A couple of days ago I was outside playing with the girls. We were looking at the strawberries that have started to grow in the neighbors yard and that’s when I heard it. It was a few streets over. The ambulance sirens rang loudly. My heart began to race. I felt a feeling of panic rise from my chest up into my throat. My breath was shallow and quick.
The funny thing about post traumatic stress is that it’s not only in your head – there’s a physical reaction as well.
Hearing those sirens took me back to the scariest moment in motherhood so far. It took me back to the moment I was holding my unconscious two year-old in the back of the ambulance. Those 15 minutes on the stretcher holding my girl were moments of pain, fear and worry. And this is how it happened.
We were on our first family vacation. We had planned for years and I especially was excited to see the Hawaiian islands for the first time. Jane was two, Ruby was four months.
And although we were probably crazy to take them in the first place we were excited for the experience.
We arrived in Kauai exhausted. Of course our sweet two year-old wouldn’t sleep on the long flight. She never sleeps anywhere but HER bed. And of course she didn’t fall asleep in the hotel until the wee morning hours. She is used to a room to herself.
But the beach was beautiful. The weather was mild. Not too hot and not too cold. Perfect for baby and a toddler. We made the most of the tired beach days. We whispered on the patio at night. And if I’m being completely honest we were a bit sad the trip wasn’t as fun as planned. We realized that we’d only had a few nights to ourselves since becoming parents and we craved that especially in a place like Kauai. Sadly our hearts grew a little bitter.
But over the next two days we started to have a great time. We met some great couples that were crazy enough to vacation with their kids. We played at the pool and on the beach. We started getting into a new rhythm and had more and more fun.
Unfortunately the fun ended almost as fast as it came.
It was before the lunch hour. Ruby and I were lying in the shade by the pool watching Jane and Tim swim and play. Jane was wearing her adorable wet suit and proudly announced she needed to poop (potty training). At this time she had gotten out of the pool and began to make her way to the bathroom. Tim walked over to get her seeing the urgency in her eyes, swooped her up to put her on his hip and down they went. I remember seeing his feet go up over his head and seeing Jane fly though the air. The sound. The sound was the worst part. It was so loud. Dear God it was loud.
I ran over and I too went sliding. It was like oil. Tanning oil maybe. So slick on the concrete. It felt like a puddle of slime under my feet. I slid to her. Grabbing her. So thankful she was screaming.
Tim and the hotel staff escorted her to the shaded area by the bathroom to look her over. I made contact with my new friend who watched our baby. She was on the bench bloody but not sure from where. She cried and cried. Tim took her into the bathroom so she could try and go.
He came out still in shock and hurting himself and we went back to where Ruby was. The staff brought over a smoothie to try and cheer her up. That’s when she put her head down on Tim’s chest and closed her eyes.
I snapped at Tim “She’s asleep.” We knew then it was time to go. On the walk back to our hotel room she was awake and quiet. As soon as we got to the room he got a light and began looking her in the eyes and at her now swollen face. “I’m going to go get the car, we are going to the hospital.” I trusted him. The shock had worn off and the medical side began kicking in.
I took off her wetsuit and put some clean warm clothes on her to meet Tim and Ruby in the car.
My heart began to race. I felt a feeling of panic rise from my chest up into my throat. My breathing was shallow and quick.
As soon as we started driving she lost consciousness again. Tim began to drive a little faster. I was out of my seat talking to her, trying to get her to wake up. At one point she repeated me and said “Jesus help” just before passing out again.
Tim told me to call 911 once I couldn’t wake her up. Unlocking an iPhone is the worst in these moments. The phone rang and was answered. I described where we were and we were told to pull over and wait as the ambulance service was in the town we were leaving. Waiting was the worst. Action seems to be the only remedy for the parent in crisis.
The parking lot was big. Baseball fields surrounded us. I was standing looking at my girl now. She wasn’t right. So I ran to the street still on the phone with 911 waiting for the ambulance. Two minutes maybe but that was long enough to start to panic.
They pulled up and my husband quickly explained she had a concussion and he was worried about swelling in the brain because of her loss of muscle control in the right eye. I didn’t really understand any of the medical jargon they were using. But they loaded me onto a stretcher, handed me Jane, strapped us down and loaded us into the back of the ambulance.
Neither one of the paramedics seemed as stressed as I would have expected. Since we were on the opposite end of the island from the hospital the ride was about 15 minutes. The guy was just so calm. He checked Jane’s heart, blood pressure, then poked her toe to get her blood sugar. When she didn’t wake during any of this he told me she was probably just tired and sleeping because it was her nap time. Do they lie to you to keep you calm?
I knew it wasn’t the truth. She would never sleep during a time like this. She would be talking his ear off.
But somehow his excuse comforted me.
Through the back window I watched Tim in the rental car through the rise and the fall of the hills. I held her thankful for the embrace of her arms. I simply repeated to myself “Jesus help.”
Once at the little island hospital we were wheeled into a room. Tim flew through the doors carrying Ruby in her carseat. The look on his face was one I’d never seen before. It looked panicked and guilty.
The ER doc came in, and recognizing Tim’s expression told him it was not his fault. I agreed. Thank God that I slipped too because I could agree.
After checking out Jane who was awake but quiet and still he decided that she needed a CT scan. We walked back to the imaging room. Tim and Jane went in with the technician who told us it might not go well with a busy two year old. Ruby and I waited next door. The technician gave us warm blankets. I was still in my wet swimsuit and a cover. I didn’t realize I was shaking.
Minutes later they came out. Tim looked at me and said “she just laid there.”
Those words were scary knowing our girl.
While we waited for the doctor we said little. I made a few frantic phone calls and asked for prayer. Then we heard his voice on the phone consulting the trauma surgeon. “I’ve got a two year old female with a concussion and orbital fracture stretching from her upper forehead to her sinus cavity. No signs of bleeding or swelling in the brain….” I looked at Tim. “Thats good. There is no bleeding or swelling.” Our hands held as we sat on the bed with Jane.
He came in and moved his mouth a lot and pointed to pictures of Jane’s skull. “Best case scenario” was the only thing I remember him saying. At this point was able to sit up and started talking a little. Hospital staff came in with a coloring sheet and markers. I watched her little fingers grab the purple and pull off the cap. Thats when I knew she was going to be ok. It was in these next moments I was all present. I was taking time to be present. I was coloring and explaining what a one-horse-open-sleigh was. The song she kept repeating months after Christmas was over.
Then there was throw up. Lots of it. All over our coloring. Right away she said “I threw up like Gibson.” Gibson is her friend that barfed all over a tool bench that they were playing with months previous. Her memory worked. Thank God.
I poked my head out of the room – “she is throwing up!” I said in a demanding tone. The doc came back in reassuring us that this was normal for concussion patients. They then put her clothes in a plastic bag and gave her a tiny hospital gown to wear.
Ruby was now asleep in her carseat under the bedside table where Jane laid. It was dark out. Two more specialist came in and told us that they would be holding her overnight to monitor her.
Tim called the hotel who called a cab for Ruby and I. We were out of diapers and freezing in our wet clothes.
I didn’t say much on the cab ride to the hotel. I hated that I was leaving her.
When Ruby and I arrived back to the hotel room my eyes narrowed in on the wetsuit on the bed. I grabbed it and the plastic bag of clothes covered in vomit and went into the bathroom to scrub them clean. I couldn’t get it out of my head that these memories could have been the last I had with her. Then I took off my damp suit, put on my pajamas and nursed Ruby to sleep.
I arrived 20 minutes early the next morning to be picked up for the trip to the hospital. I packed Tim dry clothes so he could change out of his swimsuit.
A local pulled up and helped me load the carseat into her car. She had flowers, balloons, and a stuffed animal. Little did I know she also brought Tim dinner at the hospital. A friend of a friend of a friend kind of thing. She was an angel. I cannot believe how perfectly the details were worked out. She told me half of the island was praying for Jane.
Once we got to the hospital she showed me where they were and then ran to buy us breakfast. Angel! I hadn’t eaten much since the morning before.
Jane was herself but tired. You could tell the fog had lifted. It was a miracle. No complications during the night. Just bits of sleep and lots of cuddles from dad.
After breakfast we were discharged. Getting into the car with both our girls was the best moment of the trip. Grace and Mercy. We were a family of four heading to the beach. Jane’s request was to play on the beach and of course we took her.
We watched the sun go down. We let her play in the sand. We thanked God for this moment. The bitterness was replaced with gratitude. Lots of it. It was the best night and fortunately our last night.
Back in the hotel she slept hard. Ruby nursed five times throughout the night making up for lost feedings. It was then I realized she never cried or fussed during the incident. Grace and Mercy.
We said goodbye to our new friends. Got toys from the hotel staff that heard about her.
We bought new airline tickets so Jane didn’t have to travel as long. The pressure on her injury was sure to be uncomfortable. But no complaints. No pain medication with the injury. Kids are resilient I’ve heard it said, and I guess it’s true.
Frankincense and kisses have been her only medication since the event. Yesterday I asked her if it hurt when she broke her head and she said “no.” She said “my throat hurt a little because I was so thirsty.” Grace and Mercy.
So now I sit here knowing that writing this is a step in the direction of healing and forgiving myself. Maybe my heart will stop racing when I hear ambulances. I need to stop flipping out when she does something risky out of fear she will hit her head.
So I’m reminding myself of the gift she is and trying to heal.
Thanks for listening. And if you have any advice on overcoming traumatic events please do let me know.