“It’s going to be a rough two years, but after that, he’ll be cured, and everything will be fine.” It’s a statement I heard multiple times from well-meaning family members in the corridors of the pediatric ICU at Cornell Hospital. I held onto those words tighter when I looked over at my darling baby boy attached to the vent. Even tighter when I would wake up in the middle of the night to find a team of nurses surrounding him, one nurse straddling him on the bed furiously pumping air into his little lungs when the ventilator failed or when a tube got yanked out of his nose. I held onto those words for the next two years, and here we are. It’s been a rough two years, and he’s not cured. But everything is starting to feel more fine.
When I think back about our time in the PICU, there are a few more potent memories. There’s the memory of the masks, gowns, gloves – constant fixtures in our days in the PICU. Yelling at the doctors when they refused to let him eat or drink in the first two days, then sudden comprehension that they believed he would be intubated, and could not risk aspiration. The conferences with the doctors where they explained the possible causes for his lung failure, and the trial and error diagnoses that began to mimic an episode of House. The impossible torture of not being able to give my sweet baby boy a gentle kiss for fear of sharing germs or tripping over life-saving tubes. Leaving the hospital for the first time in several days, collapsing on the floor of my childhood home choking back the sobs that I denied for so long, seeking comfort and strength from my family so that I could return to Idan’s bedside, renewed.
Most potent for me, however, is the memory of us leaving the hospital with Idan. After three weeks spent in a tiny box filled with the constant hum of machines, we were allowed to take Idan home. After his diagnosis with PCP, we were hit again with a second diagnosis of a severe immune deficiency, and informed that he would spend his life in constant fear of being re-hospitalized for new and (if you could believe it) scarier illnesses as his immune system would simply fail to adapt to the germs around him. Yes, I remember leaving the hospital vividly. Holding Idan tightly in my arms as we walked out of isolation into the busy corridor of the PICU. The sounds of coughing, sniffling patients, children playing in the waiting area, five people waiting for the elevator. The same hospital that cured him was now a minefield. I tightened my hold on Idan as the elevator doors opened, trying to nestle his face into my shoulder to protect him from any exposure once crowded inside. When the elevator doors opened, Akiva and I made eye contact, and as if on queue, sharing the same instinct, we started running. We ran through the main floor, dodging patients and hospital staff. We ran all the way to the car, out of breath by the time we sat down. Idan was safely in his car seat, and suddenly “safe” took on an entirely new meaning.
And we all know how the rest of the story goes. Two years searching for a cure, building an army, learning the hard way how strong we all could be in the face of adversity.
I’ve always believed that time is not quite linear. Yes, it marches on ever steady, but there are moments and events that are forever linked to you. Those three weeks in the PICU are long gone, time having granted us two years of wonderful memories and joyous occasions since then. But we keep circling back, and carry those memories with us every day. Because when we were rushed into the hospital two years ago today, we were a normal happy family, and the moment we walked through those doors, we became something new. We found our strength, our courage, our fight. We became a force to be reckoned with. We’ve persevered despite all odds, and Idan is a blissfully happy and brilliant child, who is surprisingly aware of his condition and limitations but never lets that stop him from feeling joy. And the next two years will be another rough two years, and we hope and pray that we’ll have a cure. Today, we’re stronger than ever, and everything is going to be fine.