Caleb and I are awake and frantic and sealed up in the bathroom while the rest of the family sleeps. As I run the water as hot as it will go in the shower and the sink, he is inhaling billows of steam and fighting hard to breathe in and out through his congested sinuses and croupy cough.
I remember nights just like this with my mom, nights from my childhood that I’m sure were as scary for her as this one is for me, nights when she concentrated with panicky precision on every laborious breath rattling in and out of my lungs. I didn’t think about her back then, just about myself, and the pinpoint of light my world had become, its only focus to keep sucking oxygen through the suddenly tiny straw of my windpipe. I’m thinking about her now, though, and how helpless she must have felt as she willed each rasping breath, how she must have prayed silently, feverishly, for my lungs to open up and the frightening wheezing in my chest to fade away into silence. If she could have breathed for me, she would have.
When I remember those moments, I am suddenly aware of how much I take for granted the way I normally breathe, and the long, easy rivers of air that swirl through me all day long. What a precious gift.
Ten minutes pass, fifteen, and I can tell the water heater is nearly out of hot water as the steam clouds grow lighter. Caleb’s breathing has eased, and he’s already falling back to sleep in my arms. I wait a little longer and then carry him back to bed, rolling him onto his side and tucking the covers in around him. I listen for a moment to make sure his cough has really subsided, then say a prayer of thanks and tiptoe out of the room to fall into bed next Paul. Disaster averted again.
It’s just a common cold, true, but like me, Caleb has always been susceptible to breathing problems. Perhaps, like me, he’ll grow out of them. I hope so.
Until then, I’m sure there will be other nights like this one, other 2 a.m. prayer vigils where fears are lifted up and dissipated on clouds of steam.