April 22 is Earth Day, and in 2017, it is also March for Science day in Washington D.C.
This day is enormously important to me because it is also the same day that my son’s life was saved – because of science.
Michael’s Surgery Day was April 22, 2008. The day I learned the ultimate lesson on love’s depth and the resilience that compassionate action provides.
April 22nd makes my heart tighten for many reasons, and I want to share my story of how trauma’s power can be harnessed for strength, wisdom and a greater capacity to love.
Earth Day makes me grateful for my adversity.
I believe that nothing we endure or suffer is ever in vain. All adversity is part of “fighting the Good fight and running the race to completion.” But it doesn’t make it any easier to endure.
What does cultivate my attitude for gratitude is this: What the world may consider pleasure may end up costing me my happiness; and by contrast, what the world considers painful may just be the best thing that ever happened to me.
Michael’s story is like that. I believe that his Earth Day story is one that has not only provided me with a greater capacity for faith and love, but it is also doing the same for him, and will continue to throughout his life.
Our Earth Day Story
On Michael’s Surgery Day, we arrived at the hospital for surgery, pre-dawn.
A member of the surgical team arrived to carry Michael away, and she picked him up and cradled him in her arms and explained what would happen that morning. Her compassion and care was comforting and reassuring.
Michael rested without fear, clutching his favorite stuffed animal, Snoopy, and his favorite little blanket, and was sedated just enough so he would not be afraid of leaving us.
I felt completely helpless, my heart sinking even now, almost a decade later, as I write these words.
Our tiny son was draped over her shoulder, wearing a pediatric hospital gown that was far too big for his tiny body.
My heart ached for him. I didn’t want to see him sedated. I didn’t want anyone to take him from me. I had waited my whole life to become a mother, overcoming the hopelessness and poverty of infertility to arrive at this moment, this heartbreaking moment that was shaping our collective future as a family, and me, as a parent and person.
On Michael’s Surgery Day, Earth Day, I traveled to a place I had never been before. My heart painfully expanded and stretched my limits and knowledge about love. I knew that I could lose Michael, and my soul had to be ready for that, to trust in my Faith that told me, “whatever happens, you will get through this…”
On Michael’s Surgery Day, the waiting was the hardest part. I paced the hallway of the pediatric floor because it seemed unnatural to sit during those 5 hours that my baby’s heart was being operated on. Countless times I prayed, I sang silently to myself, I practiced yogic breathing, I meditated, I waited.
Then something happened. Prayer and patience made me stop…and look up and out through a window. It was the fifth hour.
My mouth dropped and I motioned in frantic silence for my husband to come over and look. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
There, across a courtyard and through a bank of windows that opened onto a small hallway, was Michael’s tiny hospital bed, on the move. I knew it was Michael’s bed, it wasn’t a dream. How? Snoopy. I saw his Snoopy.
His bed was surrounded by the surgical team and completely draped in white. And Snoopy, was there, on the outside of that drape, perched atop his bed. Hope blossomed in that very instant. Despite the shroud, I knew Michael was coming back to us, because the bed was connected to every line imaginable.
And just like that, in an instant, his bed was out of my sight again, but Michael, Michael was coming back to us. My soul soared with joy. Those few seconds were all I needed to give me more joy than I had ever felt in my life. The seams of my swollen grieving heart tore and broke open. My legs tried to buckle under me and my heart felt like it was bleeding freely. But I felt more gratitude, more grace, and more love than ever in my life. I raised my head to the sky and thanked God for giving Michael a second chance at life.
On Michael’s Surgery Day, that glimpse was followed by a horrendous wait before we were finally allowed to see him. We were choking inside as we treaded down that pediatric ICU hallway. We stood in his ICU room, each holding one of his tiny hands, and stood vigil, while the ventilator, a chest tube draining blood and fluid from his heart and chest, and every arterial and vein line possible connected to his tiny 28 month old body kept him alive.
As we stood there, my husband and I, we watched helplessly as Michael began to be agitated, struggling for premature consciousness admits all his life lines. I felt utterly helpless as we had to gently hold him still, which felt terrible to do.
Then my husband gently nudged me, and encouraged me to sing to him. I composed myself, tried not to sob, and sang, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey….” I kept singing as much as my voice, broken from holding back tears of joy and fear, would allow me. And in those silent moments, together, Michael was calmed, and we were all healed.
Michael’s Surgery Day being on Earth Day was no accident. And this year, the addition of the March for Science to it, makes it all the more poignant. I am grateful for the many gifts that this day brings. While Michael is my firstborn son, immeasurably precious to me, this planet is a firstborn God-given gift to humanity. And science, compassionate science, is what will help us preserve it and those that live on it.
Learning from Each Other, Learning from the Planet
Michael is now 11 years old. He is a healthy, thriving boy that remembers his surgery day, and already appreciates the meaning behind it and earth day. As a scientist via integrative medicine and physical therapy, and as a mother who loves her children and wants them to inherit and thrive on a healthy planet, I know we must learn from each other, and learn from the planet.
That means I must teach Michael how to take care of his heart as he grows up, knowing its inherent weakness and fragility due to repair and its other birth defects. It is equally important that I teach him to caretake the planet in the same way he cares for his own body.
Can we treat this planet as lovingly as we care for our own child?
When my son hurts, when he was so sick – just like our planet hurts and is so sick – our hearts should tighten and we should gasp for breath. We should move to act out of compassion and love to fix it, to nurture it, to help it grow. Like our children’s pain is also our pain – the pain of this earth should be ours too. Our hearts should burst at the seams – and yearn to love greater, our children and our Earth.
Our children, and this Earth, are a gift. As we love and protect our children from harm, we must love and protect planet earth. If we do not consider the planet precious, then how can we consider our children precious if we do not preserve the planet for them?
- recycle, we are loving our children, even if we have no biological children of our own.
- buy less and repurpose more, we are demonstrating love.
- attend to and respect science as a path to caretake the earth, we are demonstrating the ancient wisdom of our ancestors and also responsibly harnessing modern knowledge.
The providential connection of Michael’s Surgery Day and Earth Day is no coincidence. Earth is our only home and if we harm it, we harm our childrens’ future.
As Mother Teresa implored us, “if you want world peace, go home and love your children.”
If we love our children, then, we must love the Earth. The earth and human life are interconnected – and interdependent. Just 1 day – like Michael’s lifesaving heart surgery and the science that made it possible – can make all the difference in the world.
A Note of Gratitude to ECU’s Heart Institute:
I want to sincerely thank all the staff and surgical team at ECU’s Heart Institute and Pediatric Cardiology. Our experience there was one that exemplified partnership and collaborative respect during the course of Michael’s care. We were invited to be active participants in his care, something that is all too rare in the biomedical health care system today.