It’s the morning of day twenty-two post-op. That means that twenty-two days ago, sometime in the predawn darkness of Sunday, the doctors came into the overly bright waiting room to tell your mother and me that the surgery had been "a battle" but had ultimately gone well. You had a new liver.
Since then you’ve healed, grown sicker, had tubes removed from and added to your body, a million sensors stuck to your little arms and torso—a rainbow spaghetti of wires.
Twenty-two days and still you lie in the pediatric intensive care unit as the doctors chase some phantom infection that’s attacking your body. Virus? Bacteria? They can’t say for sure.
They patiently watch the white blood cell counts rise and fall, the occasional fevers spike and diminish, your respiration grow labored and then calm, the fluctuating fluid levels in your chest cavity. A constant pattern of getting better, then worse, then better. They wait and watch, biding their time until the culprit reveals itself.
The doctors like to tell me that this will all be a bad memory someday. They say that when you’re three and running around and tearing up our apartment this time will seem like a dream. They say that when you and I have our first beer together I’ll tell you all about this and it will seem to you as if it had happened to some other person, some stranger.
I’m telling you this because it’s true—you won’t remember any of what’s happening. Not the viral swabs, the intubation procedures, the catheters, the feeding tubes. None of it.
I actually looked this up because I’d hoped this was the case. I didn’t want you to have to carry this trauma all your life.
It turns out you won’t have your first “autobiographical memory” until age two or three, and even then your brain’s storage and processing capacity will be so weak that much of your first memories will ultimately be lost—a biological mercy.
You won’t remember these long days, your tiny body propped up in this massive bed.
You won’t remember the nurses saying how jealous they are of your long, beautiful eyelashes.
You won’t remember the respiratory therapist who looked sort of like Adrock and who listened to your chest and declared, “There’s animals in there.” And, after a moment of consideration, his clarification: “Rhinoceroses.”
You won’t remember squeezing my finger as the nurses changed your dressings.
You won’t remember me reading you Harold and the Purple Crayon.
Your mother and I will remember these and many other things for you. We’ll show you the photos we took. We’ll tell you about the long weeks, alternating nights in the hospital, the late-night alarms, the exhaustion. Maybe we’ll dress it up, make it sound funnier than it actually was. Maybe we’ll tease you about all the sacrifices we made for you.
And I imagine you’ll try to listen, try to sympathize, try to connect the baby in the photos and the stories about him to yourself. But I suspect that it will all seem to you like another, distant life. The life of a complete stranger. And, if I’m right, I’ll be so, so thankful.