Sunday was a mother fucker.
Phoenix hit day three of a cough that progressively worsened over the weekend, and now had light fever. It was my wife’s first time seeing him, as she just got home from her shift at the hospital. His breathing labored. I just thought it was from a runny nose. She knew better. When he breathed, sometimes it was through pursed lips. Other times he appeared barrel chested. My wife was coming in the middle of a brutal work schedule, and needed to grab sleep as she had to get back to the hospital Sunday night. She asked me to wake her if he didn’t feel better in a couple of hours, and we’d take him to urgent care.
I took the kids over to DICK’S Sporting Goods to look at softball and baseball bats, as there was a weekend sale for the local recreation leagues. Phoenix is starting tee ball, and Ellie is back at it in softball. Gray found a mini UCLA football, and hoped that he’d find a West Point football, as he’s a fan of the military academy. So we were on the hunt. That’s when my phone buzzed, and I glanced at the TMZ notification.
I had to read the headline a few times before it made sense. It took my breath away. I’m sure I cursed, prompting the twins to ask what happened. I tried to keep my composure, and gathered them up as I pushed Hendrix in his stroller to leave. I text some friends. The news spread fast, and it was all unbelievable.
We grabbed some lunch on the way home and ate while KTLA covered the tragedy. Meanwhile, Phoenix’s condition was deteriorating. His cough was worse and more often. His eyes watered. He looked miserable. Reluctantly, I went upstairs and woke the wife up. I let her know that Phoenix wasn’t going well, and we should take him to urgent care. I gave her a couple of minutes to gather herself before I told her.
“Kobe died today,” I said softly.
“He died in a helicopter crash.” I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. “His daughter was on board, too,” I added, agains, softly.
I went downstairs to check on the kids as she woke up. We found the closest urgent care our insurance would cover, and decided that I’d take Phoenix so that she could go back to sleep when Hendrix napped, as she needed to rest for the night’s shift.
As I drove, I figured the doctor would check Phoenix out, give him a breathing in treatment, a prescription and we’d be on our way. Phoenix wailed from his car seat as the radio aired Los Angeles’s mourning in the background. He was coughing every 10 seconds, often uncontrollably. He was beyond miserable. And then we waited two-and-a-half hours to see a doctor.
After finally getting in to a waiting room and running through breathing treatments, I noticed they wanted to keep checking Phoenix’s pulse. They were concerned about the heart rate, so now I was concerned. It was up to 153 beats per minute before he even started the breathing treatment, which was only going to increase it more. The doctor tested P for the flu, strep throat and Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV). The nurse commented about how much of a champ Phoenix handled the nose swab, throat swab and breathing treatment.
Then the doctor returned. She said Phoenix tested positive for RSV, the breathing treatment didn’t have enough of an effect on him and she was recommending us to the ER at Children’s Hospital of Orange County. I text the wife with the update. She was now awake and getting the kids ready to be dropped off at a friend’s so that she could get to work. I asked the doctor if I had time to run home two minutes before driving out to the ER, which was another 30 minutes away. Phoenix puked on me during our wait after a coughing fit, and I wanted to clean us both up before an anticipated four-hour ER wait.
She said I needed to go straight to the ER. Then came my wife’s texts. Her panic leaped out of the phone. And it all became very serious.
At this point, Phoenix just wanted to go home. As we pulled out of the urgent care parking lot, I started to tell him we weren’t going home. But I couldn’t get the words out. I was trying not to cry. The weight of the day felt heavier, and it was jammed in my throat.
Through the tears, I told him about the ER. I expected an outburst. He was tired, he didn’t feel good and he just wanted to be home. Of course he did. But that’s not what happened.
“Dad, you need to calm down,” he said in a parental tone. Comfort was in his voice. “I’m going to be okay. I feel better.”
A friend of the family happened to be the charge nurse at the children’s ER. I text her, she was on shift, and she either pulled some rank to provide us with immediate care, or the RSV was that serious to them, too.
A return to CHOC’s ER is not something my wife and I ever wanted to experience again. Jax died here. My wife was now getting off of work to meet us. The thought of returning to CHOC is one reason my wife sobbed as she dropped the other kids off at our friend’s.
In 2013, I drafted a post about why we participate in the CHOC Walk. It was extremely detailed and vulnerable, and my wife and I decided not to post it. Below is a snippet.
For about three hours, the hospital staff did everything they could to save our boy. But it was after he left us that the CHOC staff’s grace, compassion and solace left an overwhelming mark on my wife and I. We lost our boy, but it was if they lost him with us.
After two-and-a-half hours of breathing treatments, vacuuming mucus from Phoenix’s nose, steroids and cuddling with mom in his bed, Phoenix was released. His chest sounded much better and his breathing improved. The respiratory distress was gone. The CHOC staff was amazing at treating and releasing our boy in the same time it took for us just to get in to a room at the urgent care.
I left the ER early to go pick up the kids and get them to bed. I showered and cleaned up. As my wife drove home, Phoenix asleep in the back of the van, a fire truck pulled out of a driveway within a half mile of our house. It was after 10 P.M., and sirens and lights were not activated. It was as if Jax wanted her to know he was with us today, keeping his brother safe and comforting him – and us.
While the two are very different in so many ways, Phoenix reminds me the most of Jax, mainly due to similar hair color and texture, the chubby cheeks and goofy, eye-rolling faces they make. There are times that it hurts, a gut punch of pain reminding me what is lost when Phoenix flashes a Jax memory. But then there is today, when their strength and love and compassion shine. And I’m so honored to be their dad.
Today we will celebrate Jax’s 12th birthday the same way we have since he left us – delivering cupcakes to his preschool teacher for her class to celebrate, a trip to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and meeting family for dinner at Ruby’s Diner.
Happy Birthday, Jax. My love for you knows no limits. My heart aches beyond comprehension. And my soul longs to be with you again.