I honestly can’t believe it.
It’s been one whole year since Merrick’s skull was hacked to pieces, and we’ve managed not to knock/bump/bang/jab/stab his exposed brain since then.
Don’t get me wrong–Merrick is a wild man. His forehead’s taken a beating; his nose has cushioned many a fall. But the rest of his perfect little head is not our doing–only by the grace of God has he survived in our house, on our tile floors, around our sharp corners, our pushy dogs, and my clumsiness. Without a helmet. Or a padded cage.
2008 was super-eventful for our family. Looking back, I know there were worse things that could’ve happened. I have friends who have gone through so much more with their own sweet babies. But at that point, I felt like life was bitch-slapping us left and right. Our old golden retriever died. Caleb got laid off one month before Merrick was due, and then, of course, Merrick came–and then, there was something off with his head. Our pediatrician noticed it only a few hours after his birth–“Hmm. We’ll just keep an eye on that head shape”–but I blew it off, thinking that the good doctor must’ve been smoking crack since the kid was still crunched from, oh, BEING BORN.
Note: turns out, doctors sometimes know what they’re talking about.
When we first found out Merrick had craniosynostosis, my family was visiting–and thank God for that, too. Although we waited for the results of x-rays and ultrasounds and CAT scans to come back before we let ourselves believe it, Caleb and I suspected. Every night I’d sit and rock him and stroke his hair, and I’d run my fingers over and over the little bumpy ridgeline that ran right down the middle of his head. I’d look at his forehead as I fed him and I’d notice how it protruded so much more than the girls’ had, and I knew. But it was still a blow.
Craniosynostosis is a big word for a woman with 1 newborn, 2 other kids, 3 dogs, and a husband who’d just been laid off. It’s not something I could easily wrap my head around (Get it? Head? As in skull? Head–you know, because…um, nevermind.) Merrick’s skull was closed. Where a normal infant would have a nice soft spot, Merrick had none. And as his brain grew, the parts of his skull that were open would be pushed in all kinds of wrong directions, and his head shape took on the look of an…I don’t even know what. Maybe a hammer, or a boat. It was long. He looked angry all the time. There had to have been a great deal of pressure on his brain, because he threw up constantly–literally, constantly. I was either feeding him or changing his clothes, or my clothes. My parents, my friends, specialists, doctors, nurses–they all said he’d be fine, that we’d get through the appointments and the tests and the surgery, and within a year’s time, it would seem like a dream. But I felt like the world was coming to an end.
I’d never had to worry about anything so serious in my life. I’d never had to make the really tough decisions–although, in this case, there was no decision to make. Merrick had to have surgery. There was no question.
At 4 months old, on a Wednesday morning in late September, Merrick had his craniosynostosis surgery at OU Children’s Hospital. Despite needing a blood transfusion in recovery (and despite getting Caleb’s jacked-up blood) he came through it extremely well. It was so hard to see him all bandaged and wired up…and bruised and swollen. It was hard seeing him lying in a hospital bed, period, and knowing that I couldn’t pick him up, even if he cried. Every little beep from the machines he was hooked up to freaked me out, every squirm he made had me calling for a nurse.
And yet, as terrible as I thought he looked, he was far from helpless. He was stronger than I was. “Pain? What pain? I’m just pissed because you won’t take this stupid velcro bootie off my foot. What the hell, Mom?”
We were outta there by Friday afternoon.
Things since then have gone great. Merrick was a trooper, I tell you. The biggest complication we had in the weeks after sugery? An ear-infection, brought on by a runny nose which came with the cold he must’ve picked up in the uber-sanitary place that is the hospital. Once he was over that, we tore up the town. I got some dirty looks just about everywhere I went with him–that scar was gruesome, and while the stitches were in, there was to be no covering it. A few people would ask questions–I’m sure most people thought we had either dropped him accidentally or beat him on purpose. Ah, good times.
You’d never know just by looking at him today that in his very young life, Merrick was as courageous–well, mostly oblivious, but I like to think he was courageous–as he was. He’s got a gorgeous (perfectly shaped) head of silky blond hair, a smooth forehead, and, most of the time, a happy, happy look on his face. He walked at 9 months. He’s running, climbing, talking, laughing, and getting into everything he’s not supposed to. Children in general can change your life, and that’s been true of all mine–but Merrick in particular has taught me–and my husband–more about strength and gratitude than we ever imagined possible.