In debt, gratitude

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jonathan Bass
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
On what should have been one of the happiest days of our lives, my wife and I were scalped of our happiness. And our resiliency was tested.

January 17, was an amazing day for us. Our daughter Alice was born. She was a fighter from the start. Alice tried her absolute best to stay in the womb; and when the doctor removed her from her warm home, Alice let them know she wasn’t happy. Angry, loud cries echoed off the walls of the small operating room. She inherited her mother’s temper.

Cue heart beats and a crescendo of rousing music. Even covered in baby goop, she was beautiful. We were overjoyed to see and interact with our daughter. She was perfect… or so we thought.

Less than 48 hours later, we noticed something might be wrong. Alice started coughing up green fluid, and then stopped breathing.

I yelled for a nurse and a whole team ran to our aid.

Alice’s breathing was restored, but our concern wasn’t alleviated. A few hours later, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit doctor came to assist Alice with a bowel movement. Even after a suppository, Alice hadn’t passed any meconium or stool. Alice was taken to the NICU for further examination and testing.

Hoping that nothing was wrong, we followed. My emotions got the better of me as I watched them poke and prod at my brand new baby girl. I cried as Alice cried. The paternal love I’ve heard described so often set in.

I prayed this was just a bad dream.

Spiritual resilience is a strong suit of mine. My religious beliefs get me through even just everyday life, so I knew I could count on my God to pull us through.

Unfortunately it wasn’t just a bad dream.

I personally believed in my heart of hearts this was a trial. My belief is that God would use this for his glory, but fear still loomed over us. I knew he didn’t do this. But I still cried over intrusive and unreasonable thoughts that we were being punished in some way.

Alice had a blockage in her intestines and there was a possible perforated bowel. She needed to be ambulanced to a hospital in Kaiserslautern for immediate surgery.

Cue jaw drop, flat line tone, anvil falling from the sky. We were floored, to say the absolute least.

I couldn’t get a hold of my supervisor or my superintendent since it was 2 a.m., so I called my chief. She rushed out to be with me while I waited for Alice’s surgery.

My wife couldn’t be discharged from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center yet because of her cesarean section wound. It was on me to travel with Alice in the German ambulance.

Mental resilience is a more difficult domain to master. I think it’s because it’s something intangible. It’s all about how you feel and during that ambulance ride, I felt miserable.

Fearful thoughts about my daughter’s health, her future, even my life crashed into my head. I was barely coherent due to the emotional and mental turmoil battling inside me.

I knew I had to be there for my little girl. Mustering all of my mental faculties, I summoned the courage to brave out that first early morning.

At the hospital, I waited while a convention of doctors came into her room repeatedly to discuss her case in German and then tell me we were waiting on more tests or the specialist who was on their way. My heart soared every time they came in, and deflated every time they said we had to wait.

I slept about three hours in three days throughout the process. I know it’s not a long period to go with that little sleep, nor was it especially grueling or tasking, but the mental and emotional stress of that time was more demanding than zero week in BMT, and I cried more between Jan. 19-21, than I have in the previous four years. Every whimper or stir from Alice jolted me out of whatever rest I was attempting to get in a panic that something else was happening.

This was where physical resilience, my least favorite and weakest domain, was needed. My wife and I would get whatever rest we could get on the couches in the parent’s waiting room, but the biggest help was actually going home at night to sleep in our own bed. Rest and recovery is a major portion of physical resilience, if we weren’t rested, we wouldn’t have been able to make crucial decisions for Alice’s care.

Terror doesn’t begin to express how I felt. Anguish is only the tip of the iceberg. What we went through during those first few days I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Infants are normally helpless, Alice was beyond helpless. She would look up at me and I could see in her eyes that she was hurting, but I was helpless to help her.

Thank God Alice’s surgery went well. She had two obstructions in her Ileum, which connects the small and large intestines. There was no bowel perforation, much to our relief. Part of her Ileum was removed, as well as her appendix, and she was given a stoma. Essentially they brought part of her intestines to the surface, to pass stool through a bag attached to her stomach. She’ll have a reversal surgery to close the stoma soon.

After abdominal surgery, patients aren’t allowed to eat in case something went wrong during the operation. This is easy to understand and deal with as an adult, but for an infant, who literally just started eating, it has to be miserable. Alice was receiving intravenous nutrition, so she was getting food, but not full.

There isn’t much worse than looking at your newborn and not being able to feed her. I don’t mean as a man and not being equipped to feed them, but as a parent, not being allowed to feed them. We just knew Alice was incredibly hungry, but we couldn’t do a thing about it.

Alice didn’t actually drink milk for three or four days. And when we could give her milk again, it was only a fraction of what she needed.

Our journey didn’t end after the surgery, however. A few days later, Alice developed a blood clot in her right leg. Her tiny veins couldn’t support the central IV line which was delivering her medicine and her nutrition. The doctors tried every vein they could think of, including one on her head, but none would hold the line.

Just when we thought we were through the tunnel, the darkness reared back its ugly head. Blood clots are incredibly dangerous, particularly to an infant. Here is where social resilience stepped into the ring to help. My wife’s sister drove out from Grafenwohr, my mother flew from North Carolina, friends took care of our dog, brought us meals, and even just sat and let us talk about the whole fiasco.

But Alice is a fighter, she has been since the moment she was born. She took the surgery, the blood clot, the needles and tubes, and the restricted nutrition for several days like a champ! She spent more time in a hospital in one month than I have in nearly 28 years.

We really didn’t feel like parents during the hospital stay. It felt like we were only part-time parenting. We’d wake up at home, eat breakfast on the way to the hospital, spend as much time with Alice during the day as we could, and then go home at night. It was heart wrenching to walk by her room and see it empty. The bassinet where she should be sleeping was barren.

But our resilience helped us survive. We weren’t living during this time. We were in survival mode. We went chow-to-chow, day-to-day, and after three seemingly unending weeks, Alice was allowed to come home. And I’ve realized, because of all this, and the fact that we didn’t have any medical bills because of it, I pretty much owe the Air Force my life. I will forever be in debt and gratitude to the Air Force for saving my daughter’s life.