The Color of Joy
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"Love this series! I recommend The Color of Heaven series to all my friends. These books are wonderfully spiritual, and make the reader think about events in their own lives."- Kindle reviewer
After rushing to the hospital for the birth of their third child, Riley and Lois James anticipate one of the most joyful days of their lives. But things take a dark turn when their newborn daughter vanishes from the hospital. Is this payback for something in Riley's troubled past? Or is it something even more mysterious?
As the search intensifies and the police close in, strange and unbelievable clues about the whereabouts of the newborn begin to emerge, and Riley soon finds himself at the center of a surprising turn of events that will challenge everything he once believed about life, love, and the existence of miracles.
Includes Bonus Content: A Book Club Discussion Guide
Release date: February 10, 2015
Publisher: Julianne MacLean Publishing Inc.
Print pages: 250
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The Color of Joy
The Color of Joy
By Julianne MacLean
It pains me to admit this, but there was a time in my life when I believed happiness was an illusion, or at the very least, a concept spitefully invented to make us all feel inadequate when we failed to achieve it.
In my youth, I was the quintessential angry young man. I was wild and brooding, and the harder my father tried to whip me into shape and create a future leader out of me, the deeper I fell into the dark and dangerous world of rebellion.
Although “fell” isn’t quite the right word. What I did was cannonball off the high diving board to create as big a splash as possible. I wanted to drown my father in the tidal wave of my anger and resentment. Become the exact opposite of what he wanted me to be. Show him that his strict disciplinarian tactics had failed. I did an excellent job of it, too.
They say youth is wasted on the young. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I do know that I did not experience joy until much later in life, after I hit rock bottom in my late teens and early twenties. This terrible fall from grace included two brief prison incarcerations and substance abuse problems that are thankfully behind me now.
I’m proud to say I’m a new man. Perhaps not quite the man my father wanted me to be. I’m not a brain surgeon, a lawyer or a politician, but at least I know what love is. Love and respect for myself and others, and that is where I believe true joy is found.
I wish we could always be in control of our destinies in this quest for joy in life, but sometimes the earth collapses under our feet and a sinkhole opens up. What can we do but drop and hope for the best? Or at least hope for an eventual understanding of why this terrible thing happened.
Perhaps the lesson is this: Without knowledge of misery, there can be no true knowledge of joy.
Sure. Life is full of ups and downs, but we all know that some downs are worse than others. There are those from which we simply cannot recover. Or at least it might seem that way when we’re in the depths of the worst possible scenario.
“I don’t know how much longer I can take this,” Lois said, breathing through another contraction. “What’s she waiting for?”
“The perfect moment, I guess.” After twenty-two hours of labor, it was a dedicated attempt to lighten the tension and diminish my fears.
It all began at home the previous day when we sat down at the kitchen table for dinner. Lois’s mother Carol, who’d arrived a week earlier to help out with our two young children, had cooked a giant pot of Chicken Fiesta Soup. At first I thought it was too spicy for Lois because as soon as she tasted it, she dropped her spoon on the floor.
“You don’t like it?” Carol asked.
“It’s not that.” Lois rose heavily from her chair and looked down at the floor. “I think my water just broke.”
The kids looked down as well. “Did you pee your pants, Mummy?”
Carol ran around the table to assess the situation.
An hour later, Lois and I were checked into the obstetrics unit at the hospital.
* * *
“I feel more relaxed this time,” she said, rubbing a hand over her swollen belly as she climbed onto the bed.
“They say third time’s a charm,” I replied. “Though the first two were pretty great.”
Both our children had been born on their exact due dates after only a few hours of labor. Danny was now six years old and Trudy was four. They were smart as whips and got along well with each other.
“I just wish we could decide on the name,” Lois said. “I like both of them.”
We already knew we were having a girl and we’d narrowed it down to two names: Jordan or Morgan.
“We’ll know as soon as we see her,” I suggested, sitting forward in my chair to rest my elbows on my knees. “We don’t need to decide until then.”
Lois nodded and focused on her toes. “There’s another contraction coming. How long has it been?”
I checked my watch. “About eight minutes since the last one.”
She panted in a staccato rhythm until it was over, then sat back and relaxed again. “I can’t wait to see her,” she said with a smile. “It’s going to be so great to get her home. Trudy will be so excited.”
I squeezed Lois’s hand.
* * *
Twenty-one hours later, we were still waiting for Lois’s cervix to fully dilate. It was now 5:00 p.m. the following day and neither of us had slept a wink through the steady labor pains happening every five minutes. We were both exhausted and growing increasingly discouraged because we knew it couldn’t go on much longer. The doctor had explained that she’d have to perform a C-section if the baby wasn’t delivered within twenty-four hours after Lois’s water broke. Lois was still keen to deliver the baby the old-fashioned way, so she was holding out.
Another labor pain began and Lois breathed through it with a tight jaw and a face drenched in perspiration. As soon as it was over, she lay back and stared up at the ceiling. “Can you get the nurse?” she asked. “I want her to check me again to see if I’m dilated more, because if I’m not, I’m ready to give in. I’m so tired, Riley. I don’t think I can push this baby out anyway.”
I stood quickly and went out into the hall where I found Brenda, the obstetrical nurse who had come on duty a few hours earlier. She was talking to the young medical student who had been observing our case all day.
“Hey,” I said, “Lois is at the end of her rope. Can you check her again?”
“Of course.” Brenda followed me back to our room with the student, pulled on a pair of gloves and examined my wife. “Still only six centimeters,” she said with a note of apology. “This little one just doesn’t want to come out.”
“She’ll be a handful,” Lois said, looking up at me with a pained expression. “Strong-willed. Digging her heels in.”
Wishing I was better at hiding my unease, I simply nodded.
Lois let out a deep breath. “I guess I’m just going to have to surrender to the idea of a C-section. It’s not the end of the world. It’ll just take longer to recover. I’m sure Mom will be happy to stay an extra week if we need her to.”
Just then, Lois winced and sat up. “Ow! Something hurts!” She clutched her right side.
Brenda removed her gloves, dropped them into the garbage pail and moved around the bed to check the monitor. “Does it feel like a contraction?” she asked.
Lois shook her head. “No, it’s different, like something is ripping me apart. Oh, God, here comes another contraction.”
She breathed through it until it passed, then flopped back onto the pillows, grimaced and shut her eyes.
Brenda pressed a button on the monitor to print out a tape.
“There were a few early decelerations after the last couple of contractions,” she said as she looked at it, “but otherwise the tracing looks pretty good. The baby’s heart rate is normal in between.”
Brenda invited the medical student closer to watch the next contraction on the monitor, but when it began, it wouldn’t stop. Lois breathed through it as long as she could, then she cried out in agony. “What’s happening? Why won’t the pain go away?”
Brenda felt Lois’s belly for a brief moment, then spoke quietly to the medical student. “Go get Dr. Orlean. Tell her there’s no deceleration in the contractions and we might be looking at an abruption or a possible uterine rupture.”
I didn’t know what any of that meant, but the word rupture didn’t sound good. A burning heat filled my stomach.
Lois was writhing in pain on the bed. I tried to hold her hand but she slapped me away and clutched her stomach.
“Turn over onto your left side,” Brenda ordered in a firm voice as she scrambled to put Lois on oxygen.
Dr. Orlean ran into the room. I was never so glad to see a doctor in my entire life.
“Something’s wrong,” I said to her. “She’s in really bad pain.”
“Please step back.”
Helpless and panicked, I moved to the far wall while the doctor checked the tape from the monitor.
“Get an ultrasound in here,” she said. “Stat!”
Brenda ran out while the medical student watched with wide eyes—as if she had no more idea than I did what would happen next.
“Can you tell me exactly where the pain is?” Dr. Orlean asked Lois.
She pointed to her side and ground out words through clenched teeth. “It’s right here, and it hurts like hell.”
Brenda ran back into the room pushing a portable ultrasound machine on wheels. The doctor raised Lois’s gown, quickly squirted gel on her belly, and ran the probe over the area.
“There’s no rupture,” she said as she focused on the screen image, “but oh…look here…”
I strode forward. “What is it?”
The medical student came closer as well.
“There’s a separation of the placenta.” Dr. Orlean continued to slide the probe over Lois’s belly, searching for something. “And there’s the clot.”
“Heart rate’s still eighty,” Brenda said.
“It’s definitely an abruption.” Dr. Orlean set down the probe and leaned over Lois. “Mrs. James, we’re going to take you to the OR and do a section right away.” She exchanged a look with Brenda, who called for more help to get Lois moved onto a stretcher.
“What’s an abruption?” I asked the med student.
“It’s where part of the placenta separates from the uterus wall prematurely. It causes bleeding. That’s the reason for the clot the doctor was talking about. She has to deal with it quickly to make sure the baby’s blood supply doesn’t get cut off.”
“So this is really dangerous?” I replied, barely able to believe any of this was happening as I watched the nurses and orderlies quickly transfer Lois to the stretcher.
The student nodded. “Yes.”
I followed them out, running alongside the stretcher as they wheeled Lois down the corridor. “Everything’s going to be fine,” I said to her, though I had no idea if that were true or not. “I’ll be right here with you. I won’t leave your side.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. James,” Brenda said. “There’s no time. You’ll have to wait outside.”
“Please!” Lois cried. She grabbed hold of my hand and squeezed it, then writhed in agony.
Brenda spoke to the medical student running behind me. “Can you take care of him? Get him prepped and bring him in?”
“I will,” she replied.
I was then forced to let go of Lois’s hand as they pushed through a set of double doors and turned left down another corridor. The doors swung shut in front of my face.
My stomach careened. My wife… My beautiful wife… Please, God, let her be okay.
I remembered suddenly that we hadn’t given a name to the baby yet. I wished now that we had, but everything had spun out of control so quickly. I’d barely had a chance to register it.
The med student touched my shoulder and I turned to her in a numb haze of disbelief. Her words seemed almost garbled as they reached my ears.
“Let’s get you in there,” she said. “Follow me.” She led me into a change room and handed me OR greens, booties and a cap. I felt stunned and baffled.
“Put these on and I’ll meet you right outside that door.”
“Thank you.” I moved to get changed.
By the time we made it to the OR, Lois had just been put under general anesthetic because there was no time for a spinal. The obstetrician was about to cut into her belly.
The med student—I later learned her name was Elaine—led me to a spot by Lois’s head where I could stand out of the way but still see what was happening.
“There’s a lot of blood,” Dr. Orlean said. “More suction please. I can barely see what I’m doing here.” She set the scalpel down on a tray and reached in with her hands. “I’ve got her. It’s a girl. Get ready to clamp the cord.”
Dr. Orlean drew the blood-covered baby out. All I could do was stand and stare with wide eyes, feeling stunned and woozy. Was she all right? Was she alive?
A nurse carried her to a separate examination table, laid her down and quickly wiped her clean. “She’s blue and flaccid.”
Everyone moved about in a panic. I felt like I was in some kind of waking nightmare.
“Baby’s heart rate’s sixty,” the nurse said, “but she’s unresponsive.”
“Bag and mask her!” Dr. Orlean shouted from where she stood over Lois, still working frantically to stop the bleeding.
“Still unresponsive,” a nurse said. “Heart rate’s going down.”
“Start chest compressions!” Dr. Orlean ordered.
Blind, stark terror rose up in my throat. I was utterly paralyzed as I watched them push with their fingers on top of my daughter’s tiny, delicate chest.
Help her! God, please help her!
No one spoke. The air was tense with urgency.
All the sounds in the room—the squeezing of the oxygen bag, the beeping monitors and suction machine—faded to a grim silence in my mind until all I could hear was the thunderous beating of my own heart.
I stared intently at our baby. Please, little girl, wake up.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh went the oxygen bag.
Then slowly, gradually, her bluish color began to turn pink. Her tiny hand opened and closed.
There was a new sound…a squeak. Then her sweet, beautiful newborn cry filled me with a wave of joy greater than any I’d known in my life.
Thank you, God. Thank you!
Then, like a jolt, I was wrenched out of my joy and thrown back into a dark pool of terror. My gaze swung back to Lois on the table.
Dr. Orlean had sheared the placenta away and was now pulling blood clots the size of fists out of my wife’s abdomen.
“We need ten units of PRBCs and FFP,” she told a nurse.
I felt woozy again. The room began to spin. The med student must have been keeping an eye on me because she helped me move to a chair in the corner and sat me down. It was all so overwhelming.
Another doctor hurried into the room just then with hands scrubbed and elevated. “What’s happening?” he asked as he approached the table to assist.
“I just clamped off the uterine arteries,” Dr. Orlean explained. She continued to work but began to shake her head. “This isn’t working. It all has to come out.”
I glanced up at the student. “What’s she talking about?”
“A hysterectomy, I think.”
Somehow I was able to rise to my feet. “Wait,” I said. “Lois won’t be able to have any more children?”
I knew Lois wouldn’t want that. We’d often talked about having as many as five.
Dr. Orlean’s eyes lifted briefly, but only for a fraction of a second.
“There’s no option here, Mr. James. If you want your wife to live, this has to happen.”
I realized in that horrendous, shuddering moment that Dr. Orlean wasn’t even sure if she could save her.
My eyes shot to Lois’s face. She was pasty gray. She looked like death. I could barely comprehend what I was seeing. The mood in the room grew dismal. The gruesome sound of the suction machine made me want to vomit.
This isn’t happening. It can’t be happening…
“Blood pressure’s dropping fast,” a nurse said.
“Get the husband out of here,” Dr. Orlean firmly replied.
“No!” I resisted when Elaine tried to take hold of my arm. “I need to stay.”
“Get him out!” Dr. Orlean shouted as she began to work faster to slice and cut.
“BP’s still dropping.”
“Please, come with me.” Elaine grabbed my elbow and pulled me out forcefully. “We can’t be in here.”
I practically stumbled out of the OR, watching in horror as I passed the operating table and saw more blood spill onto the floor.
Elaine dragged me through the doors. As soon as they swung shut behind me, I pulled the mask off my face and dropped to my knees in the corridor. Burying my face in my hands, I prayed harder than I’d ever prayed in my life.
Please, God. Don’t take her from me. Please let her live.
Eight hours later, in my sleep, I heard the frightening sound of someone knocking urgently on a window. I woke with a start.
I was slouched sideways in a hard chair in the ICU. It was 6:00 a.m. and I’d been dreaming.
About my oldest sister, Leah.
Leah, a medical resident, had passed away two years ago from complications due to a neurodegenerative disease called ALS.
I was still wracked with guilt over that loss because I hadn’t seen my sister in nearly a decade. I hadn’t even known she was sick. No one had told me because I’d become estranged from my family years earlier when I was sent to prison for the stupid things I’d done.
In my dream, Leah was in the ICU, looking in at me through the observation window. She knocked hard to wake me, then entered and shook me violently by the shoulder. “Wake up, Riley! You have to wake up!”
My eyes flew open and I cried out in fear. Lois!
I leaped from my chair and rushed to her side where I found her resting peacefully on the bed. Though she hadn’t regained consciousness since the surgery, she was still breathing. The heart monitor was beeping steadily. It was a comforting sound.
I took her hand in mine and marveled at the warmth of her skin which proved there was life—glorious and beautiful life—still flowing through her veins. She was strong. She would make it.
Yes…there was hope and joy to be felt here. I knew it in my bones, even though, for a brief moment outside the operating room, I was certain I would lose her. I’d believed she would be taken from me. I’d felt that horrible premonition in my gut.
Then the doctor appeared and told me that Lois had pulled through. Against all odds. She wouldn’t be able to have any more children, but she had survived and was in stable condition, and for that I was grateful.
I bent forward and kissed the back of her hand. “Keep resting,” I whispered. “I promise I won’t leave your side, not even for a second. When you wake up, we’ll see our baby girl together and we’ll give her a name.”
It was a promise I would later regret.
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