(Note: this is not to re-live the nightmare. On the contrary, it is to preserve my memory of my little angel. I’m still in a state where anyone, please, anyone, pinch me so i wake up from this bad dream and I can go back to visiting Zak at the ICU….please….)
I grew up thinking its just an urban legend when they say “Moms know best” or “mother’s instinct yan…” When I had Zak, I had three episodes of my heart literally jumping into my throat and an ominous feeling swallowing me: the first, which I thought did not count, was when they said Zak had pneumonia day after his birth – I remember noting when the LRT stopped and started operations (10 pm and 430 am respectively). But the real first fear was on the day of Kai’s Christmas program – Max and I went to NICU right after lunch and left earlier than usual at 230 because we had to get Kai to school by 4pm. When we got home, I asked Max to call the hospital to check on Zak and true enough, his levels were going down which warranted a text asking us to come to NICU early the next day. The second was when I asked permission from Zak one Friday afternoon if I could go home early so that I could have a much deserved pedicure. He called for me very early the following day, levels down again. The third was today – his 61st day alive and his 2nd month birthday. I left him this afternoon fully cared for with a resident, a senior intern, a junior intern and 2 very competent nurses. And the consultant neonatal was just a phone call away. But you know what they say when you make a third strike…
I didn’t think, there was something different about today – we do three main things on Sundays: visit Zak at the hospital, do groceries and hear Mass. I woke up with a skip to my usual walk, a jolly disposition to even my new yaya who tests my patience 24/7 and essentially a good feeling because Zak was getting better and better everyday especially this last week. It is his 2nd month’s birthday; I had cake waiting at home (if for some miraculous turn, they’d let us bring him home, I was ready with a welcome feast) and I brought the traditional pansit, which when left uncut can help (like, uh huh) make the celebrant live longer. I was in high spirits. I dressed up a little better than the usual, I tried on a mini skirt which now fit, and I took extra effort to make my make up look nicer than usual (all this time, I never visited Zak looking like a depressed mom – I want to look good for him all the time).
I did our routine after the usual sanitation before I get to Zak: checked his weight and stats (all good…), played his mp3 loaded with kiddie songs, prayed his healing prayer from Fr. Suarez and I cap this routine by singing (actually, singing along a tune from my phone) “soon you’ll come home.” Like I said, its all good…
Everyday, I’d talk to Zak – I tell him things that happened to Mommy in the day (if I visit late) or what I’m planning to do (if I visit earlier in the day). Lately, I give him stories from work because I went back 4 weeks before my scheduled return and Kuya’s school – how he’s gotten great grades from the meeting with his teacher last Friday morning. Sometimes I tell him things I plan to do when he gets to go home with us – family vacations in Baguio, park sessions and potentially a beach getaway if Kuya’s brave enough to have his ears cured. But I never end my visits with good byes (I didn’t want him thinking I’ve been leaving him behind in the hospital for 2 months now). I always tell him since he’s still sick, I’ll just “bring him home tomorrow…” And I end our sessions with what I thought was an endearing, “I love you bunso…”
Tonight, all these routine activities would come to a halt. Lets not talk clinical complications because I’m at this point, organizing where to direct my anger at how this could have ended in the way that it did. But long and short of it, Zak’s pneumonia progressed and he had a cardiac arrest nearing midnight today, January 25th.
We were getting ready to go back to our Merville home tonight at about 930 when Max got a call…and I got a chill run down my spine. I was still ranting about the latest Fanny stories and it was cut short when Max’s face sobered following this phone call.
“We’re being asked to go to the hospital, but they did not say why…”
Creepy feeling number 3 crawling all over my body at this point, ominous and nightmare-ish like a dream sequence but we went with the flow. On the way to the hospital, I was texting Dr. Joey how things are and that I was scared. He just said Zak’s condition had worsened today. I answered back with the obvious – that they’re asking us to go to the hospital and reiterated that I was scared. The response took a little time. A feeling of dread gripped and choked me and I was crying nearing the hospital. We went straight to the ward only to find out the door was locked. Max rang the doorbell but they only politely asked us to wait outside.
Frantic, I scrambled to see what’s inside through the closed pink venetian blinds: more people scrambling around Zak’s incubator. The text from the doctor came at this point saying Zak was in very critical state. A big part of me was relieved – Zak was still alive as evidenced by the commotion inside, but I could not shrug the sinister feeling weighing me down.
After what seemed like a century, they asked us to come in. The interns watching by the window near Zak’s resting place parted like the Red Sea to let us pass. They gave me a seat but I only craned my neck further to get a glimpse of him the way my visitors do when they come visit me and Zak.
Then I knew, without them telling me that I’d lost him. Someone on his right was pumping his bag, and someone else on his left side was pumping his chest. He was turning dark, although there was still a bit of color on him. And his chest was moving up and down but I don’t see his own effort in it, it felt like it was all machines now.
I couldn’t bear it…its not just that he left…but he left without saying goodbye. Max told me earlier that evening that his line for the transfusion was located on his forehead. Hearing that I dreaded seeing him the following day … but he crept out quietly tonight, not wanting me to see his final suffering…
A mother does not have to bury her child, Lord! He was just 61 days old!
I ran out side and cried for the whole second floor corridor on my own, the pain in my chest was excruciating. I felt my heart crumbling into a million pieces. I don’t remember crying this much for a long time but I did. I gasped for air and then I cried all the more. I knew I had lots of questions for The Maker but none were articulated. Soon there were hands stroking my back, comforting me it seems, but it felt more like a thousand needles piercing my back.
I wanted to hurt somebody, pass on the hurt inflicted on Zak but all I could do was lean on Max and cry, bawl even. I was no longer thinking poise but really picturing how it must have been for Zak’s last hours and he was still alone, like I was never on his bedside long enough to catch a glimpse of a smile or spot that milestone “pupu” look of babies…I wasn’t there to change his diapers, nor give him a massage when he gets turned on his bed. I sang him lullabyes, but not to lull him to sleep, but really just to spend some singing the short time that I’m with him.
How can you not make a scene with residents telling you “we had to call it off because he has not been responding for one hour of pumping already”? Who the hell was she to “call it off”? I wanted to wring her neck and squeeze the life out of her as well. If it required a week to resuscitate him, then so be it! Teach me and I will do the pumping until I can bring him back. But I did nothing of that sort, said nothing, so I just cried some more until my eyes hurt.
They made us go back again when I had collected myself. I forced placing one foot in front of the other until I reached the swinging doors that I had gone through for the last two weeks to get by his bedside. I saw them cleaning up Zak’s little corner in NCHA: his incubator was empty, tubes were being pulled and rolled back along with the machines, machines were being rolled out of the ward, bandages and bottles were being thrown in the garbage.
A little further into the room, someone else was holding out a small bundle wrapped in light yellow blanket to us. At this point, I didn’t care that I was crying and screaming alternately, shaking my head and drenching Max’s shirt with my tears and pulling it in all directions, a crazy, crazy time indeed.
Max had to force me to look in the direction of Zak and I bawled all over when I saw his little round head peeking out from the sea of yellow blanket. There were no more tubes sticking out, no more plaster pulling his face o one side, no bandages – he was all cleaned up and normal looking and I should be happy, right? But without the machines, he was no longer breathing. In my mind I was screaming at them to bring him back. His eyes were still half open – I’ve seen this look so many times in the past when I know he wants to sleep. I wanted to shake him to keep his eyes open and never sleep. I was bordering on crazy I know.
It took me some time to get the bundle and when I did I kissed him all over the face like Kai always peppers my face with little kisses when he wakes up ahead of me. I think I was asking him disjointed questions:
Walang iwanan dib a? Bakit mo ko iniwan? Bakit di mo ko hinintay? Zak, baby, come back, uwi na tayo….(kulang na lang, humiyaw na ko ng “Zaaaaaaaaaak!!!!!”)
They interrupted my crazy kissing with the nurse aid putting a plaster on Zak’s forehead. Max had said he had it put there so I wont be turned off that blood was still oozing out of the last IV insertion they made on him. Funny thing is, I never saw blood. Not even before they put the bandage, not when they gave him to me in a bundle. He was clean. He was beautiful. He was at peace.
Zak felt like a bunch of broken bones underneath. So I opened him up and saw he was still intact – thin and small but intact. I started kissing his hands and head alternately, still crying and gasping for breath in between. I saw color literally drain from his extremities the entire hour that we were holding lifeless Zak. His head was a blend of brown and blue, his hands and feet were ghastly white, and the red veins on his tummy turned from red to pink to white. Zak will now be sleeping for a long time.
Yes, he does not feel pain anymore…but selfish as it may seem, papano naman kame?
I loved rubbing the part of his face where the bridge of his nose meets his forehead. Zak feels calm and sleepy with me doing this. He stops crying and gets soothed by it. And I miss doing it now.
In fact, this is something I like doing to my boys – it’s a treat massage for Max when he’s had a long, tiring day; and I begin and end my day doing this to little Kai. I was pleased one day when in the early days of my visiting Zak, I did this to him also and he liked it a lot. See, there’s very little space you can touch on his body and that became our bonding touch ever since.
I can’t imagine how many needles went through Zak’s small frame in the 61 days he stayed in the hospital. I recently had an MRI to check if the tumor they took out of my brain two years ago progressed (yes, laman din si Mommy ng ICU!). They had to put contrast in me to get a clearer picture so they put a needle through one of my veins on my right hand. I’ve had too many needles stuck in me as well since having Kuya Kai that I never minded having them stuck to me left and right. But this one was different. I was concentrating on the exact moment the needle went in, how it went in and the feeling it gave me. There was definite pain and perhaps more painful this time, but my mind was wandering off to how it must be for Zak, when there’s no longer a living vein that they have not put a needle into.
My son is such a super hero. But its time to rest now.
How many times have I heard it? Zak is now no longer in pain, he is in a special place now. His suffering has ended finally and he is in a happy place.
I agree Zak’s purpose has been served. In the short time that he has been in our family, Kai has found a reason to act older and wiser and be more protective. He looked forward to being Kuya so bad, he gave me deadlines as to when I need to bring Zak home…
Mommy, paguwi ko later, Zak will have to be here, ha? Bring him home na. Ang laki na ng babayarin sa hospital…
In the short time that he was with us, he brightened Max’s and my day everytime he bounced back from being so unhealthy. He gave Daddy and I more time and reason to talk to each other, what with the traffic that we have to go through everyday that we shuttle to Sta Mesa and back to Paranaque. I think maybe we’ve done more talking in these 61 days that ever in our entire marriage.
Finally, in the short time that Zak was with me, I have learned to put trust in other people and ultimately in God for things that I have no control over. The brat in me which can’t have her way relied on other’s capabilities. It is a humbling experience to be begging for everything: mercy, blood, even money. I’ve sought healing in more ways than one – healing from past hurt and anger, which included forgiving those who wronged me and vice versa (there’s essence to The Lord’s Prayer which was revealed to me at this time). But Zak’s passing is our family’s ultimate healing – for Zak, who is obedient enough to have obeyed Jesus when He called for him last night…and for Max, Kai and myself, who will have to pick up the pieces henceforth and start re-building our lives.
After Zak, there will no longer be another angel in our family and we don’t want a new one.
Zak, you will always have a big brother…you will always have Mommy…you will always have Daddy…and we will always love you.
I miss you so much Zak. If I can turn back the time and start over, Mommy would have taken care of herself and you much better. They would have to tie me up before I let them open me up so early. I would have not agreed to get you out of NICU where better care is assured. There are so many things that I would do over. But the love I have for you will always be overflowing and I will remember you in your last days, when you are able to lift your IV-free hand and arms to wave at Mommy.
I have a big void in my heart for you, baby. Funny how its such a big void that can only be filled up by someone as small as you.
Sleep tight now, Zaki-boo. You’re now home.
I love you bunso…
All I have is a picture in my mind how it would be if we were together
Lets pretend that your far away lets say you write to me
And you promise in your letter that you’ll come home..
Come home to my heart..
When you come home we’ll never be apart
If I keep dreaming of you start believing its true
Soon you’ll come home..
Soon you’ll come home..
Soon you’ll come home to my heart..
Soon you’ll come home..home to my heart
Soon you’ll come home..home to my heart
If I believe