So it's been two years since we lost our boy, and in some way gained a daughter. May 22, 2012, is the day we rode the elevator down to the O.R. and watched them wheel away an eighteen month old boy who looked like me but with red hair, had that hot temper of his mother's, my and his brother's eyes, and his sister's lips and all of us kludged into this tiny little body.
They declared him brain-dead on the 20th, if I recall correctly, which I may not. In any case we'd been in the hospital a couple of days already, arrived Friday, May 18, 2012 just before 10:00 P.M. That was after the transfer from a local hospital to Children's in downtown Dallas. They thought about life-flighting him because they weren't sure he'd make it, but the chopper pilot was out of flight hours. I don't know how that works, but they transported him and his momma in the ambulance, blowing through the lights and screaming. After a while, I followed with the car, the bags, all that shit that's nothing more than ~stuff~ because everything I had was in that ambulance.
I had enough piece (peace? peas? pees? shit. whatever.) of mind to stop and grab some drinks at a 7-11 along the way. I got beef jerky, snack supplies, Cokes for Momma and Red Bull for me and Dr. Pepper and Sprite for the kids. I knew what was coming and maybe that was my way of delaying my arrival at the front lines for this coming battle.
See, he'd had a seizure that grew progressively worse over the course of two hours. Imagine some invisible guy shocking your eighteen-month-old baby boy every few minutes. It was like that. At that first hospital, he seemed to be doing okay, stabilized, and we were all standing outside his room crying but still hopeful. You heard that bleep-bleep of his heart monitor, and there was this nurse in there tending to him when that bleep turned into one long tune. No warning, just bleep-bleep, bleep-bleeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. Like that. It wasn't like in the movies, or maybe it was. The nurse was a dude hovering over Dastan, and he yelled, SHIT! I heard something crash because I think he knocked over his tool tray. Maybe he was the blood tech drawing blood. I don't know, but he yelled, knocked over something, and I mean about a dozen nurses seemed to drop from the ceiling. I'd swear some of them came over the top of that nurse station, fuck the door, slid into the room, all of them screaming for whatever it is they scream for, chaos, and Mandy and Brianna and I were standing right outside the room.
Mandy's knees gave out. I remember that because it was like someone had slugged her. She took Bri with her and they huddled outside the door wailing, mostly one long, Nooooo, interrupted by little chirping No-no-no. They were about six feet and seven thousand miles away from me. I was frozen, watching through that doorway. You know those dreams, right? Not a dream this time. I was paralyzed, and someone dragged away Amanda and Brianna, took them to the waiting room, and nurses were scrambling in there and yelling for stuff and I was at the nurse's station looking into the room, watching and recording.
They were doing CPR on him. They use two fingers for someone that little, with one hand on top of the other pressing down. They took turns every five minutes or so. Another nurse was pumping air from the top, squeezing that bag thing. They got him stabilized, but they needed to insert a breathing tube because he wasn't breathing on his own. Turns out, we'd already seen his last breath but didn't know it at the time.
He turned blue. You hear about that, but unless you've seen it in real-life, you don't fully appreciate it. His face and chest looked like a blue marble countertop. His veins popped out, and the charge nurse was standing beside me, and I looked at her and said, You know what we're seeing, right? Don't you? You know what's happening?
She just nodded.
His heart got going, bleep-bleep, but it flat-lined again when they inserted the tube. They were ready this time with curses and tools. I heard lots of cursing that night. They wanted that baby to live. We all did. He turned blue again, more two-finger heart pumps, but now at least he had a breathing tube. Stabilized. Red cheeks. He looked like a normal baby boy, healthy, no scrapes, no cuts, no bruises, just a tube in his nose with a full belly. Down for the night as usual.
After they transported him to Children's, to the big hospital, we cycled through a couple of nurses, but one of them really stuck with me. Her name was Heather. I thought that was funny, because the midwife who brought Daz into the world was named Heather, and the dear friend who watched his brother as an infant was named Heather. I think there are probably a lot of angels with that name.
Now comes that stretch of time in-between, where you wait, you pray, you cling to hope, and you eventually realize what's happening. We all had our moments. Mine was after they did one of the brain-dead tests. They swabbed his eye with a Q-tip, looked for dilation, some sort of response, among other tests that we probably should not have watched. But I am a watcher, and I wanted to see. His left eye was huge. His right eye was normal. That meant a pinched optical nerve, which meant a swelling brain, which meant things I didn't want to admit. I curled up after that in this empty room next door, under a hospital blanket, and I wailed. I knew my family needed me, but I'm not the hero I thought I was. This broke me. It humbled me. All those fantasies we as men and we as humans have of flying in with our cape flapping, armor shining, strong, bold, wise and brilliant, those were all dashed against the floor under that blanket. I was none of those things because I couldn't even stand. Hell, I could barely breathe.
Brianna said it best: He's just a baby.
Bri kept saying that over and over. It was hard to make it click, because he looked just fine, and he'd been fine a few days before, no blood, no nothing, just a little shaking and some buggy-eyes, then his heart stops a couple of times and he turns blue. But he gets his color back. No big deal.
Con was quiet. He said he'd never felt anything this painful. He's said that a few times over these past two years, and at the Children's Hospital memorial ceremony (which they host for all those who lost children), Con cried at the table.
Mandy was like me, in shock, trying to make decisions with a used-up brain, nothing but mashed potatoes.
She and I were synchronous in those moments. You see in the movies where one of the spouses, usually the wife, breaks down and attacks the husband, blames him, makes a scene and all that jazz. That never happened. Mandy was beside me beside her beside Connor and Brianna beside all our friends and family. There was a unity, because that's what this boy seemed to be made of. That was his stuff, the fluff inside the teddy bear. He's a glue that bonds people.
There was no discussion about whether to donate his organs. She and I made mention of it, almost casually, something you never think of or speak of.
We should donate his organs. That was one of us. A statement and not a question because there was no question.
Yeah, we should. That was the other. Let me get the nurse.
It was that simple. We got the nurse and we signed the papers, and on May 21, 2012, they took over Dastan's care and hospital bills. He was no longer ours, but we were welcome to stay.
Do families stay? That was what we asked them.
Some do. That was their response. Some don't.
We stayed. He'd lost his ability to regulate his body temperature by then, and they had these balloon-bags around him filled with warm air. His brain had completely ceased to function, even though he looked just fine, a little pale maybe, with Band-Aids on his heels where they'd been sticking him, on his arms and legs and tape on his chest and cheeks and this tube in his throat. But other than that, he looked ~fine~. The nurses even combed his hair, that red hair, and made him look like a little boy having a bad day and nothing worse.
Mandy and I slept on the bed that night, curled like a couple of cats. She'd been sleeping with him already, but this was my first and only night to stay in the bed. I was waiting for him to come home, I guess, and sleep in our bed. Sleeping up there with him seemed like I was admitting some sort of defeat. I had his feet, Amanda had his head, a little doll-boy whose blood was being pumped into one arm and out the other, literally, because they had to draw so much for the transplant tests.
I got a pinched nerve that night, from the way I slept, because I didn't move. It took about six months to heal.
On May 22, 2012, they came to wheel him away.
You can walk down with us, one of them said. They said that because Mandy and I were stuck to his bedside.
So we walked him out. We rode the elevator down or up or wherever it went. We got out. We went through some doors, and all the doctors and nurses were in their operating gear. We came to a set of double doors.
This is it, one of them said.
They gave us a minute, but not too many minutes. Time was not ours anymore, because there was a beautiful baby bird on the other side of those doors, barely two-and-a-half months old, waiting on Dastan's heart. There was a sixty-nine-year-old woman waiting on his kidneys. Someone else was waiting on his liver.
Okay, one of them said.
Then they wheeled him through the doors and turned to the right. The doors closed, and we were standing in a hallway that was nothing more than a hospital hallway, like any one of a thousand hallways.
I sat for a little while outside those doors. Honestly, I wasn't sure I'd be able to dislodge myself. I knew Mandy needed me because she was breaking down, too, and I knew the kids needed me, but I had nothing left. So I sat.
At some point I got up, and God bless my wife because she showed strength I do not possess. You wonder of the two of us who is stronger. It is Mandy. Hands-down she proved it.
She spoke at the funeral, spoke about organ donation, how important it is even for children. She spoke to the media, to anyone who would listen, and I stood behind her mute. After she delivered Dastan's eulogy, she moved aside and I stepped up to the microphone, looked out at the room full of people, standing-room only, full of family I'd forgotten I had. I nodded. I was silent. After a while I moved with Mandy back to our seat, and afterward, after it was finished and we were alone in the sanctuary, Mandy and Brianna and Connor and I stood over Dastan, and we admired how perfect he still looked, how well they'd dressed him, all the stuffed animals and flowers around him. We closed the casket and opened a new and magical door on our lives.
He's still with us. I feel him poke me at night sometimes. So does Mandy. Those first few weeks were full of dreams that defy reality, more real than reality, all of them wondrous and hopeful and beautiful. Vivid. I feel him and so do we all.
I feel him most when I see Aubrie, the little girl with his heart. I think how old he would be, and how he would fit into this family, and I see Aubrie and know he's exactly where he wanted to be, where he was meant to be.
He was that little streaking star. Someone made a wish, and he made the wish come true, because that was the stuff he was made of.
Happy Angelversary, Dastan. Happy Heart Birthday, Aubrie.
Eric W. Trant is a published author of several short stories and the novels Out of the Great Black Nothing and Wink from WiDo Publishing, out now! See more of Eric's work here: Publications, or order directly from Amazon, or wherever books are sold.
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I wish I had perfect words to save you all from hurt, but I don't. You have the perfect words for remembering your baby son and telling the world about him. Thank you for sharing.
Damn Eric. I was crying. As "right there" as was possible from here. ((hugs))
Eric, that is moving beyond words and I can't even begin to imagine what it felt like.
Ah, man, Eric. You just tore me apart. Your family has been on my mind for days now...guess this is why. Hugs to you all if I could.
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