In January 2002, I went to Boston to cut a deal. The deal, a covenant really (in Hebrew, a brith), originated between God and Abraham. Abraham was the first to cut the deal. My job in Boston was to renew it in the flesh of my eight-day old great-nephew. When it was all over bar the feasting, all present joined in the heartfelt prayer: Just as he has entered into the brith, so may he enter into the Torah, into the nuptial canopy and into good deeds.
Then we joined in heartfelt feasting.
In the next room the baby, newly named Elisha, slept quietly. Quietly too, he bled into his diaper*.
When we checked on him we found him – as in the vision of the prophet Ezekiel – languishing in his blood. I applied pressure. This works nine times in ten. Elisha bled on. I sutured a little bleeder and waited. The baby boy bled on.
His mother and father and I bundled him up and raced him down the January street to the pediatrician’s* office. Boston is cold in January but we didn’t notice. The paediatrician’s nurse applied a tight bandage, saying reassuringly: ”Pressure always stops this sort of oozing.” Really?
Elisha bled on quietly. He remained pink and warm and peaceful.
An ambulance raced us across town, bells and siren ringing, to the Boston Children’s Hospital. Bearing all the authority of my years and my professional status, expressing myself with composed urgency and gravity, I gave Elisha’s history to a triage nurse; then to a nurse practitioner; after her to a surgical nurse and then to a medical student. All took notes, all reassured us pressure would do the trick, the ooze was slight, it would settle, Elisha looked well. All disappeared without trace.
Finally I met an Accident and Emergency physician from Iran and a Urology Resident from Israel. Beaut fellows both, they understood and honoured the Covenant of Abraham. The Israelite confided the story of his own son’s recent Brith Millah. And he spoke to the truism which comforts all surgeons: Healthy blood will always coagulate.
Meanwhile the sleeping baby boy oozed on. It was midday now, three hours after the Brith. A test gave Elisha’s blood count at forty percent. He slept on. And trickled away.
My brother surgeons took Elisha to the OR where, with the aid of the operating microscope, they ligated some minute bleeders. They invited me into OR where they demonstrated with some pride, a pink rosebud of glans, surrounded by a coronet of catgut sutures. “Look, no ooze”, they said.
No ooze is good news.
It was now three pm and I had missed my flight to the West Coast.
I hung around for an hour longer. At the next diaper change we saw the slightest pink loss. The same at the next change. And the next.
All the clinicians pronounced Elisha well. Cured. I should fly home, confident his little problem was fixed.
Misgiving, guilty at my surgical failure, I flew to LA and rang my niece from the airport. “He looks good, Unc. Hardly any ooze at all.”
I flew home to Australia.
A day later, Elisha’s mum called: “Elisha has haemophilia*, Uncle. The bleeding wasn’t your fault, not anyone’s fault, a mutation.”
Within weeks it became clear Elisha’s haemophilia was graded severe. Every second day of his life, Elisha has an intravenous injection of Clotting Factor Eight. On this regime he’s a healthy fellow.
Last week the World Haemophilia** Congress was underway in Melbourne with Elisha’s mum in attendance. She brought Elisha with her, together with his non-haemophiliac younger brother. Although I haven’t checked the pink rosebud I last saw in OR, the Elisha I see looks brilliantly healthy. Next January his multi-continental kin will gather in Boston to celebrate as, in fulfilment of our prayer, Elisha enters into the Torah at his barmitzvah.
· *In America they spell it thus.
· ** In Oz we spell it this way.