thinking back on christmases past, i find that there are certain holidays that, for various reasons, leap to mind. one such christmas season in particular stands out as a stressful and, frankly, frightening time. i had a very ill baby, my son andrew.
andrew was only five weeks old when we moved to a new house. before we moved he had begun to have difficulty taking nourishment. he would suck for about fifteen seconds, pull away screaming and then try again. one night i had carried him into his big sister’s room to say goodnight and, as i held him in front of her so that she could give him a kiss, he vomited all over her.
my almost six-year old daughter was definitely not impressed! she had never seen projectile vomiting before and this had been directed right at her. i couldn’t blame her for being a bit put out.
after we moved, he continued to have difficulty and, after numerous phone calls, i had driven the hour back to our pediatrician’s office twice, just to be told that he had colic. because i had already had a child with colic, i knew this was not colic. but when i told the doctor that, she said, “well, it is atypical colic.”
(i think that, since then, most pediatricians have come to know that mothers know more than they were given credit for back then.) by the time andrew was four months old, he was noticeably thinner. he was getting only a small amount of milk before he pulled away screaming and drawing his little legs up tight to his tummy in awful pain. it was an awful thing to see and experience. many times i prayed to take his pain myself, so that he could have some peace.
another hour-long drive to the doctor’s and my car ran out of gas halfway there. i hitched a ride on a senior bus to the nearest gas station, where the mechanic agreed to tow my car in so that i could fill it up.
i got on the phone immediately to call the office and let them know we would be a little late. by this time, the crying baby and car troubles had begun to wear on me. when the receptionist asked what day i would like to reset the appointment for, i said, through my tears, and possibly a bit loudly, “NO! my son is really ill. it has to be today!”
when she returned from consulting with the doctor, the receptionist announced, “well, first of all, doctor says, ‘calm down.’ that statement, and the snarky, condescending attitude with which it was delivered, did nothing at all to help me feel calm. “the doctor will stay in during her lunch to see you.”
when i finally arrived the doctor took one look at andrew and decided that he should be admitted to the hospital. in less than four months, he had gone from the ninety-fifth percentile in weight to below the fifth! he was literally wasting away.
thankfully, a friend of mine was a nurse on the peds ward. she warned me that andrew’s current diagnosis, ‘failure to thrive,’ was most often used to mean a child had been neglected. she knew that was not true in our case, but let me know that i might get some nasty looks.
i refused to leave my son’s room. after two weeks of sort-of sleeping at the hospital, my mom and several nurses ganged up on me and sent me home to get a good night’s sleep. on the way home, i purchased the last christmas tree on the nearest lot. though rather short and squat, and reminding me a bit of charlie brown’s tree, it was ours and it would suffice. i set it on a table to make it appear taller.
when i returned to the hospital, our pediatrician had just seen andrew and she wanted to send him to a different hospital. there was someone there she wanted to have a look at andrew.
and then a christmas miracle happened. i met an angel. angel colon to be exact, the only pediatric gastroenterologist on the east coast from new york to florida, had an office at georgetown university hospital. he put my son through a battery of tests, then called my husband and me to his office.
he explained that andrew was intolerant to protein, which of course is a necessary component to life. and he wasn’t able to take in or keep down enough protein to thrive. essentially, he was slowly dying. thanks to dr. colon, we found new ways to get protein into him, through a long series of trial and error, eventually putting something called vivonex in his bottle.
at that time it was the most broken down, basic form of protein available. it was used for feedings directly into the stomach of cancer patients. i tasted it. it was awful. and it stank. but, starved for protein, andrew drank it. we were able to take andrew home right before christmas.
it was by no means smooth sailing from there. my son was still sick for a very long time. at first every few days we had to stop the vivonex and put him back on pedialyte. no protein, but at least it replenished his electrolytes and gave him some brief relief from pain.
through it all, we had the help of an angel. dr. colon supplied us with ways to reach him any time of the day or night. what specialist ever does that? i never could bring myself to phone him at night. but just a phone call to him would light up my day with the feeling that andrew would be ok. and that his dad and i would survive this nightmare also. his manner was always calm and reassuring.
once we had been juggling feedings, what we fed him. and having to watch him endure horrible pain for several more months, dr. colon sat us down and explained that we were now experts in treating our son. and that now he would be there for US. whenever we reached a point of feeling unable to go on, he calmly helped us get through it.
it took nearly two years for our son to fully recover. he was three years old by the time he no longer appeared emaciated. so we still had some rough road to travel, but that year our christmas was saved by a very special angel.