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The Power of Love

Jul 13, 2008
We're lucky. We've thought a lot about our life and how we managed to end up where we are today. When did it really begin to take shape? Were we guided by fate or were we were smart enough to have had a plan?

Our story began in a hospital room in 1974 when we were both in our early twenties, and, like many life changes, ours began in crisis. This crisis, we would later discover, was the starting point of our journey. It was to be the defining moment of our life when we were forced to take stock, figure out where we were and begin shaping our future. It was terrifying. As we said, we're lucky.

It was the middle of the night and the two of us were alone in a gray hospital waiting room. The voice of Kathy Albright, one of the I.C.U. nurses, crackled harshly through the speaker, "Melinda, you and Bob can come in now." I watched, numb, as Mel got up, walked across the cold tile floor, pushed the intercom button, and, in a weak voice replied, "Okay."

Together, we crossed the hall and punched the square automatic door opener, and stared as a pair of heavy metal doors hissed outward like the open jaws of some mythical beast, ready to swallow anyone or anything daring to enter. Shaking, we walked through the unwelcoming doors and into the pediatric ward I.C.U. prep room where we donned green hospital Johnnies, white caps and scrubbed up with brown disinfectant.

We tried hard to ignore the grim sounds of respirators, beeping monitors and crying relatives as we followed Kathy toward our tiny new son. Mel squeezed my hand hard enough to hurt. Finally, we reached Jesse's incubator and were able to touch our brave and precious newborn baby.

Weighing only one pound, ten ounces, Jesse had been given less than a four percent chance of taking his first breath. Not only had he beaten those odds, Jesse had entered life kicking and screaming. The nurses said he had an extraordinary will to live; we called him our miracle.

The doctors were more cautious, warning us not to raise our hopes up too high. "He has many hurdles to get over," Dr. George Little, the head of neonatology, explained, "all of which are still complicated by PDA or patent ductus arteriosus, which is a periodical malfunction of the heart that manifests itself as a murmur. We've scheduled him for surgery tomorrow afternoon and we'll do our best - but his chances of survival are still very, very slim."

"So why operate?" I asked.

"Each time Jesse's heart malfunctions, blood flow into the brain is diminished, placing Jesse in severe danger. If we're successful, surgery will at least eliminate that risk. I'll need your consent to operate but don't feel that you have to make this decision alone. We'll sit down together and make our decision in the morning. Right now, I want you two to go home and get some rest."

When Dr. Little left, I hugged Mel and, our eyes wet with tears, we stood over Jesse's incubator in silent vigil, gazing at our beautiful son, lying on his inhuman bed of tubes and wires, fighting for his life. Mel broke the silence mumbling, "This is not a decision any parent should ever have to make."

We spent that night in the hospital. Each time Jesse's heart monitor straight-lined, an alarm would sound, bringing a team of doctors and nurses charging to his side. The night seemed endless and we lost all track of time. At 8:30 a.m., we were still waiting for signs of improvement, hoping to be spared having to decide our child's fate. On top of everything else, I was again late for work and Mel was missing yet another day of classes.

"I don't know if I can get off from work again today," I said, "and I may very well get fired over this. I've already missed two and a half weeks and I'm afraid the State of Vermont won't have much sympathy." I was working for a social service program at the time and though I needed to get back to my clients, I was too tired to call my supervisor. We continued to wait in silence.

Finally, Mel spoke up, "If the three of us ever get out of this place, I think you should find another way to earn a living. I can't imagine all of us not being together every day. There's no way I'm going to work, waiting until evening to spend time with you and Jesse." I wasn't sure what she meant by that remark but I sensed it was important.

Dr. Little found us in the waiting room still undecided about Jesse's surgery. "Good news," he said, smiling. "Jesse's done it again. Proved us wrong, I mean. His heart murmur seems to have stopped. He's an amazing little guy. Have you two been here all night?"

"Yeah, I guess we have," I said.

"We both thought it might be his last night," Mel said.

"Why don't you go home and get some rest?" Dr. Little said. "I'll call you if anything changes."

We made our way downstairs and out into the bright sunshine and crisp air of a an early April morning. The trip home took us nearly two hours and we drove it in silence, lost in thought.

Over the next two months, we got to know that road well, as we drove back and forth to visit Jesse. He was growing steadily. And so was as his hospital bill. We had no medical insurance and no idea how we would ever pay what we knew would be an overwhelming amount of money.

The day Jesse was discharged, he weighed a whopping four pounds, five ounces and the bill was six times my annual salary. Nervously, we sat in the business office waiting to discuss payment with the hospital's administrators. I assumed they would simply garnish my wages for the rest of my life. Finally, the door opened and Dr. Little walked in, followed by three men in suits. "The money guys," I said to myself.

"First of all, we'd like to thank you for your help during Jesse's stay," Dr. Little began. Mel and I looked at each other, not knowing what to say. What on earth were they thanking us for?

"Dartmouth is a teaching hospital but we can't teach without the help of our patients. Thanks to your unconditional support and cooperation, we've been able to learn a tremendous amount from Jesse's birth and the first ten weeks of his life."

"You were all so compassionate," Mel blurted out, "we couldn't imagine going through this anywhere else. We would do anything for you."

"Well," Dr. Little continued, "we have some good news for you. We understand that the bill far exceeds what you can afford. The hospital has decided to pick up the tab. You don't owe us a thing."

Overcome by emotion, we sat staring. Dr. Little broke the silence. "Let's go upstairs and get Jesse so you can take him home. We'll want to see him regularly for a while, so you're not done with us yet. But right now, it's time to get the three of you home."

"You're kidding, right?" I finally managed, "about the bill, I mean. We don't owe anything at all?" Dr. Little just smiled and motioned for us to follow. We struggled to find words to express our relief and gratitude, but none came. Even after thirty years, the magnitude of how that moment changed our lives is still hard for us to comprehend.

We hugged the staff from the I.C.U. who had walked to the car with us. Dr. Little was there, along with the head nurses, Kathy Albright and Linda Brown. Jesse was the only one not crying.

And that was it. We weren't about to take a single moment of this life for granted. We knew what love could do, and we were going to live in the middle of it.
About the Author
Bob and Melinda Blanchard are motivational, life change experts who teach people how to successfully navigate life transitions such as graduation, divorce, career change, starting a business or simply pursuing your dreams. To learn more about their books and how to live what you love, visit Live What You Love .
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