All Write

It’s Christmas in October!

44197842_2005126899525927_1415508645373804544_o[1]

Delighted to have my story “Christmas Miracle” included in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s newest release “The Wonder of Christmas.”

This marks the 11th Chicken Soup for the Soul book to feature one or more of my stories. What makes this one extra special is that “Christmas Miracle” is about our youngest son, Sam. It’s also the first story in the book!

44237962_2005126942859256_3601586117876383744_o[1]

Even better proceeds from the sale of this volume go to Toys for Tots!

The books are on sale now at stores nationwide, or you can click the link in the title above.

Merry Christmas in October,

Cindy

Advertisements
Columns

Sometimes the Simplest Prayers Mean Most

We eagerly scanned the swarms of blue-robed students filing into the McCarthey Athletic Center on Friday evening. The strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” swelled, and then we spotted our baby boy – not much of a baby anymore.

As Sam received his diploma and was recognized as an honors student who’s already earned 87 credits through the Running Start program at Eastern Washington University, another chapter in our parenting lives closed.

Our fourth and final son graduated from high school.

It was an occasion I couldn’t even imagine 18 years ago when he struggled for every breath in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at now-Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

On a golden September day, Sam, our grand finale, had entered the world weighing in at a whopping 9 pounds, 9 ounces. He had his father’s broad shoulders and the trace of a dimple in his chin.

He also had a hole in his diaphragm.

Within hours of his birth we were told our baby had congenital diaphragmatic hernia. A hole in his diaphragm hadn’t closed early in gestation. As a result, his internal organs pushed into his chest cavity, squashing his developing lungs. Only Sam’s right lung was fully formed. Our newborn was given a 50/50 chance of survival.

Milestones like a commencement ceremony remind us of how close we came to losing this child.

Late Friday night following the celebration, while the rest of the household slept, Derek and I quietly recalled Sam’s desperate first days.

He’d been flown by helicopter from Holy Family Hospital to Sacred Heart Medical Center an hour after his birth. Having just given birth I was forced to stay behind while Derek drove downtown.

“When I walked into the NICU, they had Sam restrained on a table,” he recalled. “His back was arched, his face red. He was screaming his head off. They told me he was a fighter, but that I needed to leave the room for a minute. They said they were going to sedate him, that his blood pressure was dangerously high. When they let me back in, Sam was silent and still. So very still.”

And 18 years later, the tears fell as he remembered his helplessness in the face of his son’s need.

My own memories of that day still haunt.

Twelve hours after his birth, I stood next to Sam’s bed. Tubes and wires protruded from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. The ominous whooshing of the ventilator and the beeping and whirring of machines filled the room. He was so fragile that the sound of a voice raised above a whisper sent his blood pressure skyrocketing.

I believe in the power of prayer. I always have. But that morning I could find no words. So I reached two fingers under the maze of wires, rested them on his laboring chest and whispered, please. When he exhaled I whispered thank you.

In the weeks that followed those words became a ritual.

Even as he grew healthy and strong, with no lingering complications, each breath simply seemed miraculous to me. Life is a gift, but how casually we treat it, until we’re forced to confront its fragility.

More nights than I can count, I’d slip into Sam’s room, lay my hand on his chest and whisper please and thank you as he breathed. Over the years that prayer grew to encompass much more than his physical health.

Like his dad, Sam’s going to continue his education at EWU. He plans to become a high school English teacher and will live at home for a while, so our nest won’t be empty anytime soon.

Following the commencement ceremony, we posed for photos. Sam now towers above me, and when I wrap my arms around him, my head rests near his heart.

Once again I found myself whispering please when he inhaled, thank you when he exhaled.

It’s a prayer that’s served me well.

Sam's graduation

Columns

My Christmas Miracle

In today’s column for the Spokesman Review, I remember a very special Christmas miracle.
Merry Christmas!

Christmas is all about miracles – about the unexpected showing up in the middle of the ordinary.

Angelic proclamations, a virgin birth, heavenly hosts and a bright shining star beckoning wise men from afar.

For doubters and dissenters, for skeptics and cynics, the ability to embrace the miraculous eludes, but even the most ardent believers need a reminder now and again.

Snow falls as I write, and the white-shrouded world reminds me of another December, 16 years ago, when I received my own much-needed reminder.

Our fourth son had arrived three months earlier. Sam was born with congenital diaphragmatic hernia. A hole had formed in his diaphragm during gestation, allowing his stomach and intestines to move into his chest cavity, crowding his heart and lungs. In Sam’s case, this prevented his left lung from developing.

When he was 3 days old, he underwent surgery to repair the hole in his diaphragm. After a three-week stay in the neonatal intensive care unit at Sacred Heart, we brought him home. He needed no medication, no supplemental oxygen, nursed like a greedy piglet and had none of the dreaded complications or additional health problems common with CDH.

He also had only one lung.

He did have bits of tissue where his left lung would have grown and doctors told us that lungs continue to grow into a child’s early teens. Even if that didn’t happen for Sam, we were assured it’s possible to live with one lung.

But I worried.

Night after night I sat vigil on the floor next to his cradle, watching his chest rise and fall, counting his respiration rate, often dozing off with my hand on his chest.

Exhausted, I did my best to care for his three older brothers, 10, 8 and 5. When December dawned, I decorated and baked in a fog of fatigue.

We reached a milestone on Dec. 23 – Sam’s final post-op visit. Snow fell heavily as I packaged a plate of Christmas cookies for the surgeon’s office.

Each visit began with a series of chest X-rays, and I’d grown adept at deciphering the shadowy shapes in my son’s chest cavity.

Dr. Randall Holland examined Sam, moving his stethoscope over his chest, listening intently while my baby grabbed his hair and blew spit bubbles. Scratching his head, Holland stood, and then once again bent over Sam, listening, listening …

Then he tickled Sam’s three chins and turned to scrutinize the latest X-rays while I wrestled the wriggly baby back into his winter layers and waited for the surgeon to speak.

But he didn’t say a word. Instead, he let out a low whistle, peering at the images. Running his fingers through his hair, he whistled again, and then said, “Cindy, I’d like you to take a look at these.”

And my heart sank.

This was it. The moment I’d dreaded since the hours following Sam’s diagnosis. The moment when I’d learn the nightmare hadn’t ended. The other shoe had dropped and I didn’t know if I could bear it.

Seeing my stricken face, Holland beckoned me closer.

“What’s that?” he asked, pointing to the image.

“That’s Sam’s right lung,” I answered.

He nodded and pointed to the other side of the image.

“And what’s that?”

“That’s Sam’s left lung,” I dutifully replied.

Silence. Apparently, lack of sleep was making me hallucinate.

“Except he doesn’t have a left lung …” I mumbled.

“He didn’t,” Holland agreed. “But he does now.”

He traced the outline with his finger. “A fully-functioning left lung.”

And the surgeon beamed.

I clutched Sam and sank down into a chair, tears falling, dampening his downy blond head like melting snowflakes.

“I don’t understand. Is this a miracle?”

Still smiling, Holland shrugged. “We don’t like to use that word, but I’ve honestly never seen anything like this before.”

Dazed, I left his office, trying to process the news.

That night as usual, I sat at Sam’s cradle feeling his lungs (lungs!) expand, watching my hand on his chest rise and fall. The clock ticked its way to Christmas Eve and I finally climbed into bed, where for the first time since Sam’s birth, I slept – truly slept.

Today at some point, my 6-foot, 1-inch baby boy will bend down and wrap his arms around me. I’ll lay my head on his chest and feel it rise and fall, grateful for the reminder.

Christmas has always been about miracles.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.