Big Brother Danny

“What’s with the rocks?”

“Do you have a few minutes? Pick a rock and I’ll tell you a story . . .”

Rock #2 red: Humor

On May 5, 1983, when Karis was born, our twenty-one-month-old little boy lost his secure place at the center of our universe. Eleven days later, when Karis was hospitalized, he lost his mom. The doctors didn’t think Karis would live, so I wanted to spend every minute I could with her.

Once I tried taking Danny with me to the hospital. By the time I sorted out Karis’s lines and tubes and settled her into a stroller for a walk, Danny had disappeared! Frantically I pushed Karis through the hospital corridors, discovering that my curious little son had left chaos in his wake, unplugging cords, pushing buttons and twisting any dials he could reach. When an elevator opened he walked in and pushed those buttons.

I was desperately running with Karis in the stroller around each of the twelve floors in sequence when I heard an announcement over the hospital P.A.: “A little boy who says his name is Danny is looking for his mommy. He can be retrieved from security on the first floor.” When I found him, Danny was having a fine time conversing with the security officer. I’m quite sure he had not been looking for his mommy.

Clearly, when I was the only adult, taking Danny with me to the hospital would not work. Bouncing around from one friend of mine to another was very hard on my little boy. To give him some stability I finally put him in nursery school. Months later, Karis would sob “My Danny, my Danny,” as she sat weeping by our front door while Dave took him off to preschool.

Danny 2 Karis 6 months

Danny 2, Karis 6 months

Bringing Karis home from the hospital did not resolve things for Danny, who would never again be the center of our little family. Karis required care and attention beyond the normal needs of a two-month-old. One day I heard Karis, whom I thought to be napping, start to cry, and then my son’s voice, “Mommy! Baby crying! Mommy! Baby crying!” He had climbed into her crib and was jumping up and down on her tummy, ileostomy, central line and all.

The hardest time was the 45-minute sterile procedure each day when I needed to change her central line dressing and flush the catheter. I had to “mummify” Karis with only her chest exposed and then pin her to the mattress to immobilize her. I couldn’t have Danny in the same room with us while her central line was vulnerable. Danny ignored his toys, books, and Sesame Street in favor of pounding on the locked door of Karis’s room and crying. It was awful for all of us.

One day mid-procedure, the pounding and crying stopped. What a relief! Finally (I thought) Danny learned fighting was futile and he might as well entertain himself until Karis and I emerged. When I unlocked the door, however, not-yet-two Danny was nowhere to be found. Still in my pajamas and slippers, I put Karis back in her crib and searched the entire house—no little boy! I ran outside. Danny’s red and yellow plastic car was missing from our porch, an ominous sign. Sprinting down the street in my PJs yelling Danny’s name, I saw an elderly neighbor sitting in a rocker on his front porch. He didn’t say anything, just pointed down the hill.

I tore downhill one…two…three blocks, terrified at what might have happened to Danny when he reached the very busy street at the bottom. But there was no sign of him: no emergency vehicles, no policemen detouring traffic around a smashed little red and yellow car or smashed little body. My worst fears relieved, I looked up past the flow of traffic to the train station on the other side. There he was, my small blond son sitting in his little plastic car gazing attentively down the train tracks. He could not understand why I was upset. “Mommy, I just wanted to see the train!”

Danny, an early talker who could win arguments with me at two years old, made it very clear he was not pleased to have a little sister in his life, even when we were not involved with medical procedures. One day it was ten-week-old Karis who disappeared. I finally found her fast asleep beyond my reach under our double bed. Danny played nearby with a satisfied look on his face. “Can we take her back to the hospital now?” he asked me.

Once as I toweled Karis after her bath, Danny lifted his shirt, studied his own round smooth tummy, and said, “Mommy, when am I going to get my ileostomy?”

Though Karis initially brought frustration and confusion into Danny’s little world, he was the hero in hers. Her first distinguishable words, “My Danny,” and her unwavering adoration won him over. He became her greatest advocate. They were best buddies, soulmates. Although, years later, after their two younger sisters were born, Karis told Danny, “God should have made me the oldest. I would do a much better job!”


Karis and Dan after her first transplant

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