20: A Valentine’s Day to Remember

20: A Valentine’s Day to Remember

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

A Valentine’s Day to Remember

When you look at your life the greatest happiness are family happinesses.
~Dr. Joyce Brothers

Not long ago, my wife and I shared our tenth Valentine’s Day together, a day when I typically reflect on how lucky I am to have found the perfect soul mate. A day to express gratitude to the fates for bringing me a love usually reserved only for movies and Air Supply songs. A day every year that I do whatever is necessary to show her how much I truly care.

Though normally a well-planned and romantic day for us, this year’s version marked a dramatic change. At first glance, there could be only one word for it—failure.

Unlike prior years, there was no romantic dinner or picnic lunch. Flowers would not be delivered on the big day. There were no chocolates or candies. No small jewelry store boxes were placed on the dresser. There was no necklace, no bracelet, no ring. No limousines, no movie tickets, and no concerts were arranged. There was no homemade CD of “our” songs. There was no romantic poem hidden under her cereal bowl, professing my undying love.

There was nothing. Well, almost nothing.

There was a road trip—though not the kind of road trip we would have voluntarily embarked upon. The trip was not to the beach, the mountains, or any such getaway. No, this road trip was to the office of a UCLA doctor—a pediatric specialist. We needed answers, and we needed them quickly.

Only a week had passed since the first ripple began to rock our calm and quiet lives. A passing observation during our eighteen-month-old son’s routine checkup led to a blood test. An odd collection of contradictory data led to a more extensive blood test, then another, the results of which merely led to more questions. A brain MRI was immediately scheduled.

Doctors and nurses did their best to maintain a calm demeanor, but the hastiness and urgency of their actions belied their efforts to convince us these tests were merely precautionary. All the while, our little boy remained blissfully unaware that his parents were scared out of their minds.

Because of the conflicting nature of initial test results, the doctor opted to conduct an extensive and comprehensive investigation. During the course of the day, we found ourselves shuttling to radiologists, phlebotomists, and other specialists. Most of the day hovered in a narrow realm between surrealism and automatism. Through all the evaluations, we made every attempt to make the afternoon as normal and calm as possible for the little one.

Valentine’s Day cards were exchanged in the carpool lane of the 405 Freeway. The picnic lunch was replaced by a drive-thru window in the shadow of the hospital. Small, token gifts were swapped in the radiologist’s waiting room.

Amazing how quickly your reality can change, and how dramatically your priorities shift in such a brief period of time. There were no “I hope she likes my gift” concerns. Instead, thoughts were restricted to “I hope my baby is okay.”

On Valentine’s Days of the past, I would be thankful for on-time flower deliveries or timely dinner reservations. This year, I was grateful for funny nurses that made my son laugh, laboratories that were willing to push back lunch breaks, and a boss willing to let a worried Daddy off work only a few weeks into his new job.

I was thankful for phlebotomists who miraculously managed to find the small vein on the arm of a screaming baby, on their very first attempt. I was thankful for doctors who believe in attacking a problem head-on, refusing to accept a “wait-and-see” position. I was thankful for professionals who made me feel as though my son were the most important patient on their daily schedule.

After a chaotic and tense afternoon, we were all finally able to return home. As the sun began to set on an excruciatingly long day, at about the time most couples were settling in at their romantic dinners, my wife and I lay sprawled on the sofa doing our best to put the day in perspective. Clearly, this would be a Valentine’s Day that we would never forget as long as we live. There was relief that the day was over, and apprehension at not knowing what lay ahead.

There was also an unexpected moment of clarity. It occurred to me that the “commercial” aspects of the holiday are inherently meaningless. The flowers, candies, and other gifts that have become the norm every February 14th are not the reason for the holiday; they are merely symbols of it.

In the end, maybe Valentine’s Day should be about spending a day with the people you love most in the world. It should be about doing everything in your power to calm a crying baby. It should be about a husband and wife recommitting themselves to the “home” team, and knowing neither one of us could survive without the other. It should be about re-evaluating your priorities, and making certain you are never too busy to be with your family.

And if Valentine’s Day really is about all of these things, perhaps the day was not a failure after all. Maybe, just maybe, it was my most successful Valentine’s Day yet.

~Rob L. Berry

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