Water for Africa

Courage of an 8-Year-Old

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Amazing what kids can teach you

My youngest son, Luke, had surgery again this past week. He’s 8 years old. We shared a small moment ahead of his surgery where, without saying a word, he taught me what it means to have courage in the face of fear. Although the moment was quick, it will last with me forever. Moments like these are one of the best experiences of parenthood for me. When I remember to slow down, engage, and simply watch I’m rewarded with little life-lessons from all three of my kids.

Owen, my oldest at age 13, has the innate ability to rally a group of people that don’t know each other well into engaging into any activity. Whether it is a pick-up soccer game or a made-up game involving rules he makes up on the fly, everyone is involved, having fun, and feeling positive about being a part of it. I’ve always respected that about Owen as he teaches me what happens when you simply reject the passivity of engaging in the moment and leading courageously in all situations by putting yourself out there.

Then there is my 11 year-old daughter Greta. She has this uncanny sixth-sense to know the exact moment when someone needs a hug. She doesn’t dole them out at random or with great volume but when she does, wow, it’s the purest, most genuine feeling of love you’ll ever get. I was the recipient of one such hug this past week as the general stress of surgery, work, Ironman training, and having a house on the market took its toll. I was standing in the kitchen trying to make a simple decision on dinner when she came up to me and wrapped her arms around my side, squeezed, and then left without a word. My tank instantly filled ready to face whatever was next. I don’t know how she does it, but I’ve learned the power of a hug that’s for sure.

What my 8-year-old son taught me about courage

Courage is something I’ve needed to muster up every day since I signed-up for Ironman Wisconsin and went public with this audacious fundraising goal of $140,600. It’s flat-out scary. Every day. I’ve been especially low on courage the past few weeks as workouts continue to push and go beyond what I believe is physically possible for me, as I’ve seen my fundraising stall out, and as other areas of my life have been showing signs of struggle. Leave it to my youngest son, Luke, to inspire me to find courage in the face of fear.

Luke has known about this surgery re-do for a few weeks. If you remember from back in March, he had the same surgery and suffered very painful complications. This re-do was required to fix the side effects of those complications. Tricia and I expected him to grow more anxious about it as the date neared, but we really didn’t see much change in his attitude even up to the night before the surgery. He was also all smiles and full of conversation as we checked-in and were lead to his pre-op room at Children’s in Minneapolis. Once the doctors and nurses started coming in and out you could see some anticipation in his face, but nothing concerning. Tricia and I kept stealing glances at each other surprised at how smooth this was going.

The first sign of frustration came when he was told by his doctor he would be coming home with his catheter still in place. He’ll need to leave it in for 7 days to ensure the sutures in his repaired ureter heal without risk of urine backing up and leaking out, which was the issue last time. Luke through one arm up in defiance as if to say “haven’t I been through enough?!?” He then made a sad, yet determined, face that simply said “I just want this over with.” From then on we all just wanted surgery to get underway so we could indeed get this over with.

When it came time to go they offered to have Luke walk down into the operating room (OR) rather than being pushed in his bed. He gladly took them up on that and he chose me this time to come with him as he was put under anesthesia. This was my first time accompanying him for this and I was a little taken aback by the sudden lumps in my throat.

Through my job at Boston Scientific I’ve had the amazing opportunity to see numerous heart catheterizations live in the hospital, often times standing next to the cardiologists using our Boston Scientific products. Going into an OR is just like another day in the office. What took me aback this time was the little hand gently holding onto mine. I suddenly saw the OR through a completely different lens as it was my loved one going under.

As we walked down the hall and towards the OR Luke and I were telling the nurses about our recent weekend camping in Wausau and how Luke loved biking on the paths we found. We took a turn and were faced with the entrance of the OR. My stomach dropped as I could see the cold, sterile room full of equipment beeping coming closer. Luke was still holding onto my hand gently but stopped answering questions. I was trying to hold back my emotions.

The moment we reached the threshold of the OR is the moment I’ll never forget and is a moment that is making me cry as I write this. The reality of surgery and the possibility of more complications were right there being represented by the hospital table in that cold and sterile room surrounded by masked strangers. Once Luke got on that table and went to sleep he knew the potential pain that could come because of all he’s been through.

Instead of retreating, instead of crying out, instead of giving up, Luke simply squeezed my hand harder and kept walking towards that bed without slowing a step. I picked him up and placed him on the bed. The doctors were making small talk about the strawberry flavor Luke picked for the gas mask. Luke, from what I can tell, tuned them out and locked eyes with me. Still holding onto my hand and his favorite blanket he wouldn’t take his eyes off of me. His face was calm and determined and his grip on my hand told me he was glad I was there. He was finding the courage in that moment until the anesthesia kicked in and he went to sleep.

I can’t tell you the emotion bursting within me. I didn’t want to appear concerned for him as I can only assume he was looking at me for comfort. I didn’t want the last thing for him to see before falling asleep was my tears. As he drifted asleep, I kissed him on the cheek and told him I’ll see him soon. Then I lost it.

Throughout his entire surgery, I couldn’t stop thinking of that walk to his bed. He didn’t skip a beat. He could have protested. He could have thrown a tantrum. He could have complained. He didn’t. Instead, he saw what needed to be done and did it.

It’s an easy concept to read in a motivational book or video but to see it lived out real-time, by a child no less, will rock you. At least it did for me. I couldn’t be more proud of Luke and all of my kids. I know for a fact, I’ll be drawing on this memory of a son holding onto a father’s hand just a bit tighter but still pressing on despite the fear in front of him as I continue Ironman training and as I find the courage to cross that finish line in September.

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  • Sarah Melling
    August 5, 2017 at 9:16 am

    Wow! It sounds like God gave your kids the right parents and you the right kids. The courage, compassion, inclusiveness and inspiration you show the world is being reflected for you through your kids. Be proud Nick & Tricia!

    • Nick Johnson
      Nick Johnson
      August 6, 2017 at 2:11 pm

      Thank you Sarah!