The radio preacher’s words echoed back to me, “Without Jesus in our Christmas season, we have no reason to celebrate.” I knew he was right and I was ashamed that in my haste to check things off my list, I’d neglected to even think about Jesus of late. As I headed into work, I determined to find Him in my Christmas, beginning that very evening.
Except when I finally got home, I discovered that the abscess behind our little Serb’s ear had doubled since the day before and was clearly not responding to the prescribed oral antibiotics. A quick call to the ENT confirmed my suspicion that an ER visit was in order. So much for Jesus, I thought wryly.
After his daddy fed him a quick snack, the little dude excitedly handed me his shoes, convinced we were headed for some epic adventure. Poor kid. As is their policy, they got us in a room and seen almost immediately, the boorish doctor talking over me to his entourage and ignoring my insights into Bo’s medical history. I caught the eye of the staff member with the laptop as they filed out of the room behind him. “Left,” I said. “What?” she asked, startled. “The doctor keeps saying it’s his right ear. It’s not. It’s his left. He should at least get that right,” I curtly responded. She smiled. “Got it.”
A nurse ushered us into a waiting room to wait for the CT scan. We waited, and waited, and waited. We used up every last entertaining item I brought plus everything I could make up to keep him occupied until the poor kid was just DONE. His behaviors escalated until Mama was DONE, too. After my arms were black and blue from pinches, my glasses had been knocked off multiple times, he’d thrown every item he could reach, and I’d re-plugged my phone into the wall for the thirty-seventh time, I finally soothed my over-tired boy with Christmas hymns as he snuggled on my lap. My favorite, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, seemed to be his favorite, too. I laughed when the nurse returned and asked, “Is he always this good?”
Knowing my boy as I do, on the way to imaging I said, “I cannot imagine this being remotely successful.” I was stunned and immeasurably grateful to be completely proven wrong when he was told to lay still and he settled in and did just that for the entire scan. We returned to the awful waiting room and the nurse mercifully told me he could eat and drink. He made a colossal mess with a giant chocolate chip cookie I had in my bag and was much happier after he washed it down with a juice cup. He flicked the lights on and off and knocked all the magazines to the floor while I was cleaning up his mess. I was ready to throttle him, but managed to hold him on my lap and again soothe him with caroles, instead.
The migraine that had been building just behind my left eye was full-blown by the time a new doctor now on shift came in with a slightly panicked air about him, mumbling something about ambulance transport to the children’s hospital, aggressive infection, eroding the bone. “I know he looks okay, but the CT scan shows he’s a very sick little boy.” The migraine fog pressed in heavier but I managed to ask some rational questions which seemed to be met with irrational answers. Later to my husband I dubbed that physician, “Dr. Chicken Little” because he seemed convinced the sky was falling. The husband was on his way and I was so grateful because I couldn’t seem to make sense of anything. Waiting for him, I remembered my quest to find Jesus in my Christmas. “Where are you, now?” I wondered.
Taken back to a room to start an IV, Bo was grateful for a change of scenery until four staff members gathered around to hold him down. He kicked, and cried, and wrestled while they poked and dug and poked some more. I stayed out of his line of sight and stroked his hair and prayed for mercy. Just as I opened my mouth to call them off and demand the pediatric professionals, the nurse who had been holding his legs and had only moments before switched places with the original poker, expertly drew a blood vial and started the IV. While Bo will never be a fan, he quickly became my new hero. Bo was more appalled with the stabilizing board they attached to his arm than with the entire ordeal and spent the next several hours devising new and successful ways to remove it, often with his toes.
I was told the ambulance ride was necessary because he needed IV antibiotics stat and could receive them in transport, only the infusion was completed before the ambulance arrived, negating the necessity. I tried to stop the insanity, but the wheels were already turning. I work in healthcare. Common sense has little place there, a truth that invites madness. The delight on Bo’s face as he was loaded into the ambulance may have been worth the crazy and the wasted healthcare dollars. His eyes were huge and, once I climbed aboard with him, his smile matched them.
The newness worn off, the questions answered for the forms, and my head still pounding, my mind wandered to my Christmas to-do list. The next few days off work were supposed to be my time to catch up. Clearly, that wasn’t going to happen. I sighed. I noticed how old everything in the back of the ambulance looked. Nothing like the show, Chicago Fire, my only reference point to date. Strange how shiny they keep the handles on the doors, not even a hand print on them. Someone had taped a paper wreath on one of the cabinets in an effort to be festive, I suppose. “So, Jesus, it’s still Christmas. Where are you in this old ambulance with the shiny handles?” I just heard traffic.
We checked in at the children’s hospital which was draped in festive decor to offset the reality that we all would rather be anywhere but there, especially at this time of year. We dutifully recited the medical history they already have in the computer while our boy showed them they needed to find a crib with a top as he scaled the extra tall sides and attempted to shimmy across the light fixture before Daddy snatched him down.
The activity finally died down long after midnight and little man and I tried to get some sleep. Once the second bag of antibiotics were started, he suddenly remembered that he had an IV in his arm and became offended all over again. He reached for me and cried and, as I held him, he raised his arm up to my face so I could kiss it repeatedly. He rested his head against my chest and tucked his arm under mine, then over my shoulder, then between our bodies in effort to get comfortable enough to succumb to sleep.
Alone in the dark hospital room with my migraine finally easing, and my sweet son, once an orphan, clutching me for comfort I was struck with the realization that there was nowhere I’d rather be. This child was giving me the greatest gift by allowing me to comfort him, by looking to me for reassurance, by needing me. I chose this boy to be my son, but nearly two year later, it appears he has finally chosen me to be his mom.
As I pondered this, I realized that we were not alone in that dark hospital room after all. For all my irritated, half-hearted searching for Jesus this season, He was there. Emmanuel, God with us. He was with us all along. Thinking back, I could see Him in my husband as he prepared the snack that got Bo through the first few hours, hear Him whispering in my ear the right caroles to sing to soothe the savage beast, watch Him beside us as the boy laid quietly for his scan, and feel Him giving me sweet grace to endure the pinching and the migraine with some semblance of patience.
He was in the middle of the IV fiasco spurring hero nurse to action and guiding his hand. He was in the dingy ambulance with the shiny handles, allowing my worn out boy some moments of delight.
Emmanuel. God with us.
We look for him in our cathedrals, and our decorations, and our finery, but God put flesh on and dwelt among us, to do life with us, all of it. And life is messy. We can find Him there in the middle of our struggles, in the hurts, in the hard, in the hopeless. A God who chose to be born amidst manure is not offended by our stench. Even my cynical questions to Him and clear irritation with my circumstances did not run Him off. He is gracious. He is loving.
He is with us.
Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Matthew 1:23
Selfie in the ER, early in the ordeal.
(Update on the little Serb: He’s home and his ear is fine. Dr. Chicken Little misread the situation thanks to Dr. Boorish speaking over my insights into his medical history. Not fully realizing he doesn’t actually have a mastoid as it was removed last year, Dr. CL panicked and thought the infection had eaten it, thus initiating the unnecessary transport to the children’s hospital. All the IV antibiotics were for naught, as well, it turns out, as his cultures turned up yeast and not bacteria. The right meds have made all the difference and he is definitely on the mend. Oh, and my Christmas to-do-list is almost caught up.)