My son Archer started kindergarten on Wednesday.
Five years ago at this time he was still in a neonatal intensive care unit in Lincoln.
There were several other infants in the ward but I took note of one in particular for a few reasons. I remember his name but won’t put it here except to say that he had the same surname as Archer. He was also born more prematurely and at a lower birth weight than Archer, which is saying something.
He was born at one pound, three ounces. At one pound, six ounces, Archer was only the second smallest baby named Schwartz in the St. Elizabeth NICU in May 2011.
When I’d step out of Archer’s room I could hear the same nightmarish racket coming out of the other boy’s room. The near-constant alarms that he’d stopped breathing, again; the familiar sight of nurses rushing into the room.
It happened dozens of times a day in Archer’s room and it was no different for the other boy. It’s terrifying until it happens so often that it becomes routine. Oh, my baby is dying again. It’s been nearly 20 minutes since the last time. That was a nice run.
I never got a good look at the other boy, just glimpses through a window into his incubator. A child that premature is mostly a very small bundle of tubes and wires anyway.
I spoke with this other boy’s mother a few times. I remember her talking a lot about how he wasn’t gaining weight (Archer wasn’t either). My wife Amanda knew her a bit better than I did, as they were both staying long-term in Lincoln. Enough time has passed that I’m not sure I correctly remember where they were from. Some small town in Nebraska.
One weekend I came down to see Archer and the other baby was gone, the mother was gone. Obviously no one at the hospital could tell us anything due to privacy laws. I mean, I know what happened. They almost certainly didn’t send a one pound baby home or to another hospital. But I guess I can't say for sure.
I bring this up mainly as an exercise in maintaining the proper perspective.
It hasn’t been easy for us. I dare say we’ve had it worse than most. September will (hopefully) mark two years since the last time Archer ended up in the hospital. Amanda and her mother discovered him unresponsive with an extremely high fever on a night when I’d gone to North Platte to watch the Nebraska-FresnoState game with friends. I drove back to Lexington not knowing what was going on because no one was answering my texts; they were all in the emergency room.
Archer stayed in the hospital for most of a week. His fever finally broke after they gave him a sponge bath and let him air dry in the middle of the night. I've thankfully forgotten the exact sound of the alarms at St. E's but if I live to be 100 I will never forget the sound of Archer's screams, or the sight of him shivering so hard it was more like convulsions that night after the sponge bath. We couldn't hold him or even give him a blanket. He was three-years-old.
It was the most heartbreaking thing I've ever experienced.
Maybe the sponge bath worked, maybe after four days the fever finally ran its course (that's a pretty familiar timeline for us), but whatever the reason the next day and night Archer's temp stayed down and the day after that we took him home.
They never did figure out what exactly the cause was. They never do. It was speculated it was an ear infection and they billed us as if they’d cured cancer.
Before that and since, we experience what seems like a perpetual cycle of fevers from fall through spring. We fight like the damned devil to keep his temperature down and keep him out of the hospital.
But I am grateful, because we are all still here.
Even if we’ve had it worse than most, there are many people who walked the same path. There are many who carried far heavier crosses and suffered loss that I can’t even imagine. There are many who are going through these things as I write this.
In the balance of everything, we are fortunate.
Which brings me back to the other boy.
I’ve done some Googling over the years, trying to find an obituary or memorial or miracle baby story or preschool photos; anything that would prove his existence. I’ve never found anything but a meteorite that flashed across the sky; remembered only by those who were in the correct time and place to bear witness.
But I do remember you, little boy. I remember how your mom looked when she talked about you.
I think about you now and again, mostly on milestones like birthdays and holidays.
Or the first day of school.
Ultimately, I believe every day we all have together is a little victory unto itself, and the collection of those little victories is worthy of celebration. Not just on milestones, though those are surely important as well.
All your kids are beautiful and smart, and it is my sincere wish that everyone have a great school year.
Let us not allow any moment to pass without appreciation.