The yuletide switch got turned on again. Happens every year, and if it wasn’t for that switch, I might be glowing all year, because there would be nothing to interrupt the flow of electrons swimming in my atoms. But this year it’s like the Fates have installed a million watt bulb.
So, the switch got turned on. And I remember when it happened. It was the moment just before Tommy Deadwyler started pulling all of those smoked turkeys apart for the Thanksgiving feast in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Scottish Rite.
My son Joey was completing his second week in the hospital, and was coming out of the drug induced stupor that was helping his body heal from effects of an the all-out assault by a mysterious infection, effects that included a life-threatening bout with pneumonia. The day before Thanksgiving was a graduation of sorts as the tube that had been helping Joey breathe was removed, allowing his recovering lungs to do the work on their own.
What followed was several days of methadone, a pain reliever and detox agent to help bring him down from the extended doses of morphine and other drugs that were keeping him subdued and essentially comatose.
But, by Thanksgiving, he was back; partly back, back enough for him to open his eyes, to smile, to turn the switch on. And what light. Have you ever been spelunking? Caving? It’s the darkest dark you’ll ever experience. Jane and I went a few times, years ago. Burrowed down into the opaque underworld through an innocuous hole in the woods. At one point, maybe a half mile into the cave, our guide asked us to turn off our helmet lights. Everyone did. He said, “see how long it takes your eyes to adjust.” They didn’t adjust. There was no seeing through the universal dark. And that’s what the weeks just before Thanksgiving felt like.
Then he was back, and the switch flipped, and my eyes are still adjusting to the light. It absolutely made for a great Thanksgiving, in every sense of the word and the holiday. Adding to the inner neon tapestry that day was the arrival of our amazing and loving friends, Tommy Deadwyler and Terri Edgar, who decided that they would like to spend their Thanksgiving holiday with Joey and us on the third floor of the hospital. About the second they arrived, we got the word that Joey was leaving the PICU. He was strong enough to move to a regular room, to begin a two-week run of recovery that finally led us back home.
While Tommy and I were standing there near Joey’s bed, and the nurses and technicians were doing the careful work of disassembling the pinging (and now uneccessary) equipment that had been keeping my son alive, when one of the floor’s veteran nurses came into the room and pointed at me and said, “I need you. We’ve got 12 turkeys that need to be carved for the family Thanksgiving dinner.”
So I pointed to Tommy and said, “he’s your man.”
This is a hospital, though, and not a kitchen, so we didn’t have adequate cutlery. So I spent the next hour pulling smoked turkeys from a gigantic cooler, placing them in front of my best friend, and watching as he pulled them apart with his hands, deftly segregating the white and dark meet, the drumsticks and the wings. We filled at least half a dozen platters for our floor, then followed our boss nurse lady through a maze of hallways to deliver trays of turkey to another family feast taking shape in the rehab unit half a hospital away.
Tommy also says it was the best Thanksgiving he’d ever had, and it occurred to us both that maybe there were better ways to spend that food-centric holiday then we’d previously thought. Giving thanks, and then just giving.
And now it’s Christmas, it’s the Yule, it’s the next chapter in the Fall-Winter holiday season, and we’ve been home from the hospital for three weeks. Our community has helped settle us back into the Sautee Nacoochee day-to-day. They arrived en masse a couple of days after we got home, bringing a Christmas tree and their loving voices, caroling us in the front yard, keeping the switch solidly in the on position.
The best holiday gift is sitting on the couch now, next to his mother, watching The Christmas Story. My mother is sitting nearby. Incredible smells are coming from the kitchen, the tree is lit, Darren McGavin is speaking in nonsensical curses, and my boy, who almost left the world a month or so ago, is here and healthy, my daily reminder, when I’m paying attention, of how precious the precious things are.
Yes, my heart and mind are in no small amount of agony for friends, family and strangers who are not as fortunate as I am; for an old high school friend who just lost his beautiful daughter; for the people in Newtown (and everywhere) facing such unimaginable, sudden losses; for the man with no feet who was panhandling in Helen, who my wife tried to help a few days ago (she tried to find him again yesterday, but he was gone). There is plenty of agony to go around, all of it worth our sincerest healing efforts, whatever that might be.
But ultimately, in this second, I’m feeling the glow, and for that I can feel no guilt or remorse — just very lucky. It’s good to have a home, and it’s really good to be there. I’m going to endeavor to keep the switch on a bit longer than usual.