The Greatest Gift

Just listening to it filled me with fear. I begged them to stop, but my plea made them all the more determined to continue. Both boys sat giggling on the entryway stairs singing as I frantically put their shoes on. “I need you to stop signing and laughing right now,” I scolded my oldest. He nodded and smiled before bursting out into song once more. I grabbed their coats, picked up my two year old and went outside. “Mama cold!” My youngest said when the cool night air hit his face. “I know,” I said apologetically, “there is no time to put your coat on. We gotta get your brother to the hospital.”  
The preceding events happened so fast. I was standing in the kitchen cooking dinner when I heard the sound we dread most in our household – a combination of wheezing and stridor. It was the sound caused by my five year old’s lungs swelling and whistling when he breathed out while his obstructed windpipe vibrated as he breathed in. I looked up over the kitchen ledge to see my son standing in front of the sofa in a panic, flapping his arms as he fought to breath. He had tears dripping down his cheeks and his complexion had changed to the pale shade that preceded the scary blue color that would force me to call 911. 
I grabbed the inhalers out of the medicine cupboard in my kitchen and ran to my son. I put the puffer mask to his face as I released the meds. Four puffs later the wheezing had improved, but the squeaky sound of the stridor remained. When he spoke to tell me that he was breathing better, his voice was raspy. I checked my watch. I knew it would be five minutes before the meds would take full effect, but was relieved at the immediate improvement. I reached for the orange steroid inhaler off the counter and swapped out the rescue inhaler in the mask. I gave my son the maximum amount. “Shoes on. Now!” I ordered them as I rushed to the kitchen to turn off the stove.
I don’t know what possessed him to start signing. But, as he sat there watching me put his brother’s shoes on, his squeaky, raspy voice began singing, “If your happy and you know it clap your hands.” It was a poignant song choice against the backdrop of a medical crisis. He coughed and wheezed as he sang, but he wouldn’t stop. His little brother soon joined in clapping his hands and stomping his feet mimicking his big brother. “Guys, I need you to calm down. Save your breath. No singing. No laughing. Just calm slow breathing. Okay?” But they didn’t listen. Instead they burst into smiles and sang louder.  
As I loaded them in the car I stopped to listen to my son’s chest. He was no longer in danger but he was still not breathing right. While I loved that my son was happy and singing, I feared for his health. “You are not breathing well,” I explained to my son, “I need you to stay as physically calm as possible. No singing. Save your air. Focus on breathing. Please!” He looked at me and saw the fear in my eyes. My two year old saw it too and he began to cry. My oldest son smiled at me and said to his little brother, “It’s okay. The doctors are going to give me medicine to make my lungs strong. No big deal! But I can’t sing, so you take over.” It was an explanation that made my eyes fill with tears. We had been through this so many times he never needed to ask where we were going. He knew exactly what was happening. His little brother followed his orders and as I buckled him into the carseat his sweet little voice sang, “if happy and know c’ap hand.” They both clapped and my oldest smiled at me. “Mom,” he said before I closed the car door, “I may not be able to breath good, but I am happy.”  
My heart exploded. His song choice was not an accident. He was trying to tell me in the sweetest way that he was still happy despite all his physical and medical challenges. Even in a time of fear and crisis, he was content and unafraid. He was happy and he wanted me to know it. I wanted to hug him and tell him how much I loved him. But there was no time. The squeaky sound that accompanied the rise and fall of his chest compelled me to hurry. So instead, I got in the car and cried as I listened to the sound of my youngest son singing for his big brother.
We were rushed right into the doctor who prescribed oral steroids for his lungs. He smiled through his entire exam and tried to make his brother laugh when he got bored. He was calm, confident and knew exactly when I needed a hug. I wondered at what point in his five years of life he became so comfortable in crisis. So unafraid at the things that terrified me. So aware of how to help others work through their own fear. I felt so guilty that I was deriving my strength from a five year old little boy when I was the one who was supposed to be strong for him.
In the end he was kind of right. We went to the doctor who gave him medicine to make his lungs strong. No big deal….. Except for me it was a huge deal. It meant that dystonia was affecting his esophagus and he was once again inhaling stomach acid. It meant his treatments were not working as well as we needed them to and the possibility of surgery would once again be brought up by his medical team. It meant I would have some impossible decisions to make. It also meant that I would go days with little to no sleep as I sat in his room listening to his breathing.
During the next four days, I had to give him additional rounds of oral steroids three times. By the fourth day, his breathing normalized and our life returned to normal. But for my son, all of this was no big deal. It was a regular part of life. It was not something he stressed about or feared. It was just something to be dealt with.  
In the aftermath of the episode I feel so blessed that my son sang his song. Even though it scared me, it gave me relief too. My son gave me the knowledge that no matter what happens in his life, he is at peace and is happy. It’s quite possibly the greatest gift he will ever give me.

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