Funnyman Joel McHale took some time to reflect on the big lessons he learned during one of the most difficult times of his life.
In 2005, it was revealed that his newborn son, Edward “Eddie” Roy, whom he shares with his wife Sarah, had two holes in the wall of his heart.
Comedian narrates ordeal of nightmare in heartbreaking episode of podcast meditation story, during which he taught her about Eddie’s diagnosis, the story of recovery, and the unpredictability of life.
The episode opens on the day McHale receives a harassing phone call from his wife.
“I’m standing outside an audition,” he says, detailing the story in the present tense. “I have a script on my hands and I’m about to go in when my wife Sarah calls me. Sarah is at the pediatrician with our 2-week-old son Eddie. We’re at that stage of parenting where it feels like That you are at a doctor every other day – but immediately I hear something different in his voice.”
Sarah told him that the doctor said she heard “some kind of heart murmur” and that they needed to take Eddie to a cardiologist immediately and so he and his parents were on their way to the hospital.
A stunned McHale recalled going to the audition thinking, “Oh, if I get this job I’ll have enough money to pay for whatever’s going on with Eddie.”
At the time, Eddie was struggling so much with breastfeeding that McHale and Sarah had to feed him “like a little bird with an eyedropper.”
“It’s like we only feed him because they said you have to feed him every four hours, round the clock, but the feeding takes two hours from start to finish,” he explained.
McHale and Sarah end up setting a schedule: She feeds Eddie on days when Joel was at work, then Joel feeds Eddie at night while Sarah slept.
At the time, McHale was hosting Soup, a satirical recap show about pop culture, which ran from 2004 to 2015. The comic said the lack of sleep caused all-nighters to confuse him at work.
“I know how tough the days are for Sarah and I think if she could get just four hours, maybe six hours of sleep a night, that would be a great gift from God,” he said.
However, the panic got so bad that he had “these dreadful dizziness” at work.
“I’ll be on camera as I walk around the room,” he said. “I would sometimes crawl halfway from couch to bed like a gorilla. I sometimes had to steady myself against the walls of the hallway. When I went to work… I would crawl to my desk and sleep for 45 minutes.
“Then,” he said, “the camera turns off and I go back to this little kid with two holes in his heart.”
Even after about six weeks, Eddie was not gaining weight. That’s when the cardiologist decided to go ahead with the surgery, leaving McHale feeling “relieved and scared.”
McHale described the experience of handing her baby “for the first time” as unnatural. “It doesn’t make any sense,” he explained. “And we understand, Well that’s all we can do. It is a terrible feeling of helplessness. And we wait. And we wait.”
Eddie spent about five days on the pediatric cardiology recovery floor, McHale explained, and during this time he and Sarah met other parents whose children were also having surgery. It was here that he had an epiphany.
“Before surgery, our friends and family used to say stuff like, ‘We’re sorry this is happening to you. We’re so sorry,'” he said. “Here in the pediatric cardiology floor, other parents say, And I’m not kidding, ‘Oh we were hoping our baby had a problem with your baby. And they say it with love and warmth.’”
“After feeling like months that we were unlucky and had a terrible challenge, I’m starting to realize we were lucky,” he continued. “It feels so weird because it’s like, Look, one elevator goes up and the other goes down.”
Thankfully the surgery was successful. As Eddie got older, it was discovered that he was severely dyslexic and had ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and was on the autism spectrum.
“I think people always go, ‘Why me? Why is this happening to me?’ McHale explained. “I’ve learned now that the phrase should be, ‘Why won’t this happen to you? It happens to everyone. No one is special and everyone is special.'”
Years later, when Eddie was 12, McHale and Sarah had another miracle moment through their friend Jimmy Kimmel.
When Kimmel revealed that her son Billy congenital heart disease, it turns out that the same doctor who performed Eddie’s surgery may also be doing Billy’s surgery. McHale sent Kimmel a message assuring him that the Doctor was a “perfect and wonderful genius”.
Months later, McHale and his family reunite with Kimmel’s family for a “dazzling” getaway. And on the way he and Sarah tell Eddie about Billy’s heart surgery.
This was the first time Eddie met Billy, who was 1 year old at the time. When they arrived, McHale said that Eddie immediately went to Kimmel, who was holding Billy, and asked, “Can I see his mark?”
“We’re all shocked. It’s not a question a grown man would ever ask,” McHale recalled. So, Jimmy cracks open Billy’s chin and reveals his little chest. Eddie looks at his mark, reaches out his hands and traces his finger under the mark. We all look at each other. And of course, we all cry.”
For McHale, it was a full-circle moment that forced him to look at life’s obstacles from a different perspective.
“Two things are very clear now: Eddie is fine and Billy is about to be fine too,” he said. “Sometimes when it seems like the randomness of life gives you completely random miracles. And Eddie is a miracle. And so is Billy.”
He said, “Life is happening to all of us and when it happens to your child, treat it as best you can.” “You just love your kids endlessly and endlessly and endlessly.”