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  • Writer's pictureStephanie

Johnny Carson and a Sense of Humanity

Ben is home from the hospital.

The emergency visit was an emergency.

His brain was filling up with fluid and needed surgical intervention.

He got that.

Two days later, we were able to come home.

I do so love normal, boring life at home. I love doing life with my son.

I recently got a book based on something I'd read on social media. Gasp. It's called The Detective in the Dooryard. The author runs the Bangor Maine Police Department page, which is where I first encountered him. He puts a human face to the men and women who serve his local precinct. I appreciate that. While I know he's seen his share of crime scenes and carnage, and I've seen my own share of blood and body fluids over the last couple weeks as my son recovers from brain surgery (and I have no desire to see more), I'm drawn to his relatable wordiness. His musings reveal an ability to notice the people on both sides of the Do Not Cross tape. He talks about strangers, friends, his son.

It's not easy, seeing humans. Having had a fresh taste of being treated as "The patient's mom in room 864", I'm familiar with the tendency to make a soul into a statistic. Over the weekend, I watched the faceless bodies in white coats, goggles and masks check off boxes to identify my son based on numbers from the lab.

Glycemic index? Normal.

Covid-19? Negative.

CT scan? Too much fluid in brain. Hydrocephalus. Immediate intervention required.

They gave him a number on the surgery list. (The only number on the wall monitor - it was Saturday, nearly midnight after all - but HIPPA frowns on names. Not another body appeared in the waiting room as I dozed in a stiff chair across from the fake Christmas tree with Walmart ornaments. The screen blurred in my exhaustion, so the number was hazy anyway until I stood to stretch and look closer).

I recognized his identifying code, I think it's been the same since birth. But the doctors this stay looked younger than they were then, and the nurses, behind masks and fogging glasses, older. They always glanced at their paperwork before looking at his face, checking to be sure the numbers matched their charts. They asked the same questions I'd answered 30 times in as many sleepless hours, even though they had it in black and white. Perhaps I should have changed my story, see if they'd notice.

Probably not.

They like statistics more than stories.

They were busy, 5 admissions overnight in the children's ward. I tapped my feet impatiently, not because I had anywhere to go. I wanted to relegate the whole weekend to a statistic myself. A number in the list of medical moments. A memory.

Finally every box was checked. They freed us to go home to recuperate. I was a little surprised, because he wasn't in good shape (who is, the day after emergency midnight brain surgery?) But he met their bottom lines for discharge, and I was not going to argue after two days in the hospital. I could handle this. And we went home, and I did. Because, of course, he's not a number.

He's a person. He's my son.

As days passed this week, we recovered from the haze of hospitalization. Nonetheless, I found myself repulsed by Twitter feeds and jarring headlines on screens. That’s when I decided it was time for a hardcover instead, chapters rather than quips and quibbles. So I journeyed through pages with the detective who doesn't tell classic police stories with the details of the pain or anger. There's enough of those created for primetime dramas and news reports. He chooses to see the humans instead. The real ones.

From the archives of his bygone childhood, he relates memories of sneaking downstairs after his parents thought he was in bed, and watching Johnny Carson from his hiding place behind the old naugahyde armchair. "Johnny is one of the few television stars I wish I could see again," the literary policeman writes, "Maybe because he was funny without being malicious.''

I look up from the pages. I'm too young for memories of Johnny Carson. Too young to remember a time when a sense of humor wasn't based on sarcasm, indignation, or shock. For that matter, when a sense of the news wasn't either. Truth is boring, I guess. Probably just as well I didn't pursue that journalism career. At some point, I'd have to choose statistics over stories. At least if I valued my job.

What really matters is what happens when you stop counting, graphing, charting.

When you start looking at the people.

The normal. The boring.

The real.

Humans are souls, not numbers, after all.

Johnny Carson really loved the story. The Detective in the book does too. They notice a person's sense of humor, of self, and of direction. They have a sense of humanity.

I think they were on to something.

The most important question I will ever answer will come one day, when I stand, unveiled, unmasked, before my Maker. He will look at me, knowing full well I have nothing to offer, not needing to check any charts, unwilling to accept any bribes, and unable to accept anything less than perfection. And He will ask me a single question. "What did you do with my Son?"

I will simply respond, "I did life with Him."

And that will be all He needs to know.

This picture is a cross section of Ben's brain. The black parts are fluid. The white slash in the middle is part of his shunt (clearly not working, judging correctly from the amount of fluid.)

The photo below is from today. The black spaces are much smaller, and reflect how his brain usually looks when the shunt is diverting fluid as it should. The white line is part of the new shunt.

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