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VCV: Pearl Jam – “I Believe in Miracles”

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When the Ballad of 2010 is written, March 26 is not going to be highly thought of.  Anguish, fear, dread, anger, confusion, and disbelief are only a few of the emotions that swirled inside each member of my family as we watched my 5-year old niece, Katie, struggle to regain consciousness

The next seven days were a roller coaster of optimism and resignation as we watched her condition improve and stall out.  I believed each day would be the day she would wake up and start ordering us around as if nothing had happened.  Some days it seemed so close we could touch it.  Some days the doctors seemed encouraged and encouraging.  Other days were profoundly discouraging and frustrating.  The worst days were ones that mixed both, and there were too many of those.  In situations of greater and lesser stress and severity, I've watched people try to achieve numbness to insulate themselves from the pain.  For me, numb was highly overrated.  I didn't do anything to achieve it artificially so maybe I was doing it wrong, but days of feeling hope rise and plummet isolated me in a very gray place.

I was becoming despondent.  I couldn't go to the place where I abandoned all hope but the doubts and fears that were once being whispered from deep inside me were becoming screams.  I could no longer ignore some dark possibilities and I felt lost.  It was in the dark moment that things got worse.  I got a call telling me my brother-in-law was being rushed to the ER at the same hospital, complaining of chest pains.  He has a rather long history of cardiac issues and all of us have had to wrestle with its ominous significance.

I was seething and finally on the verge of becoming completely irrational.  I didn't have a full melt down but I did get a little unhinged.  I didn't start throwing or breaking things and I didn't have a crisis of faith wherein I started cursing at God in Latin but I was pretty pissed and in no small part because there was no one to be pissed at.  I huffed and I puffed but the house stood still.  My failure complete, I trudged down to the hospital, trying to figure out who to visit first.

I started in the Pediatrics ICU with my niece and for the first time I was in the room when a doctor made rounds.  I listened as she told my brother and his wife that she was encouraged by some of what she saw and felt my chest loosen.  I then listened as she laid out a scenario wherein Katie would be in in-patient rehab in Birmingham, Nashville, or Atlanta anywhere from two, four, maybe even six weeks or beyond.  My heart sank and shrank as something gripped it.

Feeling defeated, I headed in the direction of the ER to check with my brother-in-law and got the first and likely only "good" news of the day.  The good news?  The examination revealed it was unlikely he'd had a heart attack.  The bad news?  It was probably gall stones.  Now when we talk about bad news, that's about the best bad news I'd heard in a week.  Gall stones aren't pleasant but they're a lot less shitty than comas and heart attacks.  I don't do well with math but I'm sure there is some sort of formula or equation where less shitty actually equals good.  If only it had stopped there.  For reasons of a sensitive nature I'm going to withhold the specifics and also ask you refrain from jumping to (political) conclusions when I say things took a sinister turn when the word "insurance" entered the picture. 

The writer in me wants to search for some literary device to convey to you the depths of my despair and dramatically reveal how I'd never felt worse in my life.  The truth is I was so beaten down at that point I don't know how low I'd sunk.  I may have felt worse than I did Friday night.  I can't remember when but it's entirely possible.  The writer in me would also love to provide a dramatic reveal, but we're going to stick with the truth.  Trust me, it's dramatic enough.

My wife woke me up the next morning to tell me Katie had woken up some time during the middle of the night.  Those were the words I'd been waiting to hear for eight days, so naturally they pierced my haze and sent me scrambling to the car in my underwear moving heaven and earth to get to the hospital, right?  As you can tell from the setup, obviously not.  I checked my e-mail.  I read the blog update from my brother, who started maintaining one because he had to leave his phone off so much of the time when he was in Katie's PICU room.  I read the words that Katie was awake, alert, and responding but I guess I was waiting for the other shoe to drop because I ambled into the shower without feeling much of anything but fatigue. 

I walked into her room one hour later and our eyes met.  I'd seen her blue eyes over that past week but she was never behind them.  Our eyes met and I smiled and she smiled back.  We'd been told by the doctors the awakening process was likely to be gradual.  Over the next several hours, I watched her use a spoon to feed herself, smile, laugh, and remember.  We began taking inventory not of what she couldn't do (yet) but of what was still inside her.  She knew who all the Disney princesses were and still remembered who her favorite was.  When asked to pick a movie to watch before nap time, she remembered her favorite movie of the moment and chose it.  She laughed at the funny face my cat Rowdy was making in a picture I showed her and she remembered playing with him in our apartment.  She was excited to take a bath.  She still didn't have complete and equal command of all her limbs, her right side working but slower than her left.  She still wasn't verbal although she tried multiple times to formulate words.  There was still work ahead but on Saturday I visited Katie, not my niece in the hospital.  She was in there and she was working her way back to us.  After seven long, hard days, there was nothing gradual about day eight.

We still would have called it a miracle if that's the Katie we sent for in-patient rehab, but our kid had one more surprise up her sleeve.  On Easter, she did everything she had done the day before but a little better.  Her left side was stronger and more assured.  Her "sleepy" right side was still trailing the left side but where there were times on Saturday she couldn't command those limbs, she made them begin to work for her again.  She smiled, nodded, and laughed easier.  

Before I got to the hospital to see all that for myself, I got a phone call.

"Happy Easter.  I love you."

It's not that I don't cry easily.  I don't cry at all.  That moment deserved some tears of joy but all I could muster was speechlessness, which, come to think of it, means there were two miracles that day.

I believe in miracles.  I have my entire life.  I believe in them and I believe other people who have told me they have witnessed them in their own lives. Something changes inside you when you witness a miracle of your own.  I'm still a cynical curmudgeon and I'll still have my share of moments of pessimism.  I'll forget too often to be grateful for what I have.  So what's different?  My concept of what is possible.  My field of vision is wider.  The colors are truer and the picture deeper.  Do I believe now because I've seen or did I get to see because deep down I've always believed?  I don't know but I have seen a miracle with my own two eyes and stood in its presence.  You don't walk away from that unscathed.  

When I decided to write about this experience to share it all with you, I started looking for a theme song.   On Saturday, I was pretty sure I would choose "Today" by Smashing Pumpkins because Saturday did feel like the greatest day I'd ever known.  I didn't finish this Saturday, though, and I got the phone call on Sunday and then got to see and hear her speak.  Was Saturday's awakening greater than Sunday's return of speech?  Maybe.  Probably.  "Today" didn't seem to be enough.  

As I scrolled through my iPod, I found an unlikely suspect.  You can call it superstition, mysticism, randomness, or luck.  You can call it science and medicine.  For me, there's only one word that will do.  I believe in miracles.

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About Josh Hathaway

  • Josh Hathaway

    Thanks, Dawn (and everybody else!). Katie continues to make amazing progress. She has her first day of rehabilitation in Birmingham today and the doctors are confident she will make even greater strides during this time and should be home with us again soon.

  • Hey Josh – It’s amazing how surfing sometimes really gets you be surprise.

    Your story was really sad and scary and in the end just wonderful.

    I lost a dear friend when she was just 5 years old to cancer after her 3 year battle with the disease. No parent should outlive their kids and I was so happy to bump into your story tonight – it reminded me of my little friend, who died 11 months ago and while her courageous fight ultimately ended very differently, she too was a miracle and her memory will live on in her family and friends.

    Thanks again for your story and for the reminder I needed tonight.

  • Oh Josh, I am so sorry I am just now reading this and so late to offer my prayers to sweet little Katie. I remember you talking about your rambunctious little niece and how much fun you had with your sisters kids.

    I am so so so glad she’s feeling better, I will add my chorus of prayers to many who are watching over her as she recovers.

    Love you Josh. You know my digits if you need me.

  • Josh Hathaway

    Thanks, Jordan, on both counts. We’re feeling truly and profoundly blessed.

    I love PJ’s acoustic performance of this at Benaroya. Really cool version.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Awesome news, man. And terrific song choice as well.

  • Josh Hathaway

    Thank you, Connie, and thanks for the expressions of support over the past several days. It’s been grueling and exhausting but it has become quite uplifting these last two days. I wouldn’t want to go through it all again but having experienced it, I do feel different.

  • Josh – I am so happy to hear your niece is well on the road to recovery. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.