Last Sunday Harrison was in room twelve on the fifth floor of the North Carolina Children’s Hospital. He’s spent a lot of time on that floor with other children fighting cancer, cystic fibrosis, and other life-threatening diseases. Many of our friends have spent much more time than him, so we don’t complain much.
The hospitalization began with a fever on Friday. Anytime Harrison has a fever, it’s an automatic trip to the emergency room at UNC. This will be true for the next three years. Is it a pain? Sure. Better safe than sorry? You better believe it. See, children as immunosuppressed as Harrison have almost no way to fight off infections. The slightest bug could mean his death. Just part of the “new normal” for Harrison.
Harrison’s complete blood count upon arrival at the ER showed zero white blood cells, zero platelets, and a dangerously low number of red blood cells. He was fighting an infection without any weapons. Upon admission he began receiving antibiotics, platelets, and blood. By Sunday he had received a dozen transfusions and continuous antibiotics. He was still fighting for his life on Sunday.
After preaching at Bayleaf Church in Raleigh, Lachlan and I went to hospital. Usually, Harrison loves to have his brother or sister climb into the hospital bed and play iPad with him. He not only didn’t want Lachlan in the bed, he didn’t want anyone to touch him. He felt terrible. Pain in every joint. Nausea from the antibiotics. Bleeding internally from an unknown source.
We had been warned about this final stage of “frontline” treatment (Delayed Intensification). It is at this point that many leukemia patients die from infection. As ironic as it is that the cure is sometimes as deadly as the cancer, it’s just a fact of life for Harrison and tens of thousands of other kids in his situation.
The weekend’s emotional toll was even greater because the week before had brought bad news for some of our friends at the clinic. I don’t need to elaborate on what constitutes “bad” news for cancer kids. We’d wept so much for a couple of other families that week already, that we didn’t have much emotion left for Harrison’s fight over the weekend. Hearing bad news from other families is a double-edged sword: we hurt for our new friends while also knowing it could very well be us one day.
Fast forward a week. Following several more transfusions, another splash of chemo on Tuesday, and finally discharge on Friday, Harrison spent this past Sunday afternoon in the swimming pool and on the tennis court. Seven days after being too sick to eat, to enjoy time with his brother, to be strong enough to even sit up in bed on his own, he was making his sister run all around the court chasing tennis balls.
At every turn Harrison continues to amaze me. But Harrison’s fight is possible only because of an amazing constellation of heroes: medical professionals, family, friends, support staff, financial donors, unnamed prayer warriors; all assembled by the grace of our kind and merciful God.
As our family walks this path of suffering together, we are keenly aware that we are not alone. Besides the nearness of our God we have you, whether present in body or in spirit. When Harrison remarked earlier, “I can’t wait for school to start,” he was not expressing a desire to get back to homework. He was expressing an innate need for, and appreciation of, the community that we all desperately need in times of suffering.