Emory University | Woodruff Health Sciences Center
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Living in the In-Between

By Jaye Watson

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I am holding my husband’s hand, but I can’t form words. In truth, there is nothing to say. It occurs to me it’s been a full day since we’ve spoken to each other.

It’s a blistering hot day, and I take note of the heat the same way I might notice a buzzing fly; it is around me but I cannot feel it.

My phone rings: “The doctors are here with the results.” I don’t say anything, just spring from the bench and sprint for the hospital door. I’m grateful for the mostly empty hallways as we run, my husband shouting the way behind me—“Right!” then “Left!” I begin to cry, my chest burning and arms pumping, because I don’t know what I’m sprinting toward. Whatever it is, I must get to it.

The night before, our 10-year-old daughter, Iris, had been admitted to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta with pneumonia. Just when she appeared to be getting better, a limp had begun. I’m the idiot parent who had recently bought a backyard trampoline, so I told myself that could be it, but even as I thought it, I knew it was a lie. “It’s bad news,” the kindly ER doctor told us hours into the night. I will be old and gray and remember, “It’s bad news.”

A bone infection, they said. Bacteria from the pneumonia had likely gotten into her bloodstream and traveled to her knee. They would start strong antibiotics right away because bone infections are stubborn things, tough to treat. We were scared, but experienced a new level of fear the next morning when doctors swarmed our room announcing antibiotics were being stopped because they believed it to be a tumor.

As a television reporter, I had told stories of children with osteosarcoma. That, combined with some Googling, confirmed that tumors in little children’s bones are almost never good. Off Iris went to the MRI tube, weeping tears of fear. A child-life specialist walked her through it, and I sat next to my ailing daughter, wishing there were a mom-life specialist for me.

It was after that late afternoon sprint that the Emory doctors would tell us we were back to a bone infection. Just a bone infection. In the two weeks that followed, our little girl would have surgery to remove infected bone from her tibia. The drugs to fight the infection were so strong they would consistently blow out her tiny veins, necessitating daily new IV’s. The care we received was extraordinary but still hideous, because watching your child suffer is the definition of hell.

Another team of doctors believes her bone infection was instead a rare inflammatory disease that affects one in a million—a disease that is difficult to diagnose and precisely mimics bone infections. As of this writing, we still don’t know.

It hurts my heart that people whose children have been diagnosed with cancer will read this—how we dodged that bullet, while their fear was instead confirmed. I know how it happens, that in a horrifying instant the bottom falls out of your life.

I will never forget the hours we lived in the in-between. I was breathing but I couldn’t get air. I was walking yet my legs were a thousand pounds of solid lead. I heard myself participating in discussions, yet I couldn’t think. The chatter of my constantly unspooling inner-narrative vanished. The silence was terrifying. Even prayer fled me. At the moment I needed it most, I could not pray. Prayers were replaced by grunts of “please” and “help.”

The sight of my daughter was exquisitely unbearable. The sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose. Her wide hazel eyes looking to me for reassurance. Her weak hand with its brightly painted fingernails intertwined in mine. The utter innocence of her sweet little soul that had done exactly nothing to deserve this.

Almost a month after surgery, Iris is running and playing and slowly regaining weight. Friends remark that I must have cried a lot, but I don’t think I shed a single tear aside from that sprint through the hospital. All those pent-up tears came after Iris got out of the hospital, when my husband and I went to a U2 concert. I sobbed so fitfully, I’m fairly certain the woman next to me thought I was not of sound mind. I flashed back to 17-year-old me at a U2 concert 30 years earlier. Young me wasn’t so sure she could do the “family thing.” Only much later would I realize the sound of your husband and children laughing in the next room is the holiest sound on the planet.

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