This week is my niece Emily’s 5th birthday. At least, it’s her “legal” birthday. Emily was found in a cardboard box in an alley in Wei Lin, China and they did not know exactly how old she was so she was assigned a date.
My older sister surprised us all 4 years ago by announcing that she, at age 44, had been approved for single-parent adoption and would soon go to China to pick up her baby. We were dumbfounded but excited.
I’m pretty much of a homebody and traveling just doesn’t call to me like it does to some, but……………..China, that’s a different story. I have practiced tai chi nearly every day for the last 14 years and have studied acupuncture intermittently for the last 10. A trip to China would be the dream of a lifetime, and to see that baby placed in F’s arms would be priceless.
So, I decided that I’d go with F to “get the baby”. I did endless preparation - planned the “touristy” things, studied the language, got the name of a college of traditional Chinese medicine to visit. I couldn’t believe that this was happening.
Ten days before we were scheduled to leave, I woke up with a hemorrhage in my eye. It was like dumping an entire pepper shaker into an egg white and whisking it up. My retinal specialist got me in that morning and said his best guess would be that the vitreous would clear in a few weeks. But the trip was in less than two weeks - how did my other eye look? I could certainly go with just monocular vision, but what if the good one also bled? Dr. M is a deeply kind person. He put his hand on my shoulder as I cried and said that if it were him, he’d stay home, but it was my choice. I still thought I could pull it off. He told me to come back in a week, three days before departure. He did an ultrasound and told me that my retina had completely separated from the back of my eye and I’d need immediate surgery. I was stunned and rapidly slid into that tunnel of “blissful numbness”, where you shut down because the emotional pain is simply too much.
I don’t feel like recounting the details of the surgery and recovery right now, but no, I did not go to China. I was too immersed in the health crisis and did not experience the profound sense of unfairness and disappointment until days later. Why why why did that f’ing diabetes take away my one dream? I’ve never asked for much from life, and at that time it seemed like I’d never gotten much, either.
But today, 4 years later, I can see all that Emily is - in her Halloween costume, blowing out birthday candles, ripping open Christmas gifts and rushing to greet me with open arms. I can see her cousins (all boys) fussing over her endlessly. I have a picture of her on my desk at her first baseball game (go Twins) where we both came home with peanut shells in our hair - and I could see the scoreboard clearly
Because of laser beams, retinal surgery and Dr. K.M., I am living my reward.
I’m sure that diabetes will be the reason for more disruptions, disappointments and snafus as the currents of life carry me on. But the rage has faded to nothing.
That dear sweet baby was one of a million stars in the sky that was chosen to come and be a member of our family. And because of her, we all shine more brightly.
Happy Birthday Em. I love you.