December 22, 2015. I arrived at the Emergency Department with my 6-month-old baby. She was turning blue, so I loaded her in the car and took off for the ED. Once there, the receptionist (who was a nurse) peeked at baby Clara and then jumped up to grab a doctor. It all happened so fast after that. The memory of that night still swirls through my mind in a million tiny broken photographs. The jagged edges of the photos still stab my heart as they blow.
It turns out that Clara’s heart had stopped. A code was called, and my baby was snatched from me. I followed the crash cart into a tiny room. I stood and watched with my back against the wall. But soon the wall was not strong enough to hold me up. My legs buckled. As I slid to the floor I watched as Clara regained consciousness.
From the floor I cried out to all in the room “You saw that, right”. It was more a desperate fishing attempt than an actual question. I was fishing for affirmation. You see, I had taken Clara to the ED 3 times
before that night. I knew something wasn’t right. She was often blue. Like a chameleon, she often changed colors in the magic ED parking lot. Because no one ever saw her cyanosis but me, the doctors at the ED just sent us home.
In fact, I had been to the ED just 2 nights prior to Clara’s code. The Attending met me at the door and refused to triage Clara. He accused me of having Munchhausen Syndrome. Then he told me that he would call for a psych eval for me if I ever showed up with an asymptomatic child again. Showing up at the hospital on Dec 22 was my hail-mary attempt to determine once and for all if there was something physically wrong with Clara, or mentally wrong with me. I got my answer.
And I got many more answers than my heart was prepared to hear. Clara’s O2 was in the 70s and dropping. She was getting admitted…3 days before Christmas. The answer to Clara’s blue color was that she had a hole in her heart. She might need heart surgery. Clara’s O2 was so low because she had pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia to be exact. My milk was not being swallowed; it was going in Clara’s lungs. The answer to the aspiration was to stop nursing her. My heart broke.
Christmas Eve 2015. The kind nurses helped me put baby Clara in a little red wagon. They wrapped her in blankets and let me take her to see her siblings in the cafeteria. I pushed Clara’s IV pole as I pulled her wagon. Riley (4) and Bella (3) were so excited to see us! We decided not to tell them that it was Christmas. We would just celebrate if Clara got home.
IF. “If” became my reality that day. As I sat in the hospital cafeteria eating Christmas Eve dinner with my family, my mind fixated on
Clara’s stocking. It was hung on the fireplace with the others. However, I hadn’t taken the time to monogram it yet. I began tearing up. I was glad I hadn’t spent the money to monogram a stocking that might never be used. It was like a scene from The Christmas Carol was playing out in front of me.
“Spirit,” said Scrooge with an interest he had never felt before, “tell me if Tiny Tim will live.”
“I see a vacant
seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor chimney-corner, and a stocking
(crutch) without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain
unaltered by the Future, the child will die.”
After dinner I put my Tiny Tim back in her red wagon and kissed Riley and Bella goodbye. I waved as they walked out of the hospital. I turned to walk away, but Bella came running back in for one last hug. I held my healthy daughter tightly as I looked at my sick daughter. It was Christmas Eve. Clara
was wrapped up and swaddled in hospital blankets. She was laying in a red wagon. Oddly, she was somehow reminiscent of baby Jesus…wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger.
To be continued…