87: Laboured Breathing

87: Laboured Breathing

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Laboured Breathing

Intuition is a spiritual faculty and does not explain, but simply points the way.

~Florence Scovel Shinn

I doused my cloth in bleach and began to feverishly polish the handle of the door. I didn’t care if I took off the brass finish as long as it killed the germs.

“Carrie,” my husband said, “what are you doing?”

I couldn’t respond to his question because I was in the throes of a panic attack. The only sound I managed to make was a pathetic whimpering. What else needed to be disinfected? I had cleaned the railings, light switches, and door handles. Then my gaze settled on the source that promised to be the most compromised: the bucket of toys my nephew had touched. I dragged them upstairs to the waiting tub and poured a bath hot enough to disinfect a sewer. I threw the toys into the steaming water by the armful. My husband had followed me and was just as hastily plucking out the toys that shouldn’t be submerged.

“Please tell me what’s wrong,” he pleaded.

I didn’t know how to respond. The truth was I believed my son’s life was in jeopardy. This feeling had begun to take root before his birth, and I couldn’t seem to shake it. I began to see everything as a threat, from his umbilical cord to his feeding habits. Now even my nephew’s cold seemed like a harbinger of doom. So I made up some lame excuse about being tired and rushed my family out the door, all so I could scrub my house as though they’d exposed us to Ebola.

I knew I had to explain my actions, but what was I supposed to say that wouldn’t sound ludicrous? I was just an ordinary, stay-at-home mom. I didn’t have any psychic gifts. I had never so much as predicted the correct sex of one of our three children. And now I was supposed to convince my husband that my premonition was accurate? I took a deep breath and said, “I’m scared that something bad is going to happen to our baby.”

My husband chuckled with relief. “That’s all?” his expression seemed to say. He patted me reassuringly on the back. “Nothing bad is going to happen,” he promised.

I wasn’t convinced, and the feeling only grew more intense. It was starting to affect my appetite and sleep. I tried to reason with myself, but no logical argument could force the premonition to subside. So I had to choose to accept the warning and risk how others perceived me, or ignore it and risk my son’s life. When I thought of the feeling in those terms, I had no choice but to acknowledge the premonition as real and inevitable. So I remained hyper vigilant and disregarded the concerned murmurings from my family, who were now wondering if I was suffering from postpartum depression.

When my son was two weeks old, the panic revealed itself as justified. My newborn suddenly had a hard time catching his breath. We took him to a doctor immediately, and I got the validation I never wanted — my son was very sick. At the emergency room, they performed a battery of tests. I expected to be told that my son had caught the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) from his cousin, a cold that can cause pneumonia or respiratory distress in infants. Instead, we were told that my son had been born with a congenital heart defect; more specifically, multiple ventricular septal defects. He had holes in his heart — so many that they had put him into heart failure. The doctor praised the observations that caused us to seek medical care. “If you hadn’t noticed his laboured breathing when you did . . .” She never finished her sentence, but the insinuation hung around me like a lead blanket.

My husband stared at the doctor with a stunned expression on his face. “My wife knew there was something wrong,” he tried to explain. The doctor nodded and gave me a kind smile. It was obvious to me that she didn’t understand what my husband meant. In her mind, I was just an observant mother, not a psychic one.

That day, we were sent home with hope as thin as spider filament. It might have been a frail thing, but I clung to it as fiercely as the spider himself. Eventually, I settled into a routine that included twice-daily medications, cardiology appointments, and feeding routines. I did everything the doctors asked and prayed it would be enough. When he was six months old, we were given amazing news: The holes in my child’s heart had spontaneously closed, and he would never require open-heart surgery. I was astounded. Not only had a premonition saved his life, but now a miracle had healed his heart. He ended that year every bit the phenomenon he began — a wonder in so many ways.

~Carina Middleton

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