posted on Carepages June 11, 2011

“The man was on his knees, trying to retrieve each of his ugly words that were now scattered on the floor.  But, of course, it was too late.”  ~Dr. SunWolf

Well I guess I spoke too soon. Lords knows its not the first time. Given my predisposition for it, I pray its not the last.

It was a beautiful morning, so it looked form the 5th floor of Target House. Christopher was sleeping sideways next to me in the “big bed.” The smell of coffee from the kitchen told me that Martha was starting to stir.

It was just the three of us, as the rest of the gang had spent the night at the Lackie residence. Brennan’s week, which started out in a blaze of celebration and hopeful plans ended up all over the board. But this morning it looked like we were getting things back on track.

Between the hustle of early morning appointments at the clinic, special surprise events at the St. Jude classic golf tourney on wednesday (where we all awoke at the crack of dawn in order for Brennan to serve as the honorary caddie for his hero and friend, Padraig Harrington), and an opportunity for our family to tell our story to Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer on Thursday morning (who were in town for the golf tournament), I had missed my usual morning meditations.

But the week was not all fun and games. Thursday afternoon, with me and Tara up to our necks in cardboard boxes, doing our best to simultaneously purge and pack the last ten months of our lives, Brennan started feeling pretty lousy. It started as nausea, then moved to the dry heaves, and finally to steady diarrhea. Our presumption was that the culprit had to be a switch to a more substantial g-tube formula; however, with Brennan eating chips, ice cream sandwiches and even part of a hot dog just the day before, we could not be certain. Consequently, Friday he went through the battery of stool samples and blood cultures just to be safe. And as the day wore on, he started feeling better. Still a little green in the gills, but by bedtime,he was much improved.

So on this clear beautiful morning I was thrilled to sit in my chair by the window, say thanks for the day and catch up on my little devotional readings. Looking across the way at the little steeple next door, the cross was almost totally blocked from view by the full, lush trees of summer. Through the leaves I could see a mourning dove sitting directly on top looking at me through the window. Whether the exact same bird or not, I’ve noticed a dove on this hallowed perch off and on throughout the past year. It is always a dove, never anything else.

My devotional was about forfeiting our guarded thoughts, recognizing our weaknesses as a reminder that we are not in control, that peace will only be found through trust in God’s love.

Looking up, the dove was gone.

But I felt energized, and ready for the day. A call to Tara told me that Brennan was feeling pretty good. Our plans for the night had been to gather with a few close friends for an impromptu farewell celebration; so after the call, I was happily working my way through Nat’s chest of drawers to pick out some appropriate aloha-wear when the cell phone rang.

“Is this Mr. Simkins?” the voice said in a rather serious monotone. I could tell my the 495 prefix that the call was coming from St. Jude. “”This be him” I said doing my best to sound unworried.

“Brennan’s blood cultures have come back “gram positive,” he said (gram “positive, meaning that infectious bacteria has been identified in his blood stream). We do not know at this point the exact classification of the bacteria,” he continued, “but given Brennan’s history with VRE and the relatively recent issues associated with his gallbladder infection, he needs to be admitted.”

Oomph. Talk about an about-face. Within an few minutes, Martha, Tara and I had juggled the Brothers around and were driving Brennan to the medicine room for more cultures and to learn more about what the findings were telling us regarding treatment, etc. Obviously, with an infection of the blood stream, it had to be taken seriously.

I did my best not to appear too worried as I picked up Brenny for the 15 minute drive to the hospital. He had no idea, and standing there in his little golf outfit, smiling at me as he donned the back-pack of g-tube feeds, I was grateful for his gift of relief. But driving to St. Jude, talking about the infection and the prospect of being readmitted to the transplant unit, I could see his smile evaporate in the rearview mirror.

Once in the medicine room, Terri, the nurse, wrestled open his isolation room door, trying her best to maneuver the large cart filled with culture vials and IV fluids. But it did not take Brennan long to notice the tell-tale sign of a looming arm-poke by the sky blue rubber tourniquet. He immediately withdrew and started to cry.

In order to establish whether the infection is living in his blood stream, or whether it was living within the walls of his central line, the custom is to draw blood from both lumens of his central line as well as directly from his arm. Not having blood drawn from his arm in months (since the line was reinstalled last september) he started bawling hard.

Tara and left the room to speak with the doctor about what the lab results were producing. “I need my mommie” he cried, as Terri did her best to move forward with the draws from his line while I comforted him in my arms. Fortunately, Tara made it back to the room before they did the stick.

“I don’t want you to count!” he exclaimed to Teri, trying to avert the standard nursing method of masking the inevitable. “I’ll tell you when to do it.” And within a few seconds he said, “1,2,3, go” and bit his lip.

When it was over he looked up through his tears and said, “thank you Terri.” Tara and I stared at each other, proud and how consistently compassionate this kid is for others when it is his turn to receive compassion.

At that moment, for some reason I felt like a wave swallowed me up. The whole thing suddenly became too much . I wasn’t the arm stick, or even the matter of him being readmitted to the hospital with the finish line so close.

To gather myself, I walked to the cafeteria for a long overdue lunch. Walking down the empty weekend corridor, I lost it. At the grill area, I had to walk away before I could even tell the guy what I wanted.

For over a week now Brennan has wanted to come visit the transplant floor at Chilis to tell everyone goodbye. There are a lot of people in this place who love him and vice-versa. But in no way did I want him to get his wish this way.

So far the lab results are not leaning towards VRE again (thank God), but a staph infection of some sort. There is even some circumspection that the bad cultures could have come from outside contamination, in which case the battery of antibiotics he will receive overnight will have been “just in case.” If we are lucky enough that this is the case, he will only be here for a one-nighter.

But he still feels lousy. His stomach is still giving him fits and he is far from the energetic little man who was the source of so much enthusiasm earlier in the week. So, we are back on our knees, reminded yet again of the gnawing feeling inside when our vulnerability serves as the bridge to faith.

Perhaps one last visit to St. Jude was a more significantly appropriate way to say “goodbye” to Memphis. Farewell party or not, there is no more appropriate place to feel the power of weakness assuaged. We are even back in room 9, where he received his 4th transplant and with the Great Pyramid of Memphis outside; that odd looming focal point that physically binds this place of science to the spiritual realm outside these walls.

We are praying that tomorrow this stuff is all cleared up as a matter of a contaminated vial. If we are lucky, we are hoping he may even be able to make the closing ceremony of the golf tournament. This kid deserves it. Either way, we are firmly reminded how grateful we must be for this institution and this City. And to never, ever take anything for granted.

I guess the carepages continue afterall.