It took just one headache.
Josiah was the healthiest kid in our family. He didn’t even know schools had nurses until he was in high school. Even when he got hurt, it didn’t hurt. One time he broke his hand playing rugby and didn’t know it until he nearly passed out playing drums during marching band. When he went to college, I laughed at all the medical forms we had to fill out. He will never need these, I thought.
And then he had a headache. The headache led to him not being able to speak or write. And that led to the doctor telling us to get to Ohio as soon as we could. When a doctor tells you to get to your son’s bedside, you pull out your credit card and buy plane tickets without checking the price. You also purchase an open-ended stay at the hotel closest to the hospital, and pack a ridiculous assortment of clothes. And then you leave town without finding anyone to watch the dog or remembering where you left your car at the airport.
When the doctor showed us a picture of the ugly mass parked in Josiah’s brain, I nearly punched that doctor in the face.
These are the things that go through your mind when they wheel your son into an operating room with the intention of cutting into his brain: the way he smelled when he was a baby, the way his hair felt against my cheek when I rocked him, the time we went swimming before breakfast and shivered so much we couldn’t talk, the time he snuck out of bed to play Go Fish with me, the time he gave a homeless man his lunch money, the first time his heart broke, the countless times he slept on his sister’s floor so she wouldn’t be scared, the boom his voice makes when he laughs.
I wish I could say that the surgery fixed everything, but one week later we were back at the same hospital for a second, and more extreme, surgery. When the doctor said it was not cancer, my legs got wobbly and my scalp got prickly as relief flooded all my senses. I don’t remember ever feeling such intense thankfulness.
Due to a long and complicated road to recovery, we helped him withdraw from college and say good-bye to all his friends. People stared at his bald head marked with incisions that made him look like a baseball. He laid in the backseat, surrounded by pillows and blankets, and tried really hard to be thankful, but, mostly, he felt sad at the sudden and complete change in his life.
I sat in the front seat and thought about the trunk full of medication, the horror of life’s frailness, the peace of God’s grace, the support of our family and friends, and I looked as the long road home stretched on and on.