Landing In Afghanistan
Someone once compared having a disabled child to landing in a different country than originally planned. The essay was about planning a vacation to Italy and landing in Holland. Your dreams and guidebooks were for Italy and all its treasures, and Holland, though beautiful, was not what you wanted. You had waited your whole life to see this ancient country with its art and monuments and passionate gesticulating people and your plans were inexplicably ruined. The plane landed in Holland.
You were planning your life with a normal child and your child was not what you expected and life would be different. Your heart would rip open beyond what you thought was possible. A country that you had no interest in going to but if you opened your eyes and accepted this new world its beauty would be revealed. I liked the analogy. It had been faxed to me by our hospital social worker when Lueza was an infant and it was clear that she had sustained a brain injury that wasn’t magically disappearing as I had hoped. The plasticity of the brain wasn’t working out. A catastrophic accident had occurred. There had been a cosmic mistake. God had chosen the wrong person for this test. I was too weak to cope. Because I was so weak and hysterical Lulu would have to be okay. This story kept me walking and talking when I longed to drop to the floor and writhe and rend my garments.
Holland was a gentle place in my mind. I had cycled through the Dutch countryside on a student trip in high school. I knew that they had a high percentage of home births. It was filled with Rembrandt and the sacred memory of Anne Frank. They could all speak English.
I wanted to write my version of this unexpected landing. We hadn’t arrived in Western Europe. There were no tulips. No English was spoken. It was on the other side of the planet from where we were hoping to go. Terrorists had stolen our plane. We had crash-landed in Afghanistan. Our baby had barely survived the landing. Her brain was exploding with seizures. Babies were dying. We donned paper robes and held our wire-covered baby who slept for 6 days flooded with Phenobarbital. She was nourished with my breast milk through a feeding tube in her nose. Her seizures became almost invisible. A little gray ashy color would spread around her mouth and let them know the brain was seizing. I thought Lueza was dying. Screaming brought nurses who explained that it was not death. Her brain was just convulsing and because she was so sedated with barbiturates all that showed was a lowering of oxygen in her face.
Holland couldn’t be this terrifying. Everything was too extreme here. Birth and near death. Baby rushed into territory of hospital with other doomed babies. Giant radioactive machines being wheeled around close to babies. Babies who were see-through and not quite finished. Eyes taped shut. Sporting hand-knit volunteer donated wool caps to maintain their body heat. Language being spoken that was incomprehensible. No guide books for Afghanistan. War was unending. You could die of exposure in the frozen mountains. A terrorist could blow you up. Only way in was through a warplane or a crash landing. But the people were famous for their hospitality. They would share their last cup of tea. The beauty of the land was extreme. People lived there and raised families. The love was fierce. Someday I thought, I would write my version of Lueza’s early days and how it was. It was hard to breathe when I remembered this time.