But Elijah had that tube in his throat. He couldn't say "Mommy."
I heard singing. This is a sign, I thought. What else would I think in the silence of waiting that felt to me like God's rebuke, like a parent's betraying slap on the bare buttocks of a child: But why, Mommy? You gave me these crayons.
Don't punish Elijah. Don't punish me.
Wait. Stop. I heard singing, even over the screaming inside my head.
The PICU never stops. You'd figure a PICU would have a lot of small private rooms, like on TV. This was a huge space, all open except you could barely see the patients for all the technological marvels hovering over the beds like whispering, gossiping women, the huddles of suck-hissing, click-clicking, beep-beeping, whoosh-pumping machines, and the labyrinth of tubes connecting innards to equipment like spacemen to the mother ship. But you could see the buzzing doctors and nurses, the parents having the worst moments of their lives in front of everyone else, and the big desk in the center where computers monitor every sigh.
All in all, it reminded me of ground control at Cape Canaveral. My parents took me and my brother there as children in 1962, after John Glenn circled the earth. I was six, and my movie-star-beautiful mother held my hand tightly. I felt so special to have her as my mother. At that age I wanted to be just like her, to wear white pointy sunglasses with little rhinestones and a sheer pink scarf tied just so over my hair, which was almost the same glorious auburn color as hers. I tried to imitate the way she glided along in her white pedal pushers and high-heeled mules as if she were on a moving promenade. Our family stood at the launch pad. "Dinah, Dan," my father said to my brother and me, "you're witnessing history." Sergeant Marty Rosenberg, PFC, served in the South Pacific during World War II. Men were bayoneted right in front of him. He's very serious about history. As my own personal history goes, the PICU was right up there. Ground control to Major Tom, beam me up, Scotty.
At each end of the PICU, there were two private rooms with glass walls and doors, called Negative Air Rooms - NARs in acronym-happy hospital-speak. Negative air seemed appropriate; I had been turned inside out, after all.
The place was full of technomiracles like NARs, which somehow managed to suck in, keep in, and reuse air. Even when you opened the door, NAR air didn't leak into the general PICU air supply. The last thing children sick enough to be in the PICU needed was a blast of bad, contagious air on top of everything else. One of these rooms was where they had put Elijah. They weren't sure what was the matter with him, but they put him in the NAR, just in case. He had just turned five. We'd had a birthday party, with paper hats and chocolate cake that ended up smeared all over his face. A messy eater, my Elijah.
Dr. Jonas was listening to his lungs. I started praying again:
"Please, God. I know Elijah's in bad shape, he's in a coma, but he can't be as bad off as some of these kids here. Like Kenny, the teenager with cancer eating his liver. And the toddler named José, whose mother keeps screaming in Spanish. He must be really sick because he's always wrapped in a silver blanket, and he's hooked up to more machines than anyone else. And what about the boy with Down syndrome, something wrong with his heart, and a cleft palate, too, often how it works, as I well know from Elijah, problem on top of problem? As in when it rains it pours, it would be so much fairer if it drizzled on everybody just a little, instead of soaking the same kids over and over and-
"No. Wait. Sorry, I didn't mean that, I don't care that Elijah has some problems, neurological glitches, learning disabilities, PDD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, crossed eyes, a heart defect, sensory issues, yada yada. Just give him back to me, just the way he was, I'm not asking You for corrections.
Reprinted from Saving Elijah by Fran Dorf by permission of Putnam Pub. Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Fran Dorf. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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