… on a most thankful thanksgiving

IMG_0540.JPGOn Thanksgiving Day 2006, I sat in a chair pulled up to the side of a hospital bed in the Intensive Care Unit at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. In the bed lay my twelve-year-old son, Sam.

And he was in a medically induced coma.

Because he’d had a life threatening seizure the night before.

He’d been sick that day, stayed home.

I remember I was placing the last of the wine glasses on the Thanksgiving table that night – the one that would host 17 of us the following afternoon.

There would be a near cacophony of voices, the sound of forks and knives on dishes.

Glasses clinking in spontaneous toasts.



I remember Sam walking by, heading toward the bathroom.

A few minutes later, John called from the bathroom, something strange in his voice.

I remember being exasperated.

Didn’t he know that I was busy? Couldn’t he handle whatever it was?

And I rounded the corner, and saw Sam.

He was standing at the sink, looking in the mirror.

But something was off.

He was also touching the mirror. He was slowly moving his index finger around on the mirror.

I thought it was a joke.  Sam and I always joked.

I told him to knock it off.  But he didn’t.

I looked at John, who was unnerved.

He said, “Look at his eyes.”

And I did.

And I remember talking to Sam. Asking him what was going on.

And I remember my voice rising with each question I asked.

He didn’t answer.

I told him to knock it off.

I yelled at him to stop it.

And just like in the movies, I slapped him.

And he just slowly turned his head.

Like a zombie.

And I knew.

And I calmly told John to go get the car.

Sam was like a robot.

I directed him. I remember that I grabbed his coat because it was cold outside.

I had a hand on each of his six foot one inch shoulders, as John raced back inside and helped me get him into the back seat of the car.

Where he slowly sunk into my lap.

I remember calling the hospital on my cell phone, to let them know we were coming.

And half way to the hospital, when Sam’s breathing slowed, I quietly told John to run through any red lights.

We had been through so much together. He wasn’t supposed to survive being born. John and I were told he would either be still born, or require institutional care for his entire life.  He was born with so many things wrong. He was bleeding in his lungs and brain. His little body threw two clots in the ambulance on the way to Children’s Hospital in Boston, and they’d stopped his little heart.

But he lived.

He lived because Children’s Hospital was doing an experimental study and accepted him into it.

And we brought him home and he grew into this awesome, chunky, happy little kid.

We found out he was deaf in one ear when he was three, which led to an MRI of his brain. Which uncovered an oddity that led to the suspicion that he might suffer from Leukodystrophy. Which is one of the cruelest diseases, along side of Lou Gerrig’s Disease, that I have ever heard of.

And it attacks children.

When we discovered what we were waiting for – what the tests they were doing might yield – we pulled the kids out of school, and went to Disney World.

We were lucky.  It took six agonizing weeks, but the tests showed that the oddity in Sam’s brain was scarring from a stroke he’d suffered, probably at birth.

He’d always had trouble in school, and in the fifth grade, he was diagnosed as being severely dyslexic.

So by the time Thanksgiving 2006 rolled around, I couldn’t believe it. This kid had survived too many things. We worked with his hearing issues and dyslexia every day, and he was a great, happy kid.  What now?

Did you know that parents can’t travel on med flights?

It’s true.

It was past midnight, and our car was quiet. There wasn’t another car on the usually busy highway, and all I could hear was the hum of the road and the wind.

It was dead quiet.

And then I saw lights passing over our car.

Silently, high in the sky, the helicopter carrying my son passed overhead.

And John and I watched its blinking lights disappear into the distant dark, heading for Boston.

They put Sam into a medically induced coma that night, having no idea what was going on, but wanting to protect his brain while they searched for an answer.

I sent John home to the kids and his parents, and I sat next to Sam’s bed.

I told him that it was not okay that he was not okay. And threatened him that he had better come back. I threatened that kid with every weapon in my mom arsenal.

I remember doctors asking questions. I remember all the tests – from standard blood tests, to tox screens to spinal taps – coming back with no answers. And I remember when they said, late the next morning, that they were going to wake him up.

And John wasn’t there yet.

And I took a deep breath. And asked them what to expect when he woke up.

I remember they used the word, “if”.

They injected medicine into his IV, and a few minutes later I remember his head moved a little, and the neurologist talked to him, saying he had a breathing tube in his throat, and to try not to cough and they were going to take it out.

And the tube came out.

And he coughed.

And he opened his eyes.

And he looked at me and I said ‘hi’. And he mouthed ‘hi’ and the nurse gave him some water. And I hugged him and he held my elbow with a hand that had a tube connected to it.

And the neurologist said she needed to ask him some questions and she asked him what date it was.  He said that was a not even a fair question because he never knew what day it was.

And I laughed out loud.

It was true. We laughed about that all the time. He never knew what the date was.

The doctor didn’t know him though, so she wasn’t so sure.

She asked him who the president was. And he said “George W. Bush”.

“That’s right,” she said “and a lot of us aren’t too happy about that right now.”

And she winked at me.

And my man Sam said, “I know. And I think they need to cut him a break. He has a very hard job.”

And he laughed. And I laughed.

And then I cried.

Best. Thanksgiving. Ever.


Thanks for readin’.


Sam, this past summer, playing bass at an outdoor jazz concert