It is a bit of conditioning that has us consider decade anniversaries as being more significant than the others even though a year is still a year. They become milestones in measurement – years divisible by ten – and today marks the twentieth year since the death of my oldest son.
Besides amazement at the amount of time passed and the fact that the frequency of grief has lessened, but its intensity has not changed, the way his world would have changed for him is nothing short of miraculous.
One of these changes is on the more heart-breaking side of innovation for me. He died after a life-long battle dealing aspiration pneumonia and on his last bout his lungs deteriorated, filled with fluid and lost their ability to do what these precious pleura are supposed to do.
Not long after, a breakthrough technology in respiration was introduced, the non-invasive bi-level positive pressure ventilator. It’s a device that senses the patient’s inhaling and exhaling and provides gentle pressure supplemented with oxygen giving the breather’s ancillary muscles a break from the struggle against drawing air into fluid-filled sacks and allowing damaged alveoli a chance to heal, all without being ventilated, without passing a tube down the patient’s airway.
Much more recent is a breakthrough in neurological science where neurons in human muscle tissue can be stimulated through external sources. What was only science fiction twenty years ago is now science that allows humans who have suffered a neurological disconnect to have a restoration of gross and fine muscle movement and control. My son’s neural disconnect could have been bridged this way.
Another more ubiquitous innovation is one that’s become much more transparent, perhaps even to you – the iPad. It is most any tablet these days, but in 2010 when this device was introduced, researchers, teachers, neurologists and parents alike discovered that exploiting this tactile interface would inspire the development of new applications that would bridge another gap, that of communication – not just a transaction of basic needs, but an expression of understanding, a window that has since opened for thousands of kids that were trapped within what used to be impenetrable membranes of meaning. Tablets are channels for these humans now that make the rest of us realize the genius and love and patience within them.
While it is a foregone conclusion simply because I love him and miss him and celebrate his life and grieve his loss, with what these twenty years have since brought us, it is painfully clear that he died too soon.