Saturday, 7 February 2009

Grieving a Loss, Celebrating a Life

Our 14 year old foster son Na’il had been suffering from the flu, and when I visited the paediatrician that Tuesday afternoon, February 3, 2009, at 3.30 p.m. she checked him and didn’t see anything suspicious, except for the usual flu symptoms of a high fever.
Around 9.30 p.m. I noticed his breathing became laboured, and his belly was huge and felt like a stone. Something was wrong.
During the drive to the hospital he sat up in his stroller and I think he realized we were going to his favourite place, but he was too busy trying to breathe. After dropping us off at the hospital Wim returned home, because we couldn’t leave Nadia alone.

At the First Aid of the Hadassah hospital in Ein Kerem we soon were directed to an intensive care corner were his health quickly deteriorated. I entered a living nightmare.
While trying to insert a tube into his stomach, Na’il stopped breathing. The anaesthesiologist intubated him and put him on a respirator, while several nurses and 2 doctors tried to stabilize him. Many sick children had to be admitted, and they had to ask for additional staff from the adult department to help out on the children’s First Aid department.

Nobody knew for sure what was causing this deterioration except that his belly was full of air. Normally, parents are not allowed to stay near when medical staff works on the child, but because they knew I was a nurse, I was able to stay with him and be ‘part of the team’.
In order to have a C.T. made, they first had to stabilize his blood pressure, which was almost impossible to measure. I saw the colour of his legs and in my heart knew we were fighting a lost battle.

The C.T. showed that all the major organs were surrounded by air, which also closed off the blood circulation to his kidneys and legs. Still, nobody knew what caused the air in his abdomen, for there were no signs of a perforation.

Na’il’s biological father, Chassan, arrived at the same time as the paediatric surgeon, who drove especially to the hospital in the middle of the night. One look at the little boy and the surgeon sadly shook his head. He told us Na’il was going to die, but there might be a chance of 1% that an operation could bring relief. However, he warned us Na’il might die during the operation.
Chassan wanted to take that 1% chance of a miracle, but I knew in my heart it was already too late for our Na’il.

Wednesday morning at 4 a.m. he went into Theatre, while Chassan and I anxiously waited in the empty waiting room near the Operating rooms for the world to wake up.
6 a.m. An exhausted surgeon told us that he had not been able to do anything to help Na’il. The necrosis of his small intestine, probably caused by a blood-clot, had caused the air in his belly. For an hour the surgeon had tried to close the wound, without success – the swollen mass could not be put back into the belly. Na’il had survived the operation, but we had to wait and see if he would be stable enough to be transferred to the ICCU of the children’s ward.
The hospital woke up, the morning shifts began to arrive, and we waited for news about our precious Na’il.

Wim arrived at 8 a.m. with the news that Na’il already had been transferred to the children’s ward. With the changing of the shifts they had forgotten us in the waiting room.
Paediatric surgery on the 4th floor of the children’s wing always had been Na’il’s most favourite place. He had been there during several operations, and now he was back, without realizing it.
Chassan, Wim and I were ushered into a room, where two doctors, a social worker, the head nurse and two other staff patiently permitted us to ask questions, listen to our stories, and prepared us for having to say good-bye to a dying boy.

Hooked up to even more wires, tubes and drains, Na’il’s face had already the colour of death. His blood pressure was almost gone, his pulse very low. Two of Chassan’s brothers cried at Na’il’s bedside, while I sat next to him, stroking his face, his short cropped hair, kissing his already cold forehead, his closed eyes, his beautiful formed ear that never heard, trying to imprint all his beloved features before it was no longer possible.

9.30 a.m. The doctor and a nurse approached the monitor near the bed and said: “Time of death: 9.30”, and turned off the ventilator. Due to that machine we even had not realised he had been gone from us.
Our beloved Na’il’s soul had gone to heaven, welcomed in the waiting arms of our Heavenly Father. Now he was free from his broken body, which he had left behind in the bed. We tried to picture him running and laughing and talking! And then looked at the white, still figure in the bed and cried. It was such a privilege for me to be able to help the nurse wash and clean our little boy, one last time. And then, after one last kiss, the body bag was closed, and I was never able to kiss and hug or look after our 17 kilo, precious little boy any more.
He had died in his most favourite ward!

Chassan had to make all the funeral arrangements, which was quite a hassle. In Israel, both Jews and Muslims bury their dead within 24 hours. Chassan had to get a special permit from the Ministry of Health to take the body to the Mosque on the Temple Mount. Women are not allowed during Muslim funerals, and because Chassan couldn’t say what time it would be, and Wim would never be able to find the place in the Old City of Jerusalem, we decided to let it be.

12.00 noon we arrived home exhausted, with a stroller, bags, and no child.
Fahima already knew and planned to come home as soon as possible, Nadia we had to tell when she arrived home from work. The social worker from the Fostering Agency arrived and gave us comfort and practical help, and e-mails from all over the world began to pour in, in response to Wim’s news and updates. Our neighbour doctor left his medical practice for an hour to comfort us in our grief.

Even though we’re not Jewish, we decided to have a 7 day mourning period, the so-called “Shiva”, which starts after the funeral.
At 4 p.m. Chassan called us that Na’il was buried in the family grave behind the Temple Mount, opposite the Mount of Olives. It’s in an area near the Golden Gate, where one day, Messiah will enter!

Today, Shabbat, is the 4th day of the Shiva. Many people already have come to visit us, to share our grief. We expect many more visitors in the days ahead. It’s such a blessing and comfort to know how much our little boy was loved by those who knew and worked with him. And what a blessing and example his life was for so many people!

For now, we are still struggling as we try to deal with the sudden and unexpected loss. The precious memories and the love of so many sustain us, also the knowledge he’s in the best place ~ heaven!

The picture at the top was taken exactly one week ago, last Shabbat. Na’il loved the print-out and had been tapping enthusiastically with his big toe on my face. (He couldn’t use his arms, due to his contractures). The glorious smile that lit up his face was such a joy to behold. I will treasure that memory forever!