I used to tell the story of Zack’s birth often. It was a long answer to the question, “How did your son get cerebral palsy?” – a question we heard in a hundred variations, most of them spoken in soft tones of sympathy. Young children were the most likely to ask and they would ask in the most straightforward ways while their parents gnawed on fingernails in embarrassment. “What’s wrong with him?” they would ask.
“Well,” I would say, “when Zachary was born, he didn’t get enough air to his brain. That made it so that his muscles don’t work quite like ours do. He uses a wheelchair the way we use legs.”
The child would nod and scurry away. The parent would sigh in relief and mumble, “I’m so sorry.”
“She’s just curious,” I would say. “Don’t be sorry. We aren’t.”
The parent would look at me like I was crazy. I would smile and explain.
The night that Zack was born, the threads of fate were woven in exactly the right way. My mom had been staying with us and was supposed to leave a few days earlier, but had decided to stay for just a little longer. My husband was supposed to work that night, but had a weird feeling and called in. And for some strange reason, not one of us 3 adults thought to dial 911.
When I woke up at around 11 pm, I thought my water had broken. I nudged Mark and told him it was time thinking it strange that there was no pain. Mark turned on the light. I was covered in blood.
The rest of the night is a haze in my mind. Mom calmly gave me a towel and pushed us toward the front door. Mark got me into the car. Streetlights went by the window in a surreal blur.
At the hospital, I stopped at the front desk to check in. Mark grabbed my arm and told the woman that we were on our way to labor and delivery. The labor and delivery nurse had an IV in my hand before I ever stepped off the elevator. Twelve doctors answered the emergency call. Twelve doctors in rural Idaho.
While Mark was putting on scrubs, I flatlined. By the time he got into the room, they had brought me back and working on sponging blood from my womb. Another doctor—the new doc in town—was bringing Zachary back to life after an estimated 40 minutes without oxygen.
Anesthesia that was expected to keep me asleep for hours lifted just long enough for me to reach out and touch Zack’s hand, curled into tiny fists, before they life-flighted him to Spokane. They didn’t expect him to live through the night.
They told us that if we had waited for an ambulance, they would have lost us both. If my mom had gone home, we would have had to call 911. If Mark had gone to work, we would have had to call 911. If we had been aware, reasonable adults, we would have called 911.
Zack did this thing four times in his life. Some doctor or another would tell us that he wasn’t going to make it while he lay in critical condition at Sacred Heart in Spokane, at St. Luke’s in Boise, at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland. But Zachary had a stubborn streak and was intent on proving them wrong. Zachary chose to pass away quietly at home after 11 years of laughter and love with no apparent sign that anything at all was wrong.
I’m still not sorry that we had the chance to know him and to learn from him. But oh how I wish I’d had the chance to know him longer.