When 90% is all you get

I had neither shaved nor showered in 48 hours and the doctor who looked like John Grisham was telling me how he was going to stick a two-inch needle into my newborn’s spinal column.

Dr. Grisham moved quickly through the risks–blood, pain, paralysis.

“Ninety percent of the time, there’s not a problem,” he said.

An hour before, I’d been on my way to take a shower when the phone rang. Our pediatrician was on the line. A blood culture that had been taken during an ER visit over the weekend (see this post for how that happened) had come back with signs of infection. The early results were too vague to interpret, but whatever the infection was required immediate “get your ass to the hospital now” attention.

We live in a fairly advanced society. My phone can tell me how the number of pesos to the dollar in Argentina. My car radio can pick up radio stations from all over the country. Astronauts can drink their own urine. Dr. Grisham, however, had to stick a needle in my son’s spine to make sure he wasn’t about to die. This is how my day began.

The day ends with me collecting the older boy from some very generous and thoughtful friends and bringing him home to sleep in his own bed for the night. Meanwhile, my wife is sitting next to our younger son at the Children’s Hospital while he endures an IV and other wires and tubes. The Dad and older son half of the fairly has it pretty damned easy by comparison.

The reasonable part of me grasps the likelihood that all of this is largely a precautionary measure. That reasonable part can distract himself with silly little things that happen throughout the day. For instance, I reached for my pocket twice this afternoon. I did it once when the wheel chair guy dropped the wife and baby off in the room and then again when the food guy delivered the turkey loaf and vegetable medley. Why? Well, I was going to tip them, of course.

Indeed, the reasonable part of me feels like Dos will be out of the hospital by the earliest prediction (Wednesday). But there’s a wiggy part–that unshowered, unshaven, frazzled guy–who wanted to look Dr. Grisham in the face and say, “Ninety percent of the time? Ninety percent? You can take your ninety percent and shove it right…”

I didn’t, of course, because I’m a reasonable guy, an unflinching optimist, and dad who understands you don’t piss off Dr. Grisham when he’s getting ready to put a needle in your son’s spine.


To those who have already asked, I feel pretty confident this is all going to turn out just fine. Thanks for your concern and well-wishes. After spending just one day in the Children’s Hospital, I know what scared parenting looks like. That hospital has parents in it who have been there for months. Those are the folks who have it tough.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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27 Responses

  1. Pauly says:

    Good vibes going out to you and the family.

  2. iggy says:

    praying for you and your family.

  3. bill mullin says:

    my prayers for your family

  4. Darla says:

    We are thinking of you guys. Let Chelle know that I am here for her. She can call anytime, day or night.

  5. I’m a parent too, and know how hard it is…
    Keep confident.
    Best wishes for you and the family.

  6. Dr. Chako says:

    One of my best traits as a physician (and there are many*) is my ability to take complex medical jargon and turn it into plain English.

    Call me anytime day or night if you have a question.


    *Um, except perhaps humility.

  7. Su says:

    Love you guys!

  8. Drizztdj says:

    Get him fixed up and back home where he belongs in mommy and daddy’s lap at 2am for quiet rocking.

  9. Bloody P says:


    It’s scary. Believe me, I know. When my eldest was born, she had a bad viral infection and they had to put a tube in her FREAKING HEAD to keep her hydrated/pump medicine into her.

    I was a wreck. I don’t think I slept for 3 days.

    The good news?

    She’s now an insanely intelligent, beautiful 14 year old going to the best high school in Seattle with an entire life ahead of her to attack.

    The moral of the story is that this is just a hiccup in the legend of the Dos. There are amazing things ahead.

    Hang in there, we’re all here for you and your family.


  10. Da Goddess says:

    I’m praying for Dos and the family. It’s scary and overwhelming and you just can’t seem to get solid footing anywhere. BUT, Dos is in good hands. You have to believe that 100%.

    When I worked Peds, I spent 50% of my time reassuring parents of newborns that what we were doing was necessary and more often than not precautionary. The other 50% of the time was spent with the patients. And you know what? Family is just as important a component to healing as anything else. So don’t hesitate to ask doctors and nurses the questions you need to have answered. Keep a notebook with you. Write down questions as they come up. Write down the answers as the doc or nurse give them (because 10 minutes later you won’t remember…we parents never do [yes, I said “we” since I’m that, too])

    I’m praying.

  11. squeaky wheel says:

    I’ll be keeping you guys in my thoughts. *hugs* I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

  12. KenP says:

    With all respect to DrC, I’m guessing he’ll also explain what lawsuits and insurance add to testing needs. I’m not minimizing or playing doctor; it is just the way the world operates. 1% chance or whatever gets the testing and panic.

    I’d get on the horn with Doc. The wife keeps him humble and driving a family type car; any protests to the contrary are rationalization.

    …in my prayers

  13. AgSweep says:

    Sending good thoughts and any strength that can be teleported. Stay strong, all will be well.

  14. Bam-Bam says:

    I can’t begin to imagine.
    Know that all of our thoughts and prayers, are focussed your families way.

  15. Brian says:

    You’re in my thoughts and prayers.

  16. sirfwalgman says:

    OMG man! I had the exact same experience. Pretty horrible thing to watch but like you said usually turns out well. My wife could not even stay in the room. On the good side the kid turned out alright ten years later. At least mostly. heh. I know exactly how you feel although ten years removed the sting is a little less.. I still cringed when you said that the baby got that needle. Anyway best luck to you and the little one!

  17. Ingoal says:

    Sending good vibes your way!

  18. gadzooks64 says:

    Sending good thoughts and wishes to you and the family. Hang in there Dos!

  19. ToddCommish says:

    Prayers and good thoughts from another father of two. It’s never easy. I spent all night in the neonatal ICU when my daughter was born. She spent her first night of life intubated and getting meconium sucked out of her stomach. She’s now a beautiful healthy 13-year old (maybe a little too beautiful). May Dos and you have a long healthy life of sports, poker, rebellion, drinking, and fun together.

  20. Got my mojo workin’ for your boy.

  21. Fuel55 says:

    All positive thoughts from this end.

  22. PokahDave says:

    Good luck to you and your family!

  23. SCSue says:

    There is so much positive energy pouring forth from all of us to you and your family – you must feel it.
    Hang in there. Dos is in my thoughts.

  24. MGM says:

    Not much left to say that hasn’t been said already, but sometimes I think it’s just nice to know how many people are thinking of you and praying for you. Add me to the list!

  25. lusky says:

    hey bud heard your news through broc, realized i dont have your cell, so i post here my friend… have been thinking about your fam since i heard, hope and pray all will be well, gl and more gl

  26. Da Goddess says:

    Still praying and hoping you’re just too busy with GOOD things to post.

  27. Sean D says:

    My prayers are with you.

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