Sunday, January 20, 2008

Death at the Door & Life at the Bookstore

I dropped to my knees, and grabbed Micah hugging him in ecstasy. He wanted to know why I was "acting so funny."

The fax from Dr. Dowain Wright, read, "lab work shows only slight anemia. . ."

Dr. Wright was the rheumatologist we had visited earlier in the day in Atlanta.

He had wanted me to stay until the blood work results were back after off-handedly mentioning the possibility that Micah could have leukemia. That was just too much bad news for me to handle alone if Micah's complete blood count revealed that awful dreaded disease of bald children. So I politely declined the invitation to wait, and requested that Dr. Wright fax the results instead to my home.

On our way back to Athens, Micah and I stopped off in Monroe to visit my brother, Jim, at his office. I needed some moral support before going home to face Dr. Wright's verdict. We shared a pizza and my fears. My brother's colleagues picked up our spirits.

Micah was having a blast with the inflatable, giant purple gorilla which was an advertising gimmick. The day almost seemed normal. I cherished normal which was few and far between the past two months. I felt as if Dr. Wright's news would be positive.

How overjoyed I was to find that optimistic fax waiting for me! I welcomed it as proof that Micah was on the road to recovery.

Looking back, the place I felt most emotionally secure in receiving Dr. Wright's news was ironically the source of my son's illness. My sanctuary of home was a temple of doom. Death was knocking on our door at Oakwood.

Oakwood was the mobile home park we had lived in the past six years. Named after the surrounding hardwood trees which were now arrayed with beautiful fall colors, the trees thrived even as a diabolic nature possessed the land decades earlier.

Oakwood was a killing field for corporate abuse of the environment. Micah was one of its intended victims from conception. The effect of a lifetime of exposure was unleashing its terror now four years later. Death was intent on claiming Micah.

The neighbors were preparing for their seasonal production increase of fuel operations. I was preparing for my son to get better. The two could not co-exist in The Toxic Triumvirate.

Four weeks later after Dr. Wright's fax, I would hear our pediatrician say, "Micah has almost no platelets and a hemoglobin of 5."

He would immediately receive a blood transfusion upon emergency admission to the hospital followed by platelet transfusions so he could undergo surgery for a port-a-cath without bleeding to death.

Dr. Wright would be one of the first doctors to visit Micah on the oncology floor, and apologize to me for delivering us a false sense of hope on that memorable day. He explained that a small percentage of children he and his partner evaluated did present with symptoms much like Micah where chronic anemia eventually progressed to childhood leukemia.

But was it Dr. Wright's fault that medical school did not train him in children's environmental health?

The sinister and health-robbing operations in The Toxic Triumvirate thrived on secrecy. There was no mercy...not even to a helpless baby boy born in its grip. Life was being sucked right out of Micah, and that evil had escaped recognition by any doctor that had examined him.

The quality of a child's environment is paramount to his well being. A poison triangle was Micah's playground. He hunted sharks in a bathtub full of cancer causing chemicals. He dug for dinosaurs in a yard with contaminated soil under his feet. His air in intergalactic space was loaded with extreme volumes of benzene, a bi-product of gasoline known for over 100 years to cause leukemia.

I could not blame Dr. Wright. How could he know that we lived next door to millions of gallons of petroleum pumped in by shoddy pipelines. Everyday we were breathing and drinking our neighbors' migrating chemicals and accumulating a toxic threshold. Micah's little body, like a hazardous waste drum, was filled to capacity.

Dr. Wright had been thorough with his examination, and thought Micah was just too mobile to have juvenile arthritis. But something was extraordinarily wrong as he took Micah's history and physical:

"Is he normally this color?" he inquired.

"Well, he is fair skinned like me, but since he has been sick, he has been paler," I replied.

"Does he eat well?" came the next question.

"Well, I force feed him because he has no appetite," I answered. Dr. Wright asked me to elaborate.

"He lays on the couch because he is tired so I feed him there." I responded.

What abnormal answers! It was as if I was beginning to accept Micah's slow deterioration as a normal part of life. I adjusted his daily schedule around a monster that would not let go of him. Like the proverbial frog slowly boiling in warm water, I was becoming desensitized to the seriousness of his illness. How did I suppress that once strong maternal instinct which told me SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT?

But one comes to trust the medical world of pediatricians and specialists with their catch all phrase "a virus that has to run its course" ---even after repeatedly hearing from friends and family:

"Micah looks fine except for he's a little pale."

Being pale is a sign of anemia. I knew that so I purchased a supplement with iron thinking it would do the trick and bring Micah's energy level back up. How could that happen though? No amount of nutrients or vitamins could fight off my powerful oppressors disguised as neighbors. They were slowly taking my son. I was letting them.

The mental health of our family was being stretched. Homeschooling with four children, our collective lives began to revolve around Micah's declining health and not our academics. Looking forward to Fridays as our field trip day, we were canceling out more and more because Micah just did not feel up to it.

We attempted to bribe Micah with toys thinking our conquering Anakin Skywalker would return to save the day... like it was possible to turn up his energy level like a thermostat. Jordan, 12, my oldest son, frugal with his money, took his savings and bought huge dinosaur figures with hope that the magic would return in Micah's life.

His kind gesture touched my heart, but it was a failed attempt that proved money cannot buy health or happiness. Conversely, however, in The Toxic Triumvirate, the love of money did buy the silence of many. It was their bought silence that resulted in the loud banging of death at our door.

I suppose death peeked into our window on Christmas, and delighted in my crockpot full of homemade soup made with petroleum ingredients. No one warned us that death is more than a peeping Tom finding thrills in skull and crossbone meals. It is the thief who comes to steal and kill the potential of children misleading society into thinking poor unfortunate genes are to blame instead of industrial abuse of the environment.

I had promised to take Micah to an after Christmas sale at Books-a-Million. Still not able to hold out walking on his own, I pushed him in the stroller down to the children's section. We thumbed through a few preschool selections, but Micah's love affair had long been with prehistoric giants that once made the ground shake. His mind was healthy as his repertoire of dinosaurs was impressive, but his little body was screaming to be healed.

Why didn't I wake up and see how sick my 4 year old son really was? Why didn't I march myself back into the emergency room again with Micah, and demand another hospitalization like I had at Thanksgiving? I made a fool of myself that night, but I never regretted it.

Here one month later and what did I have to show of his improvement? Other than the fact that he was alive, there was nothing else that gave the slightest hint that Micah was better. I had tricked myself into believing he was on the road to recovery when all the signs were otherwise staring me in the face.

I had become defeated while my son was dying. But mothers don't have the last word with their children, God does.

Unbeknownst, as we browsed and chatted in the kid's reading section, someone was eavesdropping on us.

He approached us boldly. A distinguished, gray-haired man with a buttoned-down, solid red holiday shirt, I had noticed him earlier sitting at a reading table when we strolled by. There was no mistake that we were his intended destination as he got up and headed for us. Maybe Micah and I were too loud in our dinosaur discussion.

He was intrusive and to the point:

"Excuse me ma'am, I was listening to you and your son's conversation. I am a doctor. May I ask you a question: Is your son well?"

I glanced over to see what he had been reading. It was an indicator that he might just be telling the truth, or it could be a prop for a set-up to a scam. A thick physician's desk reference book was opened at his table. That prompted me. It was an opportunity to quiz him. If he was a doctor, surely he knew what a mean virus could potentially do to the heart of a child.

So I obliged him with a response,

"Actually, he was hospitalized and diagnosed with a viral infection right before Thanksgiving. Would you happen to know what an extended virus could do to his heart?"

He answered correctly passing my qualifying test.

It felt good to unload so I stood there, and told this total stranger my son's medical history of the past months. He asked provocative questions. He wanted to know why I was pushing Micah in a stroller if he was recovering.

An effective teacher as well, he demonstrated skin tone differences by comparing Micah's to mine. He pointed out blood vessels in my arm which were not evident in Micah's.

He also gave timely advice. He requested that I take Micah back to his pediatrician, and ask for an iron test. He was confident from his observations that Micah was still anemic.

We parted exchanging our names. I specifically asked where his practice was located. I felt leery about giving out my address so I refrained. Internal debating began in my head as we left the bookstore. He was most likely not a doctor. He was pretending to be one. So, he said that he was a general practitioner from Savannah. He was visiting his daughter who was a doctoral student herself at the University of Georgia.

No. I preferred to remain skeptical. I did not want to take Micah back in to see the pediatrician. It meant more screaming and crying, more specialists, more out of pocket payments, but most of all, it meant he was back at square one. It meant my illusion that I was getting my little boy back would be shattered.

The first thing I did when Micah and I arrived back home from the bookstore was to pick up the phone and call information.

My inquiry of a Dr. Ben Hubby from Savannah proved the man in the bookshop was legit. He would be the doctor I attributed to saving Micah's life with a predestined appointment at Books-a-Million.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Crossing Dimensions in 1999

I sat in the dark watching Micah sleep. Even at the midnight hour, his paleness was evident under the glow of lights from hospital gadgetry keeping him alive. A knock on the door interrupted my thoughts. It was Nurse Julia.

I had become accustomed to the flurry of activity in Micah's hospital room, but he certainly had not. In a previous outburst, he sat up in bed with his frail self and demanded, "What's SHE doing here?" Another nurse. Another order. Another traumatic experience for Micah. But this time the medicine from Nurse Julia was for me.

She handed me a styrofoam cup with nonalcoholic champagne and whispered, "Happy New Year."

Now there was an oxymoron. Remembering the tune of Prince, I had dreamed of many things I would be doing when 1999 actually did arrive in history. Yet I never envisioned this nightmare in a million years.

Ringing in the new year at the hospital bedside of your child just diagnosed with cancer doesn't paint a rosy picture for the future. My mind raced with gripping questions: Would Micah respond to treatment in 1999? Would I lose him? Would I lose myself? I was in a combined state of emotional denial and information overload. I dug deep for something to be grateful for.

As I reflected on the events of the last week in 1998, I observed a pattern of intriguing spiritual nearness. I could be grieving over a dead son had it not been for the kindness of a complete stranger who was eavesdropping on a conversation between Micah and myself just days earlier in our local bookstore.

Micah could had been given any oncology nurse upon admission, but Edith Yeargin just happened to be there. She didn't normally work on the hospital floor, but chose to come in and help over the holidays. She had leukemia when she was a girl. She became Micah's favorite nurse. She became a voice in the wilderness for me.

Have you ever made a toast to God in a time of crisis? To thank Him for your struggles because He approved the course to shape you into a more compassionate human being? It is hard to embrace words of the Bible in 1 Thessalonians directing us: Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks; for this is the will of God in Jesus Christ concerning you.

It doesn't come natural to do this. So I approached the supernatural to hold my hand amidst the ever present anxiety of confronting my deepest fear: MICAH COULD DIE.

I had been cocky to think I was immune from pain and despair. I saw it all around me as a manager of Oakwood Mobile Home Park. Now I was immersed in it. When I asked the One who gave me Micah to reveal Himself, He showed up. His arrival shook my narrow-minded world view of life and death.

As the dawn broke with the first light of 1999, my pride was waiting to be broken as well. Micah found comfort in the playroom, and we would migrate there at some point in our day. I watched him imagine, explore, and create as if all of his trauma had melted away. But there was always his chemo-pole nearby to remind me of more trauma to come. I thought of the long road ahead for him trying to choke back my tears.

I was sitting beside little Michael's mom. He was the same age as Micah battling the same disease.

She attempted to comfort me, "It gets easier. The first week is always the hardest," she said.

Why do children get cancer? I looked around the playroom at fragile little bodies in various stages of cancer and blood disorders as their lifelines of chemotherapy dripped into their veins. Why did I want to scream? Why did I quickly forget my toast to God?

In my hurting, I was silent to the world, but in my heart I defiantly declared in a thunderous outrage, "This is not suppose to happen to my child."

And it was as if God spoke back to me and softly reminded, "This is not suppose to happen to anyone's child."

With the radio playing in the background of the playroom, I was caught off guard by lyrics I had never heard from a gravely male voice, "Everything is gonna be allright, rock-a-bye, rock-a-bye."

What a beautiful message to hear at a time of brokenness. I think at that moment I realized we are constantly crossing dimensions from the physical world to the spiritual realm. We perform in the physical being led in the spiritual. We participate in society joining the angels in worship. We experience pain of the flesh while rejoicing in our souls. We can decide to stay trapped in the fear of the physical never allowing the Spirit to comfort us. Or we can choose to walk in the Spirit which equips us for the challenges of the physical. I chose the latter maybe initially out of selfishness because I was completely helpless to heal Micah.

Within a month, I would learn from a mysterious sequence of events that the last six years of my life had been spent as an unwilling participant in The Toxic Triumvirate... three poisoned places that formed a triangle. My place of residency was the weakest of the trio, a perfect dumping ground for the other two parties who were very much aware of their clandestine activities.

Under the beautiful hardwoods, vices of the poor and broken-hearted were hidden within the cheap paneled walls of 15 mobile homes. Low target population was the phrase I read in the government file. I read it once. Twice. Three times. I cried each time thinking perhaps I was misunderstanding its definition.

The massive bulk petroleum facility with above and underground storage tanks is kept alive by snaking buried pipelines. It breathes in money and exhales hazardous air emissions. It's like living next door to a giant gas station not required to clean up serious environmental messes because the value of the neighborhood is $0.00. Rubber-stamped by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as acceptable collateral damage of the oil and gas industry, the list included Micah, my family, neighbors, and even me. How crushing. But that is what the leader of The Toxic Triumvirate does. It crushes. It kills. And it does so all in the name of progress.

But the Low Target Population Report didn't mention God. He was there, too. He has a thing for the poor, oppressed, and broken-hearted. We meet Him in dark, scary places, and He lights our way.

I met Him crossing dimensions in a children's hospital ringing in 1999.