Nat is an outstanding father. I’d like to nominate him for an award in the forthcoming Father’s Day recognition festivities surrounding the birthday of HM the King on December 5, but I don’t know how to do that. So, I’ll just let you know what I would say to a committee if I could.
For the past year Nat has set his own life aside for his daughter Pen. She was born 14 months ago, the cutest, happiest baby in the world. However, she had some presenting issues including a hair lip (you can probably tell from the picture that it was successfully corrected); that was just the beginning, however. Within a couple of months pediatricians at Maha Raj Medical Center and Chiang Mai University were concerned about little Pen’s development. They sent off a DNA sample to the laboratories at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok and the results were shocking. Pen has a genetic condition called “autosomal recessive spinal muscular atrophy (level 2)”. SMA for short. This means that her muscular development is inhibited as the result of a rare recessive genetic trait she inherited from both her parents. The prognosis is that there is no reliable probability of recovery. The common term for her most obvious symptoms, the Internet informed me, is “floppy baby” syndrome. At level 2
the report warned, “there are no cases where the patient has been able to walk” but she may be able to sit up and carry on. The most optimistic outlook for Pen’s future is life on wheels. But the specialists said that the family must guard against infections because the baby will not be able to cough and expel phlegm. One needs muscles for that.
It was not long before the first crisis developed. Pen had to be rushed to a hospital to have congestion pumped out and resultant infection brought under control. That’s when Nat quit his job as an x-ray technician in a district hospital and became fully-dedicated to his daughter, with the continuing help of grandmothers. Nat’s career was on a steep upward trajectory. Medical technology is a field in demand, and Nat was being trained for rapid advancement, but never mind. Aem, his wife, who would have preferred to be the primary care-giver, was being inducted into the civil service as a teacher and that was too valuable a career track to forfeit, with its job security and benefits for the whole family. So Nat took the role.
It is three crises later. Two of them had to be handled at hospitals far away because all the beds in the pediatric intensive care unit of the medical center were full. This time the hospital specialists moved things around and she has been admitted and given a tracheotomy to facilitate her breathing. For a one-year-old Pen has been through a lot, but this report is about the admiration I feel for Nat, Aem and the family, rather than sympathy for Pen that nearly overwhelms us.
Nat has had to acquire skills he never dreamed he’d need; things like how to inject liquid through a feeding tube, how to monitor the baby’s oxygen level, and how to suction. He’ll be a more well-rounded medical assistant than he had intended. To be succinct, the family has set aside all its plans and finances for this new challenge. Their universe has shrunk. Now the scope is day-to-day. Each day has challenges and hospital life has become the new normal. Visiting hours are noon to one-thirty, and a couple of hours in the evening. Nat’s life revolves around that, and the most distant target is no farther than how soon this crisis will be over and they can bring Pen back home to the room they have dedicated to her safety and comfort, where Nat and the grandmothers will become nurses again.
My hands are chapped from applauding this outstanding father and the family that supports him.
Note: Click on the two images above to expand them to full view.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.