.

Scott Lessard said...


Thanks for sharing, Travis.

You officially have a lifelong fan. Bring on Plundered Booty. I want my own signed copy of my new favorite author.


Miladysa said...

Powerful and heart wrenching post Travis.

"there are no atheist parents in a children's hospital."

Having spent three months on a children's cancer ward and 5 years waiting for the 'all clear' I heartily concur with that statement.

I am so pleased that you are all well.

These events take us to the very edge and once we've been there everything is different.



Junosmom said...

Ah, what a sweet ending. You need to publish this. And, you need to find that man.

Junosmom said...

PS I truly believe your grandfather does know that child.

Terri Tiffany said...

Well You made me bawl again! The man who talked with you surely was an angel you needed right then. I love how you shared your deep feelings --I know this story will touch many hearts as it did mine tonight.
Everything we go through is for a purpost(I believe) and this story will do that too!

lyzzydee said...

I think that there are so many paralels with things in my life, my eldest daughter was very poorly in hospital and like you I had coped with everything that they did to make her better, lumber puncture numerous blood tests drips and the like, but I simply could not cope when they decided that they had to tube feed her, I lost it and couldn't be there to comfort her, it was just too much. It must be so much worse t hand them over to someone for an operation. I am so pleased that he is well and has grown into a strong and active boy!!

Packsaddle said...

Incredible story.

Thank you.

Rick said...

I've read a lot of moving stories in my life, Travis, but this one tops them all. Thank you so much for sharing it with everyone.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this story. I really enjoyed reading it. It is always interesting the people you meet in the hospital. Everything moves at a different pace.

Some of the parents you meet in those situations are amazing people. It sounds like you met a few of them yourself.

I do think it is great and important you wrote this story.

niar said...

nice blog here...
I like to read every posting you write...good work..

Sepiru Chris said...

Hi Travis,

I am not sure where people leave a "My Town Monday" note for you, so I am leaving it here. (? )

I have taken a different approach to "my town"...

Cheers, Chris

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Both my kids were in ICU for the first day they were born due to breathing issues. (I live at altitude.) I'd had C-sections and I react badly to anesthesia, so I was pretty out of it. But my poor harried husband threw himself between his wife and his baby for two similar harried days 3 years apart.

You give me a glimpse of what he went through. Thank God your son is happy and healthy.

Beck said...

I just read all four of your parenting posts in one sitting and wow. I'm just blown away, sitting here crying my eyes out.
Beautifully done. And I am so, so happy that your son is healthy.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Whew. I am glad to be at the end of this tale and glad that the end was a great one.

Virginia Lady said...

Thank you for sharing your story, Travis. I'm so glad you all came through it in the end, and isn't it wonderful how there are angels in the most unusual faces around us? I'm sure your angel already knows that you are thanking him in your heart even if you didn't get the chance in person.

Lana Gramlich said...

Less of a tear-jerker? Are you kidding me? Gads, Travis...I can't imagine having to go through all of that! I'm just so glad things worked out (relatively speaking,) at the end.

Devon Ellington said...

Beautiful post, and poignant to me, as I lost my beloved grandmother a few days ago.

I'm glad to hear that your son continues to thrive.

And, as someone who's spent years writing about hockey and hockey players, I can say that they are some of the best humans on the planet.

Best wishes to you.

Devon Ellington
Ink in My Coffee

Dale McGowan said...

A beautiful and powerful story. Thank you for sharing. So glad it came out well.

One small correction: Just as there are atheists in foxholes, there are indeed atheist parents in children's hospitals. I was one, and may be again. We draw on different resources and face some unique challenges, but we are there, struggling and loving and caring for our children, just like you.

Better to recognize our shared humanity than to deny each other's existence just because we believe differently.

preTzel said...

Travis - I am so happy that your son is doing so well. This story just reached inside me and wrenched my heart. I'm so sorry that you had to go through that but I'm also tremendously pleased that the story did have a happy ending. I hope the father of that little girl reads this and contacts you.