Friday, August 3, 2012
Irish Author Maeve Binchy died this week. She was only 72. I believe I read every single one of her books. They are not important pieces of literature, nor do they pretend to be; but they are interesting, fun novels with wonderful characters. One of her books, Firefly Summer very likely saved me from completely losing my mind in 1994.
It was September, Maggie was six months old. She had already endured five or six fairly major surgeries to repair some of the physical anomalies with which she was born. I still believed that she was going to catch up, that she was having a rough start but once they fixed everything she would be OK. That was the only way I could cope.
Now there was a new problem. Maggie was crying uncontrollably and seemed to be in pain. I went to her surgeon, with whom I had a wonderful relationship. It wasn't anything from her surgeries but I still remember him looking at me and saying "I am very impressed with the size of her head." Somehow I knew that he was not impressed in a favorable way, but impressed as in it was making an impression. I remember very clearly walking home through Golden Gate Park that day with a feeling of dread.
I called her pediatrician and she immediately sent Maggie for an ultrasound of her brain. The radiologist confirmed Maggie had hydrocephalus, a build up of fluid on the brain. We were sent up to UCSF and met with a neurosurgeon just outside the operating room. I still remember he was wearing low top Chuck Taylor's, (converse shoes), which was oddly comforting. He reassured us and whisked Maggie into surgery. They were going to put in a shunt to get the fluid off her brain. There were complicating factors though. The buildup of fluid was because of a brain bleed sometime earlier. They could not do the shunt until Maggie stabilized. She went from surgery to the Pediatric ICU (PICU) with an external drain coming out of her head.
This has happened several times since and now I know the drill, but that first time was horrific. I felt my dream of Maggie's normal life slipping away. We knew she would be in the ICU for a while, but we had no idea how long. (I believe it ended up being three weeks that time.) Maggie was in an open ward and the noise and drama was very difficult to take. There were beeps and bongs from every patient. There was emotion at every bedside, including ours. I sat next to Maggie's crib in a high desk chair for days. I held her hand and waited for her to get better. I was going out of my mind.
When Maggie is in the hospital, the most intellectual reading I do is People magazine. I read all about celebrities I never heard of and find out who is dating/marrying/divorcing whom. That wasn't going to cut it this time, though. I needed more; I needed to escape the noise, the emotion and especially the fear.
The noise and drama of the PICU melted away I was transported to the Irish country side. I was lost in a world of young people enjoying a summer as their little world faced changes from development. I still remember Kate, the main character of that story and I remember there was a young girl named Maggie. I read every moment I could and finished the book in about three days, which is fast when you factor in hundreds of interruptions involving very serious conversations with neurosurgeons, neurologists, pediatricians, hospitalists, nurses, respriatory therapists and dozens of other medical professionals every day.
I couldn't tell you exactly what happened in that book but I know this: That book saved me at one of the lowest times of my life.
I hope Maeve Binchy did not suffer through what I read was a "short illness." I hope she had a good book to read to stave off the pain or fear or whatever she was facing. It really makes all the difference.
Rest in Peace, Maeve. And thank you.