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One-Minute WellnessThe Health and Happiness System That Never Fails
By Ben Lerner Greg Loman
Nelson BooksCopyright © 2007 Dr. Ben Lerner with Dr. Greg Loman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneElijah's Story
Gasping for what might very well be his last breath, Elijah thrashed about on the gurney, straining to find the one face he most needed to see. Wild with fear, surrounded by strangers in white, Elijah could form only one thought: Mommy! Where was she? As an orderly tried to calm him down, a doctor placed an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. Still, his breath would not come.
Rushing through the corridors of the emergency room, the staff surrounding the gurney did their best to help Elijah, who continued struggling to breathe. Hooking him up to a ventilator and giving him an injection of a sedative, they managed to stabilize him and restore a semblance of rhythmic breathing. Barely conscious, Elijah heard a nurse asking questions about his medical history.
"Well, I know he's had these episodes before. They say he has allergies," said a voice Elijah knew all too well. Opening his eyes and struggling to focus, he saw her face, confirming his assumption. The voice and face belonged not to his mother but to his well-intentioned but hardly equal-to-the-task babysitter.
Lying in his hospital bed, this newly admitted patient-Elijah Knight, male Caucasian, age seven, medical history unknown, parent notified but not present-gave in to the fatigue of this latest ordeal and drifted off to sleep, his last thoughts for the night centering on defeat. His lungs had failed him once again. Just as his family had.
* * *
Seven miles north of Arlington County Medical Center, Miriam Knight took another drag on her cigarette as she sat on the stoop behind the convenience store. Despite the October chill, she preferred the stoop to the confinement of what was laughingly called the employee break room. Better pneumonia than claustrophobia any day, she figured. Besides, back here she could take a swig from the flask of vodka she kept hidden in her jacket pocket, and no one would be the wiser. And at least out here she could inhale some fresh air along with her Winstons.
Elijah-poor kid. He deserves better. The thought of Elijah jarred her, and she struggled to think of something less stressful, like the wickedly handsome guy who came in every evening just after her shift started for a cup of coffee (light, no sugar) and a USA Today. It was useless. Instead of his image, all she could see was Elijah fighting for his next breath. And all she could think of was her disturbing conversation fifteen minutes earlier with Joanna, who could make her feel like an unfit mother faster than Dr. Phil or Judge Judy.
"Miriam, you've got to get to the hospital right now!" Joanna had said after convincing the store manager that this was a genuine emergency. "Elijah's on his way now in an ambulance-he had another breathing fit."
"I can't leave work. You go."
"What? Are you crazy? He needs his mother, not a babysitter!"
"I can't leave," Miriam whispered hoarsely as she cupped the mouthpiece with her free hand. "I'll get fired, and you know it."
"Look, all I know is, this kid could die, and you need to be with him. I don't even know what to tell them."
"Tell them to call me-wait, better not-Matt is already ticked off at me. One more long phone call and I'm probably out the door for good. Look, I've got to get back on the register. Matt's shooting me his 'I'm the manager and not a cashier' look. Let me know what happens, okay?"
"You can't hang-" Miriam finished Joanna's sentence in her head. No point in continuing the tirade. She most certainly could hang up, and she did, heading back to the register and sighing with relief that her scheduled break was just a few minutes away.
Now, sitting on the stoop, Miriam glanced at her Timex wristwatch, the one she had found at Goodwill just last week. Seven more minutes, she thought as she looked up at the night sky and silently cursed the full moon. Seven more minutes before I have to go back inside and put up with the loonies that will be coming in tonight.
"Miriam!" Matt's voice interrupted her moment of ironic bliss. "You've got another call!"
Crushing her half-finished cigarette with her shoe-what a waste of a good smoke! These things are expensive-Miriam trudged back in and took the phone from Matt.
"What is it?" she asked Joanna as she glanced over at Matt, whose raised eyebrows signaled that he wanted to know if Elijah was all right. As if he cares, Miriam thought. "Yeah. Okay. Tell them his doctor is ... well, he doesn't really have one. I mean, we go to the clinic. What do you mean, which one? I don't know the name-it's the one the county runs out on Grant near the bus stop by Medi-Mart. I told you-he doesn't have a doctor. We just see whoever is available. No, I don't have time to come down there. You sign the forms-this is exactly why I gave you the authority to do that. Tell them Elijah has a truckload of medical records, and half of them are in their own records department. Look, I have to get back to work."
She glared at Matt, who was covering for her on the register. "He's fine, all right? He made it. That's all you need to know." Brushing by him, she avoided making eye contact with anyone. "Next!" she called out to any customer in line who was brave enough to risk setting her off.
So he made it after all, she thought. Is this ever going to end?
* * *
From the moment he took his first breath, Elijah had been in deep trouble-trouble so deep that the doctors weren't even aware of its extent. The way Miriam saw it, his tiny lungs had failed to receive the message that the time was coming for him to be born, and they just sat inside his body, taking their sweet time and refusing to grow as they should. When Elijah was ready to make his entrance into the world, they still weren't strong enough to function the way a healthy set of lungs should.
When the doctors told Miriam that his lungs were underdeveloped, she wasn't concerned. After all, hadn't they emphasized that in similar situations the infants' lungs eventually caught up to the rest of their bodies? "Don't worry, Mrs. Knight," their pediatrician reassured her. "Children like Elijah grow up to live normal lives."
Maybe so, Miriam thought throughout the years, but Elijah hadn't. And the people around him hardly lived normal lives either.
Blissfully ignorant of what the future would hold for her, Miriam doted on her newborn son, convinced he wasn't just normal but perfect in every way. Not at all like her marriage had been. "Joseph and his wild ideas! Always talking about going out West and living the cowboy life!" her mother pointed out as often as she could. Miriam had stopped objecting; her mother was right, but she wasn't about to let her know that Joseph's many "wild ideas" were threatening their marriage.
To Joseph's way of thinking, Miriam was taking this whole marriage thing way too seriously. So what if he wanted to hang out with the guys after work? He always did that when they were dating. Nothing had changed except that they had said some vows and now lived under the same roof. Big deal. He'd keep going out with the guys. It's not as if he ever stayed out all night or did anything really bad-not that he hadn't had the opportunity a time or two.
No matter how much Joseph complained, though, Miriam knew she was the one who had gotten the raw end of the deal. What happened to that romantic, charming man she used to know? Where was the man who pledged his undying love in more ways and on more occasions than she could count? For that matter, whatever happened to the promises he made? The honeymoon in Rome (who knew there was one in New York State?), the Lexus LS430 that would replace her ten-year-old Toyota Corolla (which she was still driving), the brand-new, custom-designed house (their "temporary" apartment had been their home for two years)? His charm disappeared with his promises a long time before.
"Joseph's a different man-you'll see," Miriam told her mother several months after learning she was pregnant. "He's really settled down. All he talks about are the things he'll be able to do with our children. He's going to be a great father."
At first he was, Miriam recalled. Those first few weeks after bringing Elijah home from the hospital were among the best of her life, as crazy as they were. The whirlwind "routine"-now there's an unlikely word to describe this chaos! Miriam thought early on-of scheduled bottle feedings and unscheduled diaper changes, scheduled pediatric visits and unscheduled family visits, replaced the implied accusations, belittling comments, and outright name-calling that had crept into their marriage.
In Elijah, Joseph found a same-gender ally, a child who would grow up to be just like his old man. Joseph could see it all now: teaching little Eli to catch, shooting hoops with him when he was older, watching Eli quarterback the varsity football team in his junior year. ("The jocks will eventually start calling him Eli, so we might as well start now," he once told Miriam.) He couldn't wait for Eli to grow up.
In Eli, Miriam also found what she had always longed for: a guy to love. Miriam could see it all now: Eli would be a model child. Eli would be her rock, her support, her shelter. Eli would take care of her when they both got older. Eli wouldn't break his promises to her. Eli would never disappoint her.
Miriam could hardly believe it. The Knights' fantasy world began to crumble before Elijah was even two months old. Awakened in the middle of the night to the sound of their baby gasping for air, Miriam and Joseph rushed to the emergency room, terrified they would lose Elijah. Shaking with fear, Miriam sat next to her husband but felt miles away from him as they waited for the attending physician to return.
"Your son is breathing on his own now. He'll be fine," the doctor said. "He was experiencing bronchial distress caused by the croup. Just get this filled"-with that, he tore off the top page on his prescription pad and handed the page to them-"and follow up with his pediatrician. Any questions?"
Any questions? Was he serious? After the obvious ones-"What just happened? Didn't our son almost die? What if this happens again? This medication is supposed to cure him-how? What's the croup, anyway?"-Miriam could have added a dozen more. But she and Joseph stood mute, so confused and traumatized that neither could form a complete sentence. All they wanted was Elijah back in their arms.
Faithfully following the doctor's instructions, Miriam gave Eli the medication, and he seemed to be getting better. Maybe it was just a fluke, some kind of bug that's going around, she thought. A month later, though, the scene repeated itself, with another anguished, middle-of-the-night trip to the emergency room. Once again, they sat together in the waiting room, this time with a seat left vacant between them. "At least we know what to expect," Miriam said to Joseph, trying to convince herself more than him that everything would turn out just fine.
Knowing what to expect provided little comfort, especially when the attending physician prescribed an entirely different form of treatment after he had stabilized Elijah and had him breathing normally again. "Just run the water in the shower until it gets hot, and then hold the baby when you get in. The steam from the warm air will cause his bronchial passages to relax, and he'll start breathing normally again," the doctor assured them. "Any questions?"
"What are we supposed to do, Joseph?" Miriam pleaded once they got back in the car and headed home. "You know how long it takes for that old water heater to pump out any hot water, and Eli could die by that time. Plus, I'm totally confused now: do we keep giving him medication, or do we just give him the steam baths? None of this makes any sense, but they're the experts."
Half-expecting a snide remark from Joseph, whose Boy Scout behavior had started to wear off, Miriam was startled when he agreed with her. First thing the following morning, she called Eli's pediatrician and described what had happened the night before. "The doctor you saw last night was right-all Eli needed was a steam bath. The medication is only to be given when he has the croup," the pediatrician told her. So how come you never mentioned steam baths? Miriam wanted to shout but opted instead for a less-accusing approach. "But what's wrong with him? Why does this keep happening?" she asked.
"Yours is not an abnormal situation," the doctor replied. "Respiratory distress is a fairly typical childhood problem. The worst thing you can do is worry about it. He'll grow out of it."
The worst thing I can do is keep listening to you, Miriam thought but held her tongue. There weren't a lot of pediatricians in town, and they couldn't afford to get on this doctor's bad side. Besides, everybody knew this doctor was the best in the county.
Miriam's own health took a plunge as the Knights' "not abnormal" situation worsened over the next eighteen months. Tension headaches, insomnia, chronic fatigue, low blood sugar, hormonal imbalance-Miriam had it all, but she had no time to deal with any of it. With Eli experiencing severe shortness of breath every few weeks, it was all she could do to keep up with his needs, let alone her own. What's more, the unrelenting stress of constant worry, frequent doctor and emergency room visits, unanswered-or perhaps, unanswerable-questions about his chances for a normal life, endless waiting for the hot water to make it to the shower head, petty arguments over whose turn it was to hold Eli in the shower-all that began to expose the Knights' marriage for the sham it was.
Shortly before Eli's first birthday, Miriam sensed that their lives-and her own emotions-were beginning to unravel. Another night, another episode-only this time, Elijah had turned blue by the time she woke up. No time to wait for the hot water; this was an undisputed 911 situation.
As several paramedics worked to resuscitate Eli, another worked to calm down a frantic and panic-stricken Miriam. They brought Eli around quickly enough, but Miriam was another matter altogether. "Mrs. Knight, you need to take a deep breath," one paramedic advised. "Make sure you talk to the doctor about her," he added, turning to Joseph, who was barely paying attention. "She needs something to calm her down. Are you going to be all right, Mrs. Knight?"
Sure, sure, Miriam thought, unable to answer. I'll be just fine, just as soon as I slit my wrists. That horrifying possibility shook Miriam back to reality. "I'll be fine, fine," she stammered. I've got to keep it together for Eli. I've got to, she thought as she climbed into the back of the ambulance for yet another ride to the emergency room. Once again, Miriam found herself worlds apart from Joseph as they rode to the hospital. The one weak link that held them together had almost died.
* * *
"Hey, man, what do you expect?" Gary asked. "Your kid almost dies just about every month, and you're thinking about leaving. Man, I'd be out of there."
That's not exactly what Joseph wanted to hear. Draining his bottle of Coors, Joseph looked away from his buddy and struggled to find a reason to go home. "Yeah, but Eli needs me. Miriam, I could do without, always whining about her headaches and stuff. But Eli's my son."
"You sure about that?" Gary tilted his own bottle and sneaked a sideways glance at Joseph.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Come on! You mean you haven't thought about that, not even once? Look at you-you're a rock! Man, every guy in your family, every one that I know anyway, is a bruiser. And Miriam's brother-what was his name? Oh yeah, Hal-he's got as many trophies for football as all the Knights put together. So how come Eli's so weak? Think about it, man."
He did, and he had. Too often. Sure, Miriam had been a real goody-two-shoes when they were dating, and with him around, she hardly had any reason to look elsewhere. But this thing with Eli-it had to be genetic. Lousy gene pool, that's what everyone joked about these days whenever something went wrong. Well, maybe that was the problem with Eli-somebody else's stinking gene pool.
Excerpted from One-Minute Wellness by Ben Lerner Greg Loman Copyright © 2007 by Dr. Ben Lerner with Dr. Greg Loman. Excerpted by permission.
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