Thoughts on Zakaria

The last blog I wrote on Zakaria was when he had surgery to be taken off the ECMO machine. He was thankfully able to be weaned from it. Weeks later, he is on mechanical ventilation and his heart function remains poor. There is no possibility of further intervention until it improves.

In the previous blog there was so much more I wanted to articulate but found myself at a loss for words the night after these events. Things can change very fast. On his surgery day I didn’t know Zaria was having surgery until a few hours before. I wasn’t fully prepared for all that might happen to him. It was also a catheterization for another child, and these procedures overlapped by a half hour or so.

While I was waiting with another mother, Zakaria’s crib from the ICU was wheeled into the operating room, his mother wept as she trailed behind him. Before he went beyond the sliding doors to the theater itself, one of the nurses said to his mother that she could kiss him. His mother sobbed, said his name with a pained voice, and bent her head to his to kiss him, his hands, his feet. I went to her and brought her to sit down, as we settled in for whatever the next hours would bring.

One of the nurses who came out from the OR, double-checked with me that I knew the gravity of the situation, that it was extremely precarious and Zakaria might not make it, and to make sure Zakaria’s mom understood this. The statistics of coming off of ECMO are only 50/50, and this I kept in mind. After a while Zakaria’s mother and I conversed somewhat, then a lot. Initially I was stressed about the logistics: what happens if he doesn’t make it, I’ll have to translate that to her, what about bringing her back to the border, what paperwork must I get for him to go back, and other thoughts like this.

But within a few minutes, it’s not that those concerns disappeared, rather the Spirit worked in me to engage with this woman sitting beside me. Somehow my attention, though scattered before, was now fully on her and how to support her. I have no other explanation of how the time passed, other than we spent it by sharing so much of our lives. She showed me pictures and told stories of her life in Gaza with her other kids. She is a master chef and loves to cook and makes everything from scratch. She has a teenage daughter with an incredible aptitude for interior design. They, like many Palestinian families, go on family trips to the beach, and the beach-side coffee shops. We talked about homeschooling kids or sending them to public school and many other things. She came alive when talking about her family. Her love for them radiated from her expression and words. This time made me love her more but simultaneously to dread more the possible outcome of the surgery.

So when two hours had passed, and Zakaria had been able to come off ECMO by the end of it, I was surprised and overjoyed. But I don’t think either of us were prepared for what his body looked like after the surgery. They allowed me this once into the ICU, and his mom came out of his room and asked why his hands and feet were blue. I’ve seen children with blue discoloration before, but never with extremities that are so deeply blue it looked similar to the end stages of frostbite. When I looked at him my brain didn’t comprehend what I was seeing.  We were able to inquire via an Arabic speaking nurse the reason for this, which was due to a lack of oxygen circulating to his hands and feet.

We sat together in his room for a few minutes, and I could tell she was disturbed. A lot of the hope that came from him surviving the surgery and in many ways beating the odds of getting off ECMO, now dwindled at the image of his body

Now two weeks on, he is still in critical condition. Today at the hospital, I saw his beautiful mother who was gracious and kind as always, and my heart hurt more. What she must be experiencing, I can’t imagine. Suffice it to say that even if I could, no words would grasp the breadth and width of it. But I think that at precisely the point at which words fail, that is the place where the power of prayer in its rawest and most true form, begins!