As long, drawn-out deaths go, his seemed impossible to frame temporally, though I know it took five days. It was, though, as I realized this only recently a few nights ago, the inverse of his birth.
He was born quiet. Despite the escalating panic in the delivery suite, he was the only one there unaffected by the trauma of his own birth. No birth canal for him, instead the cesarean channel into life, in which he entered blue and straight and quiet instead of pink and fetal and loud.
There were two incisions on his mother’s belly, the second through the uterine lining. His head was pulled through the fluid, suctioned and then the delivery resumed clearing the rest of his body from the incision. He wasn’t breathing.
He was handed off to someone who rushed him to a heated exam table, low Apgar, seizing, legs straight and stiff, arms drawn up to his chest, none of it making any sense to what we had imagined this would be.
Oxygen is blown by his nose while telemetry is attached, and he begins to breathe. Shallow, no crying, no lung-clearing introduction to living, just a gentle inspiration. His rhythm grew more strained, fighting against the pressure of aspirated amnionic fluid, and the rattling became louder and then relented under the suctioning.
His first breath would be a relief in contrast to his last.
Eight years and almost ten months later his lungs were filling with fluid. It happened throughout his entire life, his perpetual drowning, though it was suction and percussive therapy we administered instead of CPR. On this day, though, around his lips and nostrils had formed a pink, almost powdery glaze, which we were informed was the exhausted remnants of alveoli being expelled with the fluid we tried to evacuate from his lungs.
He would not recover from this pneumonia.
The rattle diminished in his effort. Over the days he slipped into the protection of his coma. And on the fifth day the cadence of his breathing slowed, much in the way it accelerated the day he was born, until moments of entirely repressed panic could fill the space in between his breaths. He exhaled the last as quietly and determined as his first.
It was as if he were retracing the process of his birth in dying, the womb, though, replaced by something less organic, but I have to hope as much a comfort to him; his blue satin blanket.