The manual resuscitator that usually hangs in a clear, drawstring bag on the bathroom door in patient rooms at Cook Children’s Hospital is strewn across the table beside Olivia’s hospital bed. I can see it as I lay my hand on her cheek and look into eyes that mostly flutter here and there and everywhere. Once in awhile, though, they settle long enough for me to see the color of the ocean on a cloudy day. I do not know what others see when they look into those precious blue eyes, but I see light and life and hope and Jesus Himself.
Olivia was a year old the first night we spent in this hospital. Her hair, now darker and thick with curls that fall past her shoulders on the rare ocassion that they escape her signature high ponytail, then stood straight up in the air like the quills of a hedgehog.That first hospital stay was seven years ago, and more than just Olivia’s hair has changed.
I’m certain that a smaller version of the Ambu bag swung from a hook on the bathroom door of her room back then too, on another floor in another wing of this same hospital. I probably noticed it hanging there, but the possibility of something like that ever being used on my baby girl never crossed my mind.
In the years in between then and now, we’ve experienced a lot of “firsts” that I never would’ve chosen. The diagnosis of a rare genetic disorder and the first time we heard the word terminal. The first hint of blindness and deafness and the first mention of a feeding tube. The first time she held her breath and turned blue and no one knew why. The first time she needed oxygen, then a high-flow CPAP machine, then a ventilator.
I’ve lost count of the number of days we have spent in this hospital with its stark white sheets against soft pastel walls. With its sad stories and the staff who push back with big smiles and with music in the inflection of their voices. It is a world where the sound of children laughing is strangely mixed with the taste of tears. Where some of the most vulnerable among us fight battles that seem hard and unfair.
There have been a few times in recent years when my eyes glanced down at that rescusitator against the bright orange of the bathroom door and stayed longer than they should’ve. Long enough for my heart to skip a beat in fear that a day might come where the device would be pulled from its bag in haste.
It happened today. I woke in the middle of the night to the frantic scramble of nurses leaning over Olivia, the numbers on her pulse oximeter dropping, and that awful, life-saving mask being yanked from the door to be used on my child.
I’m thankful a nurse was in the room.
I’m thankful the problem was relatively small and easily fixed. (A clot from bleeding in her nose had blocked her airway and needed to be suctioned out.)
I’m thankful, maybe more than at any other time in my life, that I have a voice and could use it on behalf of a child–my child–who could not speak for herself.
Because nurses are trained to save lives, but mamas are graced to know their babies. In a life or death moment, the nurses leaned on their medical knowledge and acted quickly. I leaned on Jesus and years of taking care of sweet Livi and spoke up about what I knew she needed and didn’t need. We worked together, the resuscitator was cast aside, the medical alert was called off, and Olivia is OK.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t writing this post for myself. I hate what happened to Olivia today. I hate that COVID protocols mean we’re alone here in the emotional aftermath– physically at least, though family and friends are just a phone call away and Jesus is always near. Writing helps me focus on His presence, so I’m writing this for me.
But I am also writing for the voiceless–something I have often felt called to do, though I haven’t always picked up the pen to obey.
““Speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves. Protect the rights of all who are helpless.”–Proverbs 31:8 (GNT)
I’ve often wondered where Olivia would be if she did not have a mother who knows that the touch of a cool hand on her forehead is calming, but that same hand on her foot causes irritation. What if she didn’t have a daddy whose strong arms have carried her to all of the places in this world that her own two feet were unable to travel? What would life without Gammie be like for a little girl who has always brightened at the sound of that grandmotherly, life-giving voice?
Olivia is surrounded by people who have used their voices on her behalf. A baby brother who calls across the room in a language only the two of them understand. Little sisters who draw her into their world through childish prattle, and a big sister who is fiercely protective. A faithful nurse who loves and advocates for Olivia as she would for her own kids. An army of uncles and aunts, grandparents and cousins, family and friends who continue to petition heaven for her life and healing. In each realm of Olivia’s world, from the medical to the educational and everything in between, there are people who open their mouths to speak because she cannot.
In the sense that she has little ability to communicate back to the world around her, Olivia is almost the picture of helplessness. Yet she is not helpless. She is strong, because our strong God has used people to infuse her weakness with His strength.
This is the Gospel. How Jesus, the living Word, left heaven and laid down His life so that we, who are utterly helpless apart from Him, could have life. That He has called us to also lay down our lives in personal sacrifice, to lend our strength to the weak and our voice to the voiceless.
We are all helpless in some way, and in realizing this we can humble ourselves to receive the strength of the Great Rescuer, the only one who can save, Jesus Christ.
Recognizing the helplessness in ourselves and in others also compels us to answer the Bible’s call for justice:
“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; uphold the rights of the afflicted and oppressed.”–Psalm 82:3
There are a thousand circumstances that leave people weak, afflicted, oppressed or in need.
May we find the grace to notice, the compassion to care, and the courage to act.
Perhaps the most defenseless among us are the fatherless ones–the unborn who have no voice at all to cry out for life. The orphaned (and there are many ways to be orphaned) who face life alone unless someone with the heart of a mother or a father chooses to fill the gap in some sacrificial and significant way.
I pray that you and I would use our voices and our strength to rise up and be mother and father to the voiceless and the helpless.