Friday, October 1, 2010

Milestones and hope

It took me awhile before I could drive past Rady Children's Hospital and not think of the night I stood at the pay phone in the ER waiting room and cried into the receiver, telling my mother in Wisconsin that my new baby daughter had suffered two violent seizures and a CT scan of her brain showed that it was atrophied.

Not only would she be paralyzed, as we had been told the day of her adoption just a week earlier in China. She might never be a normal child or functioning adult.

I can still see the parents in the waiting room. I thought them so lucky; their children had fevers or a broken leg. They looked away as I sobbed into the phone. The next morning I drove home to find dinner on the table as we'd left it, plastic wrapping from the paramedics' instruments on the floor, and the phone on the coffee table, where I'd dropped it after calmly telling a 911 dispatcher that my year-old daughter was unresponsive.

But later that morning, I returned to the hospital to find a kindly neurologist, and then an animated neurosurgeon who reminded me of Guy Smiley. And within a few hours the diagnoses from the night before and China were dismissed. They were replaced with theories about the mysterious scar at the base of Natalie's spine and why her brain's ventricles were so large - along with the physicians' guarded hope for a normal development. There would be more visits to the ER, but we had begun the ascent.

My mom and Natalie

There were many visits to Rady Children's over the next several years. And as Natalie sat up, and then learned to crawl and walk on the padded mats of the physical therapy department, those terrible memories of that night, when I thought everything was lost, started to fade. When I'd approach the hospital on the freeway, I didn't feel sick anymore. I felt happy. This was the place that was fixing my daughter, and fixing me, too.

It had become a place of comfort, compassion, camaraderie - and most importantly: milestones and hope.

On Monday I start my new job there. I can't think of another place I'd rather be.

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