Mikey - A Personal Essay
Mikey - A personal Essay
I remember the day he was born incredibly clearly. As soon as I saw him, Mikey, I
cried without even realizing it. Tears of immense love and relief flowed out in
streams when I saw him out, moving, and healthy. It was overwhelming. All the
fears of labor and every article my wife slid across the table into my lap,
possible health problems, and precautions we should take melted away. Here he
was. He was perfect.
I had been picturing him for nine months, but he didn’t look like I expected.
He was purple, screaming and I immediately fiercely loved him. As he made those
first high pitched wails, his body took air into his lungs for the first time.
His skin warmed as the tube in his belly button was severed. The doctor held it
like some plastic straw and handed me a pair of scissors. In a daze, I cut it.
The blue tones in his skin faded and a smooth and clean pink took its place.
I nearly punched a nurse for taking him from me to put him on the scales. He
was big! He was almost ten pounds and twenty six inches long. I didn’t want
anyone else to touch him. I had to remind myself several times I was not an
animal, but a reasonable human being and these were trained nurses around me. I
instinctively wanted to show my fangs and flex my muscles at anyone reaching
for him besides my family.
They covered up my wife with a blanket and put him in her arms. My dad stepped
out from behind the curtain and he looked at me with this deep knowing gaze. He
didn’t say a word, but his eyes, they said, “Now you know how much we loved you
all your life.” I never knew anyone could love that much until right then. I
immediately thought of all the wrong I’d done to my parents and I hugged my
dad. I think he forgave me.
Four years of very little sleep and a stressful job went by. I weighed forty
pounds heavier and had even less hair. Mikey’s fourth birthday was coming and
he’d had a fever for about a week. Several trips to the doctor had been
fruitless. The fever just wouldn’t break and they said they couldn’t find
anything wrong with him.
“Children get fevers you know.” They said. Saturday came and my wife decided to
take him to urgent care. They drew his blood and sent them home. An hour later
our house phone rang and my wife picked up the receiver, ready to tell a
telemarketer where they could stick it. But, it wasn’t a telemarketer, it was
“Pack a bag and go to pediatrics emergency right now.” The doctor said. “Plan
to stay overnight. We can’t be certain, but it could be Leukemia.” I was in the
kitchen and couldn’t hear what the doctor was saying, but I didn’t need to. My
wife’s body shook in quiet sobs and the tears ran down her face. When she hung
up the phone, she walked to Mikey and hugged him while she discreetly cried.
Her whole body shook and I ran across the room. “What happened?” I asked. “What
did they say?” But I didn’t need to hear the words.
It can’t be true. No. No. No No. Not my baby. The words in my mind repeated,
over and over. Mikey gazed at us. In his fevered state, not sure what was going
“Pack a bag for us. The doctor said it looks like Leukemia.” She managed to say
I ran up the stairs in shock. Not able to understand. My mind spun and I looked
around myself. The house, the job, the sun itself, the whole damned world,
nothing meant a damn to me. Nothing mattered except my son. In that moment, I
would have sold my soul, a hundred thousand stranger’s souls to know my son
would be ok. There was no one to make any deals with just a bag to pack, so
that’s what I did. I remember going to use the restroom when the bag was
stuffed with our clothes and I looked at my face in the mirror. While I
cried, I repeated, “This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening” and I
pushed my palms as hard as I could into my eyes. When I could see again, the
same world, the same pain was laid out before me. I couldn’t escape.
I sat in the passenger’s seat during the ride, stretched across the middle
console to hold my son’s hand. My wife navigated the weekend traffic to
Sacramento. We found a parking garage and the first open spot was on the fourth
floor. It was a trek across several wide and threatening one way streets before
we could wander into a packed emergency room. It was like when Mikey was new
again. He wasn’t my tough little guy anymore. He was an infant again, a
vulnerable thing and I was an animal, sharp teeth and muscles, ready to kill
anything that threatened him. I found the front desk and tried to speak without
showing to much of the storm that raged inside.
“They sent us here and said it was an emergency. They said it looks like
Leukemia.” I said, my voice barely even.
“Oh, no.” Said the nurse calmly. She had real concern in her tired eyes. “One
moment.” She said.
They took us to a room with jungle wall paper. Mikey sat happily on the bed
with a sucker. He had no idea anything was wrong. “Whats wrong with daddy?” He
asked his mom.
“Nothing sweety. Everything is fine.” She whispered, her warm face a mask over
the hurricane that wailed inside her. My mask was much thinner, less
convincing, or mostly non existent. A nurse pulled me out of the room and
talked to me to give me strength.
After a team of nurses held my son down, they finally were able to draw more
blood from his little arm. His iron was so low, he nearly needed a blood
transfusion. We were prescribed an iron supplement that read, “Overdoses of
this medicine can be fatal.”
Months go by without any certain answers and every night my wife and I fall
asleep with him between us. Each of our hands grasped his little ones as he
snoozed and we cried and prayed. I couldn’t help but notice the circles under
his eyes and how his skin seemed to look paler than I remembered. He looked
sick. We administered the iron supplement and took him to traumatizing sessions
of blood being drawn. He developed night terrors and screamed half-awake in the
night about needles. But, his blood, the tests showed improvement.
We were sent to a child blood cancer doctor. A specialist they called him. The
best in the area they all said. A small kind looking man opened the door and
smiled at us.
“Hi Mikey, how are you doing today?” He asked. My son’s skin was warmer and
pinker than it had looked a few months before. “I know
what you two are going through and I am happy to tell you that it appears that
this was all due to anemia. His red cells are no longer mutated and white
counts are looking good. You won’t need to come see me again. Finish out your
iron supplements and make sure he eats plenty of meat with every meal. Continue
to get his blood work every six months just in case. But, I wish you a good
day.” He closed the door and walked out of the office.
And just like that all our prayers were answered. Even the crowded and dirty
streets of Sacramento had a pure and brilliant shine. The air was rick and
creamy with rain and the scent of grass and even my wife’s cigarette, the one
she smoked through a smile like I hadn’t seen from her in months, smelled good.
In a few months, Mikey will see his fifth birthday. He is strong and smart and
most importantly, healthy. In the movies and in the stories, they don’t show
you the daily grind, the moments that aren’t life and death or filled with well
scripted conversations. In real life with an excitable four year old boy, there
are arguments, frustration, happiness and play. Sometimes, on the really tough
days, I have to remind myself what happened and think about the pain of not
knowing how much time I might have with him. I remind myself just how lucky I
am and how much I love him.
I know that he, just like the little boy I used to be, will drive his parents
to the brink of madness sometimes. I will earn the deep knowing look, just as
my father did, just as my father still has sometimes when I see him. Years from
now, when I walk into the delivery room and Mikey’s wife is holding their child
he will look at me. In that moment he will know how much someone can love and
understand how much I meant it, every time I told him I loved him.