Ingerson’s poignant debut memoir recounts the challenges and blessings of raising a terminally ill child.
Ingerson was in Okinawa with the Air Force when his fourth child, Caleb, was born. It was immediately clear the child had life-threatening defects, including fistulas and a malformed heart. Indeed, doctors expected the baby to die imminently. Over his three-and-a-half-year life span, Caleb had 10 operations, including open-heart surgery. The family was in constant flux, relocating to be close to the best hospitals. When it looked like things could not get worse, they did in a major way: Caleb contracted HIV from a tainted blood transfusion. Despite the wrenching sadness of his subject matter, Ingerson is a natural storyteller and often emphasizes the humorous side. For instance, driven by an urge to inspect his son’s backside, he was the first to notice anything wrong with Caleb: “Say, Doctor, this is curious; the garage door is closed,” he remarked; that imperforate anus was the first sign of heart problems. Later, after the HIV infection, which placed a stigma on Caleb even within their church, Ingerson appreciated the irony of the unlikely tragedy: “Caleb won the lottery!” For the Ingersons, faith in God was paramount. This is a sensitive chronicle of a journey through pain and doubt, often relying on metaphors of life-giving waves and a solid rock. However, Ingerson fully acknowledges the practical and emotional tolls. Understanding medical jargon and being his son’s advocate were draining, and Caleb’s treatment cost over $2 million. “We had no example to encourage us to have realistic expectations,” he says. “I’d go into my study and would find myself alternating between fierce anger and longing for relief from my lonely agony as well as from my son’s many sufferings.” Pondering why God allowed this suffering, Ingerson toes the interventionist line: “He could have acted to avert it—yet He did not.” Those who beg to differ theologically can still enjoy this thorough, gripping medical memoir, its narrative peppered with journal entries and email updates to friends. Photos of Caleb would be welcome.
A tender tribute to a too-short life.