Two Children, Two ICU's

Monday, June 09, 2008

These past two weeks I have been following the progress of two different children, in separate ICU’s, and with opposite prognoses.

Since his birth twelve days ago, my grandson Danilo has been in the Neonate ICU at a hospital about three hours south of us. Every day he’s gotten stronger. For several days he has been breathing on his own, without supplemental oxygen, and his parents were able to take him home today.

Over the same period, Angel, the five-year-old son of friends, has been in first our local hospital, and now the Pediatric ICU of a hospital about an hour north of us. Some of what I’ve heard came from his father, in a Spanish I couldn’t completely understand, but for some reason, Angel’s was not a routine appendectomy. As we watched him, it was obviously not a routine recovery. After twelve days, they moved him to the second hospital, for a second surgery and care under a team of specialists. Not only is he on oxygen, but there is a tube for each of the other substances that need to enter or leave his body, and electrodes monitoring at least seventeen separate conditions. After seventeen, I lost count. I was with the mother yesterday when the doctor explained that—for the moment—they had Angel stabilized. However, they fully anticipated that as 24, 48, or 72 hours passed, a series of crises would come. After Angel’s second surgery, the toxins are so widespread in his body that the doctors expect his blood vessels to begin leaking and his organs to begin failing. When that happens, they will do everything in their power to get him through it, but they can only promise skill and effort, not outcome.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made, says the Psalmist (139:14). Perhaps the best demonstration of both the fear and the wonder comes simply from the list of things that can go wrong. I am sitting here with a swollen jaw from an abscessed tooth. By weight, it is a very small amount of infection, but it makes it too painful to chew even soft banana. Fighting the infection has caused swelling in the glands in my neck, so much so that I don’t feel like doing much besides writing this post and wondering how the human race survived the millennia it took to stumble upon antibiotics. It misses the point to argue over whether life could begin without God’s intervention. In a world prone to accident, earthquake, and infection, I do not believe that life could have continued without God’s constant benevolence. In the natural world, there are simply too many things to go wrong, and too many ways to snuff out life.

Yet life in these circumstances goes on more-or-less smoothly and moves from generation to generation with such ease that as humans we are prone to take that for granted, and to consider such survival an immutable law of nature. It is therefore the purpose of the accidents, earthquakes, and infections to remind us how flimsy is our hold on life, and where our dependence lies.


PS. Angel’s mother reports he has made it past the 24 hour mark without any crisis. He is sedated, and on a respirator, but there has been no organ failure. We covet your prayers.


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