With the long, dark winter finally behind us, a brisk March wind ushered in spring - and on its heels, an angel in the night came to live with us.
A sudden gust of wind caught the bottom of his coat as my husband, Forrest, carefully tucked Lauren, the youngest of our five children, into the baby's car seat. The wind was unusually bad, making our short drive to the airport difficult. From the passenger's seat, I watched as Forrest's knuckles gripped the top of the steering wheel. He fought to keep our minivan from drifting into the next lane. It seemed a fitting metaphor to describe the past year - a real white-knuckle ride!
Our youngest twins, Lauren and Brandon, were born eight weeks premature. Within minutes of her birth, Lauren, the smaller of the two, had stopped breathing. In the hospital, I watched in horror as her tiny pink lips turned blue. She was quickly resuscitated, whisked off to the neonatal intensive care unit, and place on a ventilator. Brandon didn't fare much better. A month later, Lauren and Brandon, both on apnea monitors, came home to meet their brother and sisters. The older twins, Brianna and little Forrest, were three, and Taylor was two. We quickly established a routine. Within weeks, we were ready to welcome yet another new member of the family, Zeke. We didn't think that our family would be complete without a dog! So we were on our way on this windy night to bring him home.
At the airport, I leaned over to Forrest and whispered, "What if it doesn't work out? Zeke's two years old and probably set in his ways. What if he can't adjust?"
"The breeder was sure he would, Diana," Forrest reminded me. I had searched long and hard for a responsible collie breeder before I found Susan. After I explained that we have five children - two with serious health problems - she wisely steered us away from a puppy.
"Diana," Susan said when I called her, "I have a two-year-old champion collie. Zeke will be perfect for your family. He's a beautiful tricolor and a true collie in every sense. He loves life, and he especially loves children." Even though I had my heart set on having a puppy, with Susan's recommendation, I agreed to give Zeke a try.
Now my thoughts were interrupted by a high-pitched squeal. "Zeke's here!" announced Brianna. An attendant ushered us to a large crate, where I saw a long nose pushed up against the wire with a mass of ebony and white fur behind it. After speaking a few reassuring words to Zeke, I nodded to the attendant and said, "We're ready."
Zeke inched his way out, looking cautious yet curious. Within seconds, my animal lover Brianna threw her tiny arms around Zeke's neck, buried her face in his long fur, and murmured, "I love you, Zeke." Little Forrest added, "We're your new family. Welcome home."
Zeke quickly settled in to his new life with us. We arranged his bed in the master bedroom. But right from the start, Zeke made it clear that he preferred sleeping in the nursery between the babies' cribs. There was barely room to move with five oxygen canisters, a suction machine, and all of the other medical equipment in the room. But the nurse who helped us care for the twins didn't mind, so I decided to let Zeke stay with her and the infants.
One night, about three weeks after his arrival, Zeke jumped up on my side of the bed and thwacked me with his paw. I glanced at the clock; it was 3:30 a.m. "Go back to sleep, Zeke," I murmured. Zeke refused to take no for an answer. Instead, he ran barking back and forth between my side of the bed and the door.
"Shhhhh ... you'll wake the children," I chided as I got up, thinking he probably had to go out. I headed to the back door, but Zeke wouldn't follow. Barking, he turned and ran in the opposite direction.
"Zeke, come," I called. Annoyed, I shuffled down the hall after him into the nursery. Why isn't he listening? I wondered. "Zeke, come," I called again. It's useless, I thought and resigned myself to the fact that I would just need to lead him out by his collar. I watched as Zeke jumped up with his paws on Lauren's crib rail. I placed two fingers under his collar and casually glanced down at Lauren. Oh my God! She's not breathing!
I yanked Lauren's lifeless body from the crib as I screamed, "Forrest, call 911!" The baby hung in my arms like a rag doll. I frantically blew the first rescue breath past her blue lips. Her saliva tasted salty as it mingled with the tears streaming down my face. Suddenly, I heard a choking sound. I quickly turned Lauren over to clear her airway. When I turned her back toward me, she started to cry.
"She's breathing!" I exclaimed, relief flooding my body. "Why didn't the monitor go off?" Forrest asked the nurse. After examining the monitor more closely, Forrest had his answer. He turned to the nurse and said, "The wires are crossed." Furious, I punched the nursing agency number into the phone while we waited for the ambulance to arrive. Within minutes, we were given a new nurse. When the paramedics arrived, they checked Lauren over. "She looks like she's doing fine now," one of them said. "You got to her just in time."
At the hospital the next morning, Lauren was given a battery of tests. There was no permanent damage. Thank God! It was a miracle. Exhausted and relieved we took Lauren home. Zeke greeted us at the front door.
"Zeke, what would we have done without you?" I asked.
I carried Lauren, who had fallen asleep in the car, into the nursery. Zeke followed closely behind and watched as I laid Lauren in her crib. Satisfied that she was fine, Zeke contentedly plopped onto the rug in his usual spot next to Lauren's crib.
Forrest turned to me and asked, "Do you think the baby will be all right?" I glanced at Zeke and replied, "She'll be fine."