The toughest, but most miraculous Christmas in my life, was 1997. That was the year we spent in the ICU at the Barnes-Jewish Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. My grandson, Alex, was just eighteen months old when he contracted e-coli. Apparently, someone at daycare did not wash their hands after changing a dirty diaper and they touched something that Alex put in his mouth. It started with diarrhea (and they allowed him at daycare even though he was sick), then bloody diarrhea which is when his father took him to the hospital. When his kidneys failed, they transferred him to St. Louis. E-coli causes the red blood cells to break down. Part of the reason it’s so often fatal is that when the kidneys fail, hemo-dialysis can’t be used. They have to use peritoneal dialysis which is much less effective. The peritoneum is the membrane that surrounds the abdominal cavity. It holds our organs together, and it’s the most permeable membrane in the body. They fill the abdomen with fluid that draws the toxins out of the cells of peritoneum. Again, it’s not nearly as effective as running the blood through a machine.
I went down to St. Louis as soon as I heard Alex’s kidneys had failed and came back to Chicago when the doctor said he was improving. When I called my daughter, Christine the next day, the toxins had gone to his brain, and he was in a vegetative state. I went back down there, even though she told me not to. I didn’t realize it, but I woke up in the waiting room just about the time he seized and coded. The kids came and re-woke me when they took him downstairs for another CT scan. Christine burst into tears and said, “I’m so glad you came back, Mommy. I didn’t know he was that sick.” I did, but I couldn’t tell her that on the phone. I was a medic in the Navy, after all. I worked surgical ICU when I was stationed in the San Francisco Bay Area. I had cried all the way down there on the train and in the taxi, but pulled myself together before I went upstairs to see them. This was December twenty-second.
They kept Alex in a medically-induced coma and on a respirator, and they replaced all of his plasma twice that week. Being a night person, I sat by his bed late into the night softly singing songs like “All I Want for Christmas is a Wet Diaper,” and “I’m Dreaming of a Wet Diaper.” The kids took turns sleeping in his room at the hospital and staying at the Ronald McDonald House. A TV news crew filmed them trimming the tree at the House. The reporter asked Christine which decorations she liked best and she said, “The angels because they’re watching over the children in the hospital. The doctors are took my son off the respirator this morning and he’s breathing on his own.”
Her sound bite made the news, of course. He was “himself” when he woke up. The doctors were worried he might have sustained brain damage. If he did, it didn’t affect his intelligence. Alex is a candidate for Mensa—although his sense of humor is rather skewed. But he called me the other morning with a story idea. It was a good one, so I told him to write it up and I’d help him polish it.
He gave us five cc’s (one teaspoon) of urine that Christmas Day. That was his entire output from December seventeenth through sometime in March. But we had our Christmas Miracle. I got my wet diaper.