It was early morning on the second day in San Francisco and the city was waking up. I had an hour on my hands before I’d hike across town to the hospital. To save myself from too many phone conversations, I wrote updates about Allie on a blog for friends and extended family. As news spread, friends of friends from all over the country posted encouragement and prayers. Some of the people I knew but most I didn’t. I was grateful so many prayers and good thoughts were coming our way. We needed it.
I arrived at the hospital and was met by the doctor. She gave me good news and bad news. The good news was that Allie was maintaining her core temperature on her own. She didn’t need a heating lamp any more. As soon as Allie’s temperature was stable, the doctor ordered a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which revealed the bad news. Allie had severe brain damage. It was still too early for a prognosis, but the MRI confirmed why Allie was in a coma, why she was not able to breathe on her own, and why her body had such difficulty maintaining the function of its basic systems. No one knew what to expect next. Brain injuries are unpredictable.
I went down to the cafeteria for some coffee and eggs, and when I got back to the PICU, two policemen were in Allie’s room looking at her and talking quietly. One, a man of average height but built like a linebacker, was the officer dispatched to Timmy and Charity’s apartment to investigate the incident. He was holding a teddy bear dressed in a police uniform. The other officer was tall and wore captain’s bars on his shoulders which seemed appropriate because he reminded me of Captain America with his firm handshake, square jaw, and warm smile. “Are you her grandfather?” he asked me.
“Yes, sir.” I answered. Word had gotten back to them that I had traveled from Florida.
“We’re glad you’re here. I’m so sorry about what happened to your granddaughter,” he said to me. I was surprised by his gentle demeanor. The brass back at the station had sent the right guy for community outreach. A couple of years later, I saw this same captain interviewed in a documentary on cable about San Francisco’s drug infested Tenderloin District. That’s where Allie lived.
The policeman holding the teddy bear was broken-hearted over Allie. I assumed this kind of domestic violence happened often in a densely populated place like the San Francisco Bay Area, and that law enforcement officials and first responders were used to child abuse cases. But doctors were shocked, and paramedics surprised to take a call like this, even in San Francisco’s worst neighborhood. Policemen were saddened to have to investigate the incident at Charity and Timmy’s apartment. No one gets used to violence to a baby. In coming weeks, I would often meet Kevlar-vested policemen, equipped for urban patrol and armed with teddy bears.
Captain America handed me his card and said, “If there is anything you need while you’re here in my city, call me. I mean it.” The other policeman stood looking down at Allie in her bed. His lips moved as he prayed, silently. He placed the teddy bear next to Allie’s head.
“Thank you for loving our Allie and for making me feel so welcome here,” I said.
As the police said their goodbyes, Joanne busily checked machines, clicked buttons on monitors, and dispensed medicines into Allie’s IV. “Would you like to hold her?” She asked.
“Of course I would,” I told her.
This is the first chance I had to hold her since I arrived. Joanne had me sit in a chair while she arranged tubes and stands and wires all around me and then gently put Allie in my arms. Even in a coma there were little coughs, cries, and yawns. I softly sang Allie’s favorite lullaby.
Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for You
Joanne left the room to care for other patients and Allie rested peacefully in my arms.
This is where I want to be, right there holding Allie. Thinking about the future was scary, but no matter what, Susan and I agreed we’d do whatever it takes to be the ones holding Allie, giving her comfort, and giving her a home.
But I also had doubts. Were we up to the task? Could we adopt Allie if necessary? Would they let us?
While I was thinking these things, Joanne came back into the room to prepare Allie for more tests. She was scheduled to have an eye exam and another MRI. Joanne made notes on a print out. She walked over to show me what looked like scribbles next to wavy lines. “This is Allie’s brain activity,” she said. “Here is where you started holding her. Here is where you are singing to her. See? She’s relaxing. It’s good for her that you’re here.”
A brutal attack
Allie was wheeled out of the room and down the hall to have more tests run. The room felt uncomfortably large once Allie’s bed was wheeled out. I felt very alone. My phone vibrated. The caller ID read “JOHN.”
“Hello, John,” I said.
“Timmy got beat up in his cell,” John said in a panic. “He’s in the hospital with a broken jaw.”
I had heard bad things happen to child abusers in jail. Justice is Darwinian behind bars, served up through natural selection. Some call it karma.
I thought it was urban legend, but apparently it’s not. When police process an alleged child abuser, inexplicably, bits of information about the new arrival is floated out into the general population. Once certain violent men hear of it, they fix it so the alleged takes an ambulance ride. This time Timmy’s the one on a stretcher.
As I listened to John tell me what happened to Timmy, I felt so cold and numb I shivered. I was already sad, and this made it me sadder. By this time, John was in town, too, along with Ruth and Timmy’s older sister. Not only did they have a granddaughter in the hospital, but also they had an incarcerated son, brutally beaten and having his jaw wired up. He’d eat through a straw for the next few weeks.
My heart broke. And I felt like throwing up.
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