His head is tilted back in his chair. His mouth hangs slightly open as he breathes quietly, his body heaving in once more and then out again. Chronic lung disease is no joke.
An inch below the surface his lungs continue their struggle: battling fluid that tries to fill every air sac, tube and pocket of space. His will fights hard and he breathes in again, forcing oxygen into fluid saturated pockets. Oxygen rushes in and then, with concerted effort, his exhale squeezes air out. He gets relief until the next breath.
Sometimes being seven and war-torn go together.
War torn because each breath is a battle, fought 40 times a minute. Some days are better than others.
It’s no wonder his head is tilted back in exhaustion. Still a grin, that lopsided knowing smile that can change his face in an instant. He listens in on the chatter drifting from the dining room. Noah and Evie don’t realize they’ve got a third player as they build imaginary worlds with blocks and figures.
His eyes look in the direction of their noise, looking for them, only to be greeted with more black. Or maybe, as Dr. Geddie surmised, he catches a patch of sight, like peering through swiss cheese.
His smile widens and his legs stiffen out straight in front of him. He’s smart, trying to manipulate tone to get his body to move. But it doesn’t, so instead a happy call rises above the gurgle in his throat. Then he relaxes back into his chair, making up for the effort and catching his breath again.
His eyelids flutter and his eyes roll back slightly into his head, obviously tired from this small effort. But giving up is not in his playbook.
His bedroom lies adjacent to the kitchen. Each morning as I move about measuring coffee, pouring water and washing leftover dishes from the night before, he calls me.
I tuck the wet dish towel back in the rack and head down the hallway to his room. The machines rumble, his lungs crackle and two little arms shoot up eager. They’re bent at an odd angle but I don’t care. All is see is invitation, so I offer my cheek for his kiss. The dry chapped lips find me and his arms rest on my shoulders.
I can hear the crackling and whistling in his lungs as he alternates between deep sighs of contentment and sounds of joy.
A life of exhaustion.
A life of battles that will never win the war of chronic lung, but they do win him time. And that seems worth the price to him.
A life of joy.
A new day breaks and again he calls from the room: Come in and love me, mom! It’s a new day.
He has learned to fight the battles well.
He’s learned contentment.