I’ve always loved the sound of seals. That barking laugh just always make me think there’s a party going on in Sealtown. I mean, how can you go wrong with an animal that likes to play ball? Seriously. Seal sounds conjure up happy images in my mind. Seal smells are an entirely different matter, but that’s a story for another time.
That’s why it didn’t bother me too much when Josh’s regular cough started to sound a bit like a seal. It’s never good to know your kid is sick, but you know that they’re going to get a cold now and then, and if you have to have a cold, why not make it a fun-sounding one? Other than the cough it didn’t seem to be slowing him down too much, and it did give me a great opportunity to try and teach him to balance a beach ball on his nose. After all, he had just turned two years old, and would soon need skills like this to survive in the real world, right?
Okay, I never actually tried to balance a ball on his nose, but you have to admit it would be funny. That is, if the cough didn’t seem to be getting louder and happening more often. Even though he didn’t really complain, either by his actions or with the limited vocabulary he had developed at this point (every now and then I long for those days of limited vocabulary…), it got to the point where we decided to call the doctor, just to be on the safe side.
The nurse asked all of the nurse questions, then put us on hold and went to get the doctor. “Is that him I hear coughing now?” he asked. “You’d better go ahead and bring him on down to the emergency room.”
Apparently seal sounds are not always jovial. Especially not when they are caused by something called the croup and are coming from your two-year-old. We did the normal frantic parents rushing around getting all the stuff together thing, and before too long we were at the hospital. Even then I don’t think we fully realized the gravity of the situation.
A little while later and several floors higher, we began to get the picture. The nighttime hospital atmosphere – fluorescent lights, nurses quietly moving around doing what nurses do, that indescribable smell of medicine and other hospital-y stuff – was already conjuring up memories of times I had been in the hospital as a patient. But seeing my boy in a hospital bed under a plastic tent really slammed it home. He was crying. This was not his house and not his bed and it was cold and it was hissing and making other weird noises and so he was going to stand up on shaky legs and bang his fist on the side of the tent and yell…
“Out! Pweeze, out!”
And my heart shattered into a million pieces and fell on the floor.
How do you explain to a scared child that this is necessary? That many years of medical science and technology are on his side, and that the medicine hissing out of the vent in this strange bed will make him not only feel better, but be better? That he hasn’t done anything wrong, and that he’ll be out soon? That I’m not going anywhere, and will not let anything happen to him? That someday he’ll look back and know that this was necessary?
You can’t explain this. Not here. Not now. And so the tears keep coming. The tiny fists keep clenching. The sobbing keeps tearing me apart.
I don’t know exactly how long this lasted. It seemed like forever, but I think in reality it wasn’t very long at all. Maybe a minute. Maybe less. However long it was, I didn’t even think about what I had to do. Fatherly instinct took over. I can’t take you out of the tent, Buddy. You need to be there. It’s for your own good. You’ll understand that someday. I can’t take you out. But I can come in.
I remember the look on the nurse’s face as I kicked off my shoes. I don’t know if she was just surprised, or if she was going to try and stop me– which was not going to happen–or what it was. But I crossed the room, climbed into the bed and under the two-year-old sized tent, and took a very tired, very shaky boy into my arms. We curled up and laid down and breathed the wet air together, and soon we were both asleep. And when he woke up in a strange place in a strange tent with strange sounds and smells and sights, he knew he was okay, because Dad was in the tent, too.
I think this was the event that really got me to thinking about my relationship with God. I grew up learning about God. I could answer all kinds of questions and get a smile from the Sunday School teacher. I could tell you all about the Bible and what it says and why I believe it’s true and why it’s important. But I don’t think I ever really got it until that night. And since then I’ve learned a lot more.
Let’s face it, we’ve all been the one in a strange place where nothing seems right and we’re angry and tired and sick of everything that’s going on and we shake our fists and say “God, I want out of this – right now!” And God says, I see you there, and it breaks my heart to know how bad you’re hurting but I just can’t take you out of there. It’s for your own good, and someday soon you’ll look back and understand why you had to be there. I can’t take you out, but there is something I can do…
This is the story of our history, and the story that is woven like a scarlet thread through the pages of the Bible.
If we’re really honest with ourselves, we know that we’ll be there again. But next time you find yourself in that terrible situation, please take comfort in knowing that you’ll be okay. You’re not alone.
He’s in the tent.