Back in 1963, Lolly and I went through two experiences which taught us how to balance the good with the bad. The first one took place when we and two friends on Hill AFB, Utah, drove to a forested campsite on a warm August day, discovered that the campsite was located at 8,860 feet in the mountains, and learned that it could be very cold at that altitude, even in mid-summer.
It was an icy 37 degrees when we arrived in our summer clothes, which luckily, being old things suitable for camping, happened to be somewhat heavier than what we might ordinarily have been wearing in August.
You should have seen me trying to blow up three large air mattresses at that altitude. It took me two hours to get them tightly blown up because they kept softening up as the warm air I puffed into them cooled back down.
If you think that was bad, that night, well below freezing in a small tent, I felt a hard elbow jab into my ribs, and heard Lolly’s voice saying, “Hey!”
While my mattress had stayed firm, hers had leaked and was flat, which was a great trial for her because she was six or seven months pregnant. Ah, well! I just switched mattresses; then we pulled our woolen blankets over us again, kissed, and slept happily till the morn.
Later that day, when we reached home we happily agreed that it may have been one heck of an odd campout, but by and large our day in the wilds had been fun, even the unarguably frigid portions of it.
Two and half months later, on Nov. 2, 1963, Lolly gave birth to Francis, our second born. Lolly’s 42 hours of labor was one of the longest stretches of worry I had ever experienced, but even though Francis was born prematurely, and we had to leave him there in the base hospital and go back three times a day for feeding, we both thought the worst was over.
On November 7, we arrived for the evening feeding, and had no luck spotting tiny little Francis among the babies on display behind a plate glass window. And then a nurse told us, “The doctor would like to see you.”
To this day I believe that Dr. Gallagher was a genius. He explained that Francis had been “running a very slight fever, something that premature babies almost never do because the usual problem is keeping their temperature up.” With just that tiny clue, he said, he somehow came to suspect what was wrong, and so took a spinal tap.
“I can’t explain why I thought a tap was needed,” he said, “but I was right about it. I caught a spinal infection so early that only once in a long while did a bug pass under the lens of my microscope.”
Can you believe that anyone could be that quick on the uptake?
The bottom line? Francis had E-coli spinal meningitis, often fatal in such a young infant, and had already been evacuated to Salt Lake General Hospital.
For three weeks, twice each day, we saw our tiny baby lying silently with an injection port in each heel, one for intravenous feeding, and one for antibiotics. It was not an easy sight to take. The drive home was invariably quiet, but we both always maintained that where there was life there was hope.
And then came “that” day.
“Your child will survive,” the doctor told us, smiling quietly.
A month later Francis was home. He is now 57.
Yes, where there’s life, there’s always hope.