A Million Times Over
By Michelle Finn
I have known love forever. First with Randy Toothmen in second grade. I showed him love by calling him cavity creep and running away. Second with Brett Berry in sixth grade. I would call him on the phone and giggle, but I never had the courage to talk to him at school. Third with Dalton Britner in high school. I believed him to be my greatest love. We dated through high school and into college; a lifetime at that age. After Dalton there were many other loves that I thought I could never live without.
It wasn’t until 2002 that I discovered the true meaning and feeling of real love. I was in the operating room undergoing an emergency C-section, waiting for the doctor to hold up my new baby, and announce it’s a boy. What I actually heard was “he’s not breathing.” In that moment my entire world cracked. It seemed like hours before I heard him make a sound. Though in reality it was less than two minutes. The nurse finally brought him to me. He was already swaddled in a blanket with a hospital cap on. If Stefanie Meyer would have written Twilight already I would have named him Edward. He had pale skin, black eyes, and was beautiful perfection. Actually I call him bug. It just slipped out one day and it stuck. His real name is Josh.
Josh was finally released from the hospital nursery at three days old. I noticed something odd when I finally had him to myself. He would shake and afterward pass out. I questioned my doctor, his doctor, and probably the entire nursing staff who all replied “It is normal.” Over the next three weeks the shaking turned to convulsions and after he would be unconscious for hours. Josh’s doctor still tried to convince me this was normal infant behavior. I decided to take my beautiful boy to the emergency room. As we pulled up the convulsions started again. His father dropped us at the front door while I ran frantically into the ER shouting “My three week old is having a seizure.” What I thought was my greatest fear was soon confirmed. Indeed, my three week old son was having a seizure.
Hours later we were being air lifted to a hospital in Baltimore. The seizures continued and my fears escalated. The doctor told me to hope for the MRI and genetic testing to come back normal; they were the only two tests that I had to fear. The tests all started to come back negative, negative, and negative. This was a good sign. The MRI however did not come back the way I had expected. My beautiful boy had brain damage.
Josh was released from the hospital a week later. I was to give him Phenobarbital twice a day to stop the seizures. My heart broke for my boy. I hated to give him such a strong medicine, but I hated the seizures more. One week after we came home I received a call from the geneticist office telling me the results of his tests had finally come in. The nurse, Carmilla wouldn’t give me any information over the phone, but wanted to see my husband and me the next day. I pleaded with her to tell me something. Her response was “He should live a normal lifespan. His hearing and vision should be okay,” “ But what does that mean?” I asked. She responded “ We will see you tomorrow,”
I was sick to my stomach as I packed the diaper bag for our almost two hour journey to Baltimore. The only thing that I believed was after this appointment our lives would never be the same. The nurse ushered us into the examining room, and the doctor followed. Carmilla weighed Josh and measured almost every part of his body, while the doctor took pictures. My husband and I sat in confused shock wondering what was happening. I finally turned to the doctor and said “ What is wrong with him?” He pulled out a black and white drawing of a chromosome with the top of the drawing highlighted yellow. I suddenly wished I had paid more attention to college biology. Pointing to the highlighted area he said “ Your son is missing this. He has what is called 1p36 deletion syndrome.” “What does that mean?” I asked. His response “He has severe mental retardation. He will never know you. He will never be able to do anything for himself. You had a better chance of being struck by lightning twice than having a child with this disability.” I held my precious son tighter and adamantly disagreed: Josh already knew me. I believed he was disabled, but I did not believe he would never understand or not be capable of anything. The doctor did not join in my optimism.
The first year with Josh went by like a whirlwind. We had what seemed like nonstop doctors’ appointments and therapy sessions. When Josh was only two months old he was already involved in physical, occupational, cognitive, and speech therapies for ten hours every week. He also had eleven doctors. I had to quit my job, which left us with only one income. As Josh got a little older we realized our area did not provide most of the services that he would need, so we sold our home and moved to Pennsylvania. Josh had a wonderful teacher for preschool, but no therapy center would take him. I had a friend in South Florida who had a daughter with 1p36, and she was doing remarkably well. Her therapy center offered an intensive therapy program; something insurance would not cover. I decided to have a fundraiser and raised twenty-five thousand dollars and Josh and I headed to Florida for two months. After preschool we sold our second home and moved to Florida. We lived there for two years but unfortunately could not afford to stay. My husband and I separated and the three of us moved to North Carolina. He lives only a few miles from us and visits Josh almost every day. Most of the programs that were in North Carolina have dissolved, and again we are left without the proper help. We are now facing our fourth move in nine years. If it were not for our families and Josh’s father I am not sure how we would survive.
If you remember we were told Josh would never be able to do anything on his own. That doctor ended up eating his own words. Two years after Josh’s diagnosis we went back to that geneticist who was completely surprised by Josh’s progress, and apologized for saying Josh could never learn. I should have played the lottery that day. It is not often you hear a doctor admit when they are wrong.
Now let me tell you why I have sacrificed everything for my boy. Josh is an absolute love bug. He is constantly showering me with hugs and kisses. He scoots around our home and plays with toys that indeed he can activate himself. He is almost independent with his walker. He uses some sign language, and is starting to master a communication device. He is the funniest child I have ever known. In typical boy fashion he loves anything gross, noisy, and smelly. He has the most contagious laugh, and is constantly trying to get others to laugh with him. When he is mad he will yell Ma. It always seems to be my fault. He will ignore people who have been mean to him and scoot over to play with those who have been nice to him. I always say you can tell if a person has a good heart by Josh’s reaction to them, and his instincts have never been wrong. He is feisty and stubborn. Josh is the smartest, bravest, ,strongest, most beautiful boy I have ever known. No matter the sacrifice I would take him as is a million times over. He is truly my greatest love.