Friday, December 8, 2017

Happiness by Heather Harpham *****

Early in Happiness by Heather Harpham, the author is in an ambulance rushing over the Golden Gate Bridge, sirens screaming, to the UCSF Medical Center. Her newborn daughter cannot make red blood cells, a condition which has no name, but which can kill in a variety of horrible ways. The father, who has no interest in being a father, remains in New York,

Nurses are often the heroes. During the months in the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Unit, one nurse (Bobbie Caraher) is singled out for understanding both the small patients and their frightened parents. In so many ways she eased the lives of children and families on the brink of death with humor and expertise. One in ten children dies.

Early in the saga, still in San Francisco, the author wondered how to care for her tiny child. In this case, another nurse came to the rescue.
"The thing the babies like best is to be tucked into your clothes, naked. Skin-to-skin contact"
"Won't she get cold?" I asked.
"Not as long as you're not dead," the Irish nurse said, and winked.
The author throughout drew strength from her friends and made new friends wherever she went.
I thought of the Auden quote, "Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common dominator, but among those whom I love, I can; all of them make me laugh."
The author had medical insurance, so the life-saving transplant only required an additional $85,000. A co-pay of $85,000! Friends and friends of friends raised the money.

Life in the transplant unit was both intimate and distant. Many people urged parents to not make friends with the other families to not be traumatized by the inevitable deaths.
"She smiled at us with both warmth and distance. A don't-talk-to-me smile, a welcome-to-hell smile."
Throughout the book, the death of a child is constant.
"If when you've been a mother or a father and your child is now gone, there is no word for who you are. If you lose a spouse, you're a widow or a widower. But if you lose a child, you go on being a mother or a father. There is no word..."
As is so often the case, a parent's job is "to start seeing [our child] as a regular kid again, to try not to confound our fears with hers."

This memoir could have been sad, frightening, pathetic, but it was not. Throughout it all, the author finds details of wonder, friendship, and hope. This is a beautiful story of compassion and science.

Since this is released by a major publisher, I feel obligated to note typos. "Though all this he'd been holding his boy..." Through.

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