Taking a flight for life from Aspen to Denver when our middle child was 12 days old was one of the biggest scares of our lives.
How It All Began With Axel
When Thumper was two, Baddy and I left him with his grandparents and took a trip to Maui to escape our daily chaos.
Upon arriving, the locals told us that Hawaii either embraces you or spits you out. We were wholeheartedly and thoroughly embraced.
The day we got there I looked out to sea and saw a spout of water in the distance. We had no idea that February was the month that the Humpback Whales migrated to Hawaii to mate and give birth to their calves. Whenever we looked out to sea we would see young and old whales playing and breaching, almost as if they were performing solely for us as the sun rose and set.
On one of our adventurous days, Baddy and I took a kayak out. The man renting out the kayaks walked us through the instructions, explaining the water and warning us about the difficulties of getting out beyond the rocks and the waves, but you guys are from Aspen, you’re strong and athletic, you’ll have no problem, pumping us up with his words, which was just what I needed to hear since the whole time he was talking I was having visions of the movie, Open Water.
We got into the boat and as we started to row my gaze fixed on Baddy’s strong biceps and I began to admire what a stud he was, wondering how I had managed to find such a competent and rugged man. Next thing I knew we were washing up against the forewarned rocks along the shore. The instructor came running over to us to save us from capsizing and dragged us back to the shore to start again. Baddy began impersonating a tourist, in a white tank top, fresh off the bus and we could not stop laughing at ourselves.
When we finally did make it out to sea, all became quiet and calm. We were away from everything, just the two of us paddling alongside a beautiful island in the tropics when suddenly an enormous shadow passed underneath our boat. We watched mesmerized as a whale slowly passed by beneath us. Jump in and swim with it, I yelled, but Baddy is not spontaneous like that, and anyway, who would jump in spontaneously with such an enormous creature?
As we explored Maui, we took in the gorgeous colors of the Bougainvillea, ate mangoes from the overly abundant trees, and being the tree hugger that I am, I hugged the delicious Eucalyptus trees that softened when I squeezed them as if they were breathing with me.
Amidst the romance of our “Disney world’ vacation we made our second baby, Axel, Hollywood style, under a waterfall we discovered in the heart of a tropical forest.
On November 4th, 2001, Axel Grey Livingston was born. Named by Baddy after Axel Rose from Guns and Roses and Axel Merckx the famous Belgian bike racer.
On the birthing table deep in labor, I questioned the name – it seemed so harsh for a sweet, new baby but Baddy was adamant that Axel was far superior a name to Sebastian, which was my choice. He insisted that Sebastian would grow up with a skip in his step and flowers in his hair, whereas Axel would be a rock star in life (turns out he was right).
When Axel was twelve days old he got a cold and I called the doctor in concern. The doctor told me to do the saline rinse and all would be fine, but he was wrong. Axel ended up in the hospital with an oxygen tank over his head.
When we were waiting to see what the diagnosis was, another doctor came into the room to give Axel a Nebulizer treatment (which, by the way increases the heart rate). When I questioned why he was getting this treatment, the doctor looked at me dumbfounded, excused himself, and hurried out of the room. It turned out that the treatment was meant for the child in the room next door. Soon after, I was watching the heart monitor and saw that Axel’s heart rate had jumped from 142 to 280. I called the nurse in and she stared at the screen. “Do something,” I yelled.
Turns out mama-bear did know her baby after all (trust your instincts). Axel had SVT (Supraventricular Tachycardia), which meant that his heart’s electrical system wasn’t working correctly.
Immediately, he was put into an incubator and rolled onto a Flight For Life jet which took off straight up into the sky and flew us to the Children’s Hospital in Denver.
It all felt like a dream as I sat on the jet next to my baby who seemed to be fighting for his life. Life stood still as we lifted straight up into the air and flew weightlessly in the sky. The second we landed the panic set in again.
Baddy drove down to meet us and we lived in the hospital for four days, capturing a glimpse of what life is like for parents who need to drop their lives and their families to stay with their sick children for months on end in the hospital.
I pumped my breast milk in between the feedings so that I could sleep for five hours in the tiny closet-like room we were given to parents with children at high risk.
Those precious hours of sleep would be disrupted by my strong and steadfast Baddy quietly sobbing after visiting Axel. Wrapping my arms around him he broke down, How can such a little person survive with his heart pounding so fast?
The days that we spent in the hospital felt like an eternity as we waited for Axel to get put on Dijoxin to make his heartbeat stronger and with a more regular rhythm.
We were numb with despair, running on automatic, when a friend popped her head in, carrying behind her an enormous garbage bag filled with presents for Brevitt and I. She and her children had spent days individually wrapping each gift, and as Brevitt and I unwrapped each token of love, I saw how the compassion of others can truly help to heal.
When finally we were told that Axel could be brought home as long as he stayed connected to an oxygen tank, we excitedly packed up to leave and resume our lives.
Back home we did what we could to bring comfort and security back to Axel’s life. He had been completely traumatized by vagal maneuvers; placing an icepack on his face or sticking a thin device down his throat to create a physiological response that believe it or not switches the electrical current back to normal.
We did what we could to start anew and bring him as much love and comfort as we could muster. Thumper fell in love with his little brother and held his little hands all day.
Axel, has since grown out of his condition but I am certain that all of that poking and prodding on him as a baby has left a permanent imprint of distrust of doctors and hospitals on his psyche and he lives with that subtle fear that the SVT can return at any moment. But for now? He is a rockstar determined to live as strong and healthily as he possibly can.