God’s Fingerprints On The Hardest Days
“You need to leave from here and go directly to the hospital. He needs to be admitted tonight, and he will need surgery.”
There is so much I don’t remember about this moment. Was my 8-year-old son Andrew in the room with us when the orthopedist said these words to me? He must have been, but I don’t remember him there. It felt like the words were being spoken in a dream. In someone else’s story, but not ours.
What I most remember was the pressing realization that I needed to be strong for my child. I needed to break the news to him that he wasn’t going home that night. He was going to the hospital, he was going to need surgery, and I didn’t know when life would be back to normal. I didn’t feel strong enough to do this myself, so my heart cried out to the Holy Spirit.
“Letting go and letting God” has been a lifelong struggle for me, punctuated by times when I had no other choice but to let God be in control: dealing with infertility, seeing unexpected twins on my 20-week ultrasound, a cancer diagnosis for my mother. And here we were again, with another unexpected turn.
Andrew had complained of knee pain on a Friday, and two days later he couldn’t walk. A trip to urgent care revealed he had elevated white blood cell counts and abnormal x-rays. He had a panic attack that night from the pain, and my husband had to carry him to and from the bathroom. I finally got him to fall asleep in bed with me, and we waited for more news in the morning.
His pediatrician identified a mass on the x-rays. He felt it was unlikely to be cancerous, but given Andrew’s elevated white cell count and amount of pain, he pulled some strings to get us into an orthopedist’s office that evening. I drove Andrew there prepared for an MRI and next steps. I was not prepared for the doctor to look at his x-rays, examine him, and then give us the directive to immediately proceed to the local children’s hospital.
“It’s not cancer,” he told me. “But it’s most likely a fast-spreading staph infection, and time is of the essence.”
Andrew was scared. So was I. My hands were shaking as I navigated my car downtown in search of the hospital parking garage. I called my boss and got his support to cancel everything on my calendar that week. My husband arranged to have a friend deliver an overnight bag.
When we arrived, Andrew had an IV placed, a Covid test, an MRI, and we waited for a room. We were finally admitted around midnight, after six hours in the emergency room. The orthopedist woke me up at 7 a.m. to tell me he’d reviewed the MRI and Andrew would be having surgery that day. It was December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
I scrambled to find a priest to administer the Anointing of the Sick prior to surgery. My mom had always encouraged us to seek out this sacrament prior to surgeries and childbirth, and I held my breath until a priest was able to come that afternoon. It brought me tremendous comfort that Andrew was anointed. In this uncertain time I could rest assured that his soul was in good hands. Surgery kept getting delayed by other emergency needs in the hospital, and his leg kept getting worse while we waited.
He was finally brought down for surgery around 10 p.m. Leaving him with the surgical team was unbearable. I had to trust people I barely knew with the life of my child. He was understandably afraid. So was I, but I couldn’t let that feeling get any air. I wolfed down the lunch that my husband had brought me hours earlier. I tidied up his hospital room. I prayed a Rosary and a Divine Mercy Chaplet. There was no other choice but to surrender my trust to God. I’m not sure if that made it easier or harder.
Surgery revealed my son had infections in both his knee and calf. Days later, blood work would show his infection was caused by Lyme disease.
It was excruciating to watch Andrew wake up from anesthesia. He was confused, in pain, and beyond upset. He didn’t understand where he was or what was happening. He didn’t want me to touch him, and he was clearly out of patience for being hooked up with wires. I knew I was being called upon to be even stronger for him, but I had reached my limit.
I tried to hold myself together, but tears began sliding down my cheeks as he drifted back off to sleep. I hated that my child had to go through this painful procedure, and I hated that I had to help him navigate this frightening time without my husband who needed to be home with our other children.
“It’s been such a whirlwind that I haven’t had time to really process anything,” I wrote to some friends. “I finally cried because it is so hard to see your kid in pain and confused, and it hit me how fast so much had changed.”
His little body, the one that I painstakingly grew and nurtured through a twin pregnancy and beyond, would never be the same again. His lower leg would be covered in long, ugly scars. It was unknown whether he would need physical therapy, or whether he was at risk of further infection. The reality of the physical changes brought about my lowest moment, when my carefully stacked house of emotional cards came tumbling down. I was humbled to be so utterly out of control, to be so dependent on my faith to hold me up and show me the path forward. There was no choice but to surrender to God’s will.
A gift of that surrender was the prolonged and focused time I was able to spend with Andrew for the first time in his life. As the parents of twins, my husband and I made every effort to spend individual time with each child when possible, but those opportunities were hard to come by. With nearly a full week together in the hospital, I embraced this opportunity.
Andrew and I worked our way through the hospital’s dessert menu, ordering two with each meal and splitting them. We had his favorite foods delivered via DoorDash. I laid in bed with him working on embroidery projects while he played Xbox. I grew more attuned to his feelings and limits. I got to know him better.
I was left awed by his strength in adversity, by his willingness to accept change and uncertainty. It’s not often you get to put your entire life on hold in order to care intensely for one child, and I look back on this time so fondly, even though it is also thick with trauma.
While it is extremely painful to revisit, there is also a joy in reliving this experience. A relief that, despite the circumstances, Andrew has no long term effects from Lyme disease due to his youth and prompt treatment. I’m so grateful that his case was handled with such speed and care by his medical team. More than anything, our time together in the hospital was an unparalleled chance for trust and connection, and I see God’s fingerprints all over it.
Shauna’h Fuegen is a cradle Catholic, Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) woman, wife, and working mother of three young boys. She guides Catholic women through making time and space for God, even in the busiest of seasons. You can find her at Fiat Sanctum writing about prayer routines, everyday holiness, and life as a Secular Franciscan. Follow along with Shauna’h on Instagram @fiatsanctum.
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