Yesterday marked the two-year anniversary of Gregory’s discharge from the hospital. I wrote this article for the Antiochian Women’s Newsletter in 2015, and wanted to share it here to remember the miracle of God’s grace and mercy during that very difficult time.
Last month, my fifteen month old son Gregory got sick. After three days of vomiting and diarrhea, and an incredibly low appetite, his fever spiked on a Monday afternoon. He was asleep in my arms when I took his temperature, which registered at 104.2 degrees. At this point, I knew he was severely dehydrated from his weekend of the flu. When I tried to wake him up, he lay lethargic in my arms, staring at the wall. I made a panicked call to my sister-in-law (an ICU nurse), and the doctor’s office, and they both agreeded that we needed to be in the emergency room.
The ER doctor placed an IV for fluids to rehydrate Gregory, and gave him some Tylenol for the fever. He perked up a little bit, enough to eat some applesauce. As the evening wore on, however, he got worse. At one point, his breathing became shallow and erratic, prompting me to shout for help. The doctor came running, and immediately ordered a chest x-ray and a heart ultrasound. She didn’t know what was wrong.
Both tests came back negative, and a breathing treatment helped somewhat. It was now close to midnight. After a conference with our pediatrician, the doctor decided to admit him. We got settled in the pediatric wing at about 1:30 in the morning. Our pediatrician came by around 8, and determined at that time that Gregory also had RSV, a respiratory illness that is debilitating in babies. He thought that the severe dehydration had masked the symptoms of the RSV, and once Gregory had gotten hydrated again in the ER, his lungs had filled with phlegm and it was making breathing difficult for him.
The biggest hurdle that we had to cross was that Gregory refused to eat. His appetite had been low for days, but now he was so sick that he wouldn’t touch any form of food or drink. RSV is viral, so there was very little to be done but wait it out, but we couldn’t disconnect Gregory from the IV unless we could convince him to eat. So we tried. For three days.
During this time, my two oldest children, at home with their dad, had contracted the stomach flu and were throwing up, while my four-year old had developed a sinus and ear infection. Because RSV is viral, we were in isolation in the hospital. I couldn’t take the chance of bringing the flu bug to the hospital, to the other patients in the wing, or getting it myself and not be able to stay with Gregory, so I couldn’t go home. My husband, Fr. John, couldn’t leave our sick kids, and also couldn’t risk bringing the bug to the hospital, so he was unable to visit. The other Antiochian priests from our area were all in California at the clergy conference, so other than a prayer service Fr. John had done the first day Gregory was admitted, we were unable to have anyone come in to do prayers for us.
By the time Thursday rolled around, Gregory had eaten next to nothing in three days, had a fever that continued to rage in the range of 103-104, and the doctors didn’t know what was causing it, as RSV does not usually present with fever. My own nerves were shot, and I made a call to my Presbytera friend from the Greek church nearby. They had been asking if we needed Fr. Vasili to come visit, but I had been reluctant as RSV is highly contagious and they have small children of their own. I didn’t want to risk spreading it to their family. After hearing an update (from across the room, as I was evidently crying loud enough to be heard through the phone), Fr. Vasili said that he was coming to anoint Gregory with holy oil and say prayers for us.
He arrived at the hospital about an hour later. I allowed him to visit, but only if he put on the protective gear and mask so he was less likely to catch anything from Gregory. So with his stole and a hospital mask on, he said prayers before the diptych that Gregory’s Godfather had brought to him, and opened his container of oil. The smell of the oil filled the room. Fr. Vasili told me if was from the lampadas over St. John Maximovitch, and mixed with myrrh from the Iveron myrrh-streaming icon of the Theotokos. “St. John Maximovitch loves children,” he said.
He had a brush which he dipped in the oil, and moved forward to anoint Gregory’s forehead. Gregory reached out to grab the brush and tried to put it in his mouth. We chuckled a little bit, and then Father continued to anoint him. When he finished, my son–who hadn’t eaten in days–sat up in my arms and began reaching for the stack of crackers I had sitting nearby. He made the sign for “please” and said, “Mama,” the first word he had spoken in over 48 hours. I handed him the crackers, and he ate! He finished them, and asked for more. After an applesauce, and part of a rice krispie treat (his favorite treat, which Fr. Vasili ran and bought him out of a nearby vending machine), he laid back in my arms and smiled.
By this point in time, I was crying tears of joy. I had never seen an answer to prayer like that in all my life. Fr. Vasili was watching us with a smile that stretched outside of the hospital mask. He chuckled for a moment and said, “I told you St. John loves children.”
I made a phone call home to tell Fr. John what had happened, and we had a chance to FaceTime. Gregory had not seen his sisters in days, and clapped and laughed to see them on the screen. They were equally excited to see him, and the kids babbled at each other for a few moments. It didn’t take too long for the activity to wear Gregory out, and he soon fell asleep in my arms.
The nurses came in later, commenting on how well his heart rate was doing, and that his breathing was more normal than it had been in days. When the doctor came by to visit that evening, he discovered an ear infection in Gregory’s left ear, which he surmised was the reason for the fever we hadn’t been able to explain. He ordered an antibiotic, and left happy to see him improving.
That night, Gregory woke up crying around 11 pm. I couldn’t figure out why, until I realized he was reaching for the leftovers from my dinner tray. He ate again and fell back asleep, sleeping soundly through all the vitals checks and his nighttime breathing treatment. In the morning, he ate breakfast! His fever never came back, and Saturday he was determined well enough to have his IV taken out and his oxygen tubes removed. After a bath and lunch, he took his first steps all week. The doctor came to check on him around noon. He found Gregory playing in his bed with a pile of toys the nurses had brought him, singing and smiling. At the sight of the doctor, he stood up and started rattling the bars of the crib and laughing. Our doctor laughed with him, and brought us discharge paperwork.
When we got home that afternoon, it had been five days since I left the house to take Gregory to the ER. I was a nervous wreck–exhausted emotionally, mentally and physically from the ordeal with Gregory, and from being separated from my other children while they were also sick and asking for me. I collapsed into a chair and watched my son, who had been so sick for so many days, chase the cat around the dining room table. Fr. John commented that there was no way anyone could ever have known this was the child who had just been hospitalized for the better part of a week.
It has now been a month since Gregory was released from the hospital. He is a happy, healthy little boy, a light and joy in our lives. Telling this story brings both my husband and I to tears. We are so grateful to God for the healing of our son! Through the prayers of the Theotokos and St. John Maximovitch, may Christ our God save us.