Warning...really long and unedited...
Usually I try to ignore this day, and instead I choose to celebrate our July 2nd anniversary...my daughter's "other" birthday, the day we got our miracle.
On this July 1st, the 7th anniversary of our life-changing day, I want to share some closely guarded thoughts. Seven years later, and I just now feel ready to expose a piece of my heart that I've tenderly guarded. I'm going to share some pictures that very few people have seen. I fiercely protected those images, and the ones in my mind, because they are so deeply personal. I see these pictures with all the emotion and fear of the moment they were taken. I didn't even want them taken, couldn't physically bring myself to do it. But a nurse sweetly insisted. She assured us that someday it would be a very important part of our story. So I gave her the camera, and she took the pictures.
I should back up, I suppose, and start from the beginning.
We had gone to Eastern Washington for a family reunion. It was a scorching hot Saturday, and my kids (then 5, 8, and 11) had spent the bulk of the afternoon in a neighborhood pool, along with their cousins. Beth had been taking swim lessons since she was two. She was such a little fish: she could swim the length of the pool with ease. On this day, she spent most of her time hanging over a pool noodle with her goggles on, "snorkeling". She would put her little face in the water and look all around, pop her head up for a quick breath and go right back in. The time came to get out of the water and get changed for dinner. Brad called all the kids out of the pool. At the same time, a group of teenagers had arrived to use the pool. They began jumping in as our kids were getting out. Beth popped her face up, Brad told her to get out of the pool, and then started to clean up the pool toys and deck. Minutes later, Brad turned to see Brenna still in the pool, and told her again to get out. "But daddy, I think that's Beth at the bottom of the pool!" Chaos began.
I was in the pool house cleaning up, and I remember my sister-in-law rushing in and saying, "Call 911! Beth is at the bottom of the pool!" As I type those words, I feel the same instant gut-wrenching emotion. I ran outside, to see Brad emerging from the water with my life-less baby girl. Someone put a towel down, Brad placed Beth on it and began CPR. I slid on my knees to her side, noticing her blue face and lips, her completely still body. I started praying outloud, pleading with Jesus to revive my baby. I heard this horrible, primal screaming and wished it would stop. Then I realized it was me. I was wailing in a way I had never heard myself sound. When I stopped, I looked up to see Brenna on the other side of the pool, screaming as she watched the seen unfold. I ran over to her and hugged her, just as someone came and scooped her up to take her inside. Brad and I both breathed into Beth, I yelled for her to wake up. Someone else came to help with CPR, I was pulled away.
Just as the medics were arriving, they told me she was making sounds. I ran over to her, to hear a distant, moaning sound coming from Beth. A sound I had never heard. The medics scooped her up on the gurney and literally ran her through the pool house to the waiting ambulance. I was put in the front seat of the ambulance and Brad, against what he was told to do, climbed into the back for the ride to the hospital. What a ride. I could hear total silence one minute, the guys in the back yelling for the driver to "get there!", and then I would hear a bizarre scream come from my child. It was a sound I never would have recognized as my own child. I can't even describe it. And then she would go quiet. I prayed the entire way, pleading prayers.
We finally arrived at the hospital, and they ran the gurney inside. Brad and I followed. As she disappeared into a room, we were bombarded with questions about her history, age, allergies, etc. I answered everything and then fell completely apart. I remember crumbling to the ground as someone put a chair under me. A couple nurses tried to pull me, in the chair, into a room. I'm sure I was making a scene and they wanted me out of the way. And that's when I realized, if I didn't pull it together, I'd be kept from my baby. And then I heard a nurse tell someone to call a chaplain. Another kick to the gut, as I thought that only happened in a death.
I went into Beth's room as they worked on her. She had her eyes partly open, but in a vacant stare, bizarre noises coming from her. She wasn't moving any part of her body, not responding to any stimulus. I bent down and talked to her in her ear, prayed over her. She briefly stopped making the noises, and I prayed that meant she was with us. The only way I can think to describe how her expression and sounds came across were as that of a very brain-damaged child. Before I knew it, they were leading us from the room so they could intubate her and take her for a CT scan. I waited in the hallway while they did the scan, while a chaplain stood beside me. I told her I didn't want her there, my way of being angry that we may need one. I overheard partial conversations about Seattle and Life Flight and urgent. I began to get very sick to my stomach.
I then went to the private room where the rest of the family was. I walked in and saw Brad, sitting in a chair with his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. Sobbing. He was a broken man, completely helpless to protect his child in that moment. And I was overcome with compassion for him. I knew, without any discussion, that he was feeling the burden of a load of guilt that is unimaginable. He is an involved, attentive, loving, protective father. And this happened on his watch.
I knelt down in front of him, took his face in my hands, and said to him, "This is NOT your fault. And we will be okay, no matter how this turns out." And hears the thing...I don't know if I totally believed those words when I spoke them, but I knew that in that moment they needed to be said. They needed to come out of my mouth and they needed to go into Brad's ears.
When I sat up and turned around, I realized there was a policeman in the room with us. He had apparently been there for some time, talking to Brad, getting "the story", making sure there was no criminal negligence that had led to this. He was wonderful, actually. Stayed with us very late. Once he knew we'd be going to Seattle, he offered to have someone drive our van to their station and lock it up until we could come back for it. Offered his help with anything we needed.
Soon after, the doctor came in to tell us the CT scan was clear and Life Flight had been called to fly her to Children's Hospital in Seattle. The plane was flying in from Spokane as soon as the crew had gathered. And...only one parent could fly with her.
Without question, I knew Brad was the one to do that. I had been making many trips to the bathroom as the evening progressed, all my nerves and stress manifesting physically. I knew flying in a small plane like that would not be a help to Beth.
So plans were made. My brother would drive me over to Seattle in our van. His wife would take our other kids home with her. And then I realized...I had to say goodbye to Beth.
At this point, we had been told she was in bad shape. They didn't know if she would make it. Saying goodbye? Agony. I kissed her little face, told her I loved her, we prayed over her. I hugged Brad and left before the flight crew arrived. I wanted to get a head start, knowing a long drive awaited.
I was in shock, for sure. My body was pulsing with adrenaline. I fixed my mind on just getting to Seattle, and tried not to let my mind wander.
Brad was able to call me just before the plane left, and assure me that she was still the same. He described the "flight bag" she was zipped into, and how the ambulance ride to the airport was going.
He called again when they were on the ground, she was getting checked into the ICU, still the same.
I finally arrived in Seattle, so immeasurably relieved that I was back with my baby. The ICU waiting room was filled with family and friends.
I went back to her room, and was filled in on her condition by her doctor and nurse. She was partially covered with a sheet, on life support, a buzz of activity all around her. The doctor was somber. She said it was "50/50". And I remember he saying, if she does come out of this, we won't know the extent of brain damage until all sedation is removed. But you should be prepared for that." How do you "prepare" for that? I don't know that you do. The only thing we could do was pray. And pray. And pray.
Soon after, Beth temperature began to spike, a typical response to physical trauma. Dangerous, especially to a brain they are trying to protect. So they put her body on a cooling mat ( a pad that continually circulated cold water), naked, and gave her a paralytic medication so her body wouldn't shiver. We couldn't even touch her, for fear we would stimulate her in any way. Literally, I reached out and touched her arm with my finger, and they told me not to. This moment was when our helplessness spiked.
About 3:00 in the morning, we were taken to a parent sleeping room, given a pager in case her condition changed, and told to try to sleep. The room was barely bigger than a twin bed, with one night stand and one chair. We curled up in the twin bed together and sobbed. I fell asleep fitfully for about an hour, and then went back up to her room. I couldn't stand to be away.
When I went back, the nurse was so very kind. This is when the discussion of taking her picture came up. I later learned that because they didn't know if she would make it, they wanted us to have another picture of her. She explained the purpose of each and every tube in Beth's body. She explained what every number on the monitor meant. She told me the "magic number" they were looking for in her temperature. They wanted to lift her sedation as soon as they could to assess her brain and lungs, but couldn't as long as there was any fever. I stared at that number and willed it to go down.
We were talking to people through the night. Remember...this was 7 years ago, so the social media thing wasn't going strong like it is now. We weren't able to spread the news via facebook. Just phone calls that spread into other phone calls. By the time the sun came up the next morning, Beth had people praying for her across the country. Then in Australia. And London. The messages just kept coming. I had friends who stayed up all night praying for her. Touched my heart more deeply than I could ever express.
More talks with the doctor...sometimes optimism, and the next conversation would be more grim. And then finally glimmers of hope began to shine more brightly...she began taking sporadic breaths, overriding the respirator. Just a few breaths, but enough to show she was fighting back. And the temperature started to fall, getting very close to our magic number, then rising, then falling. Then there was a meeting, a discussion...do we try to lift all sedation and see how she is, then re-sedate her until it's safe to wake her up all the way? Do we leave things as they are and hope the temperature stabilizes?
The respiratory therapist was staying by her bedside for longer periods of time, watching all those numbers obsessively. A few more overriding breaths, and the decision was made to go for it. Give it a try. The more she showed signs of breathing, the more we held our breaths.
The doctor told us if things remained the same, they would take her off the respirator within the hour.
We went out to the waiting room to make some phone calls and gather ourselves. I was on the phone with a dear friend, listening to her sweet prayers, when the therapist came out with a big grin. He motioned for us to come back. "Is she off it?????" He broke into a full smile, winked, and led us to her room.
And there was my sweet girl, tubeless. I grabbed her hand, leaned down and called her name. She opened her eyes and looked me straight in the eye, tears welling up. "Stay with me," she said, her eyes closed again. Sweetest words.
I had this thing I did with all my kids from the time they were tiny. When we were holding hands, I would do a quick three-squeeze on their hand, our silent way of saying, "I love you." They would always give me three quick squeezes back.
Anxious to see how intact Beth's brain was, I gave her hand three quick squeezes, hoping she remembered our sign. Sure enough, though very weak, she tried to squeeze me back. I knew then we were getting our Beth back. She was so very weak, could not stay awake, but she was coming back. I bent down and kissed her cheek, and she tried to pucker her little lips up for a kiss. Those small little signs were some of the most emotional moments in my life as a mother.
A few hours later, she woke up and asked if she'd missed the Fourth of July...we knew she was all there, fully oriented. I showed paper with words on it, "Do you know that letter??" She mostly knew what she did before the accident. She did have to relearn some letters, had to relearn to write the letters she did know. It took her several days to regain all her coordination and balance, but she got everything back. We were blessed with her life twice.
The third day in ICU, the doctors asked us to sit in on their rounds on Beth. They went through every detail, from her flight to the previous hour. I cried through the whole thing, hearing parts I didn't know. Scary moments on the flight that I hadn't heard about, the grave prognosis when we arrived.
The more they talked, the more it was sinking in...the miracle we had experienced. Great doctors, great nurses, and a great God who said yes to our prayers. I don't know why He said yes to us. I don't know why He says no to others. I just don't know. But I know that we are grateful, thankful, beyond our ability to put into words, to have our daughter given back, 100%.
The days and weeks that followed were tough. The emotional pain was much more slow to heal that the physical. We were interviewed by our local paper, we agreed only because they wanted to emphasize water safety and knowing CPR. A Seattle news station saw that article and called to ask if they could come down and interview us. We did, only because of that same message: you need to know CPR. In emergencies, you don't have minutes, you have seconds to do the right thing. Seconds matter. Knowing CPR, and performing CPR within seconds can change the outcome of a traumatic event.
Three years after her accident, Beth remembered every single detail. She remembered how she got disoriented when teenagers started jumping in the pool. She remembers popping her head up and getting a mouth full of water from someone's splash. She remembers getting confused about which way was the wall. She remembers another splash and her noodle floating away and more water in her mouth. She remembers the moment she gave up trying. It breaks my heart in so many ways. We are not "those parents" that would let something happen. It was a moment of neglect, a moment of assuming that everyone was out of the pool, it was a moment of being inattentive. That's all it takes: a moment. This time of year, my heart wrenches every time I hear a story on the news about a child drowning. I physically ache at the thought of what that family is going through. We had a glimpse of it, and I can just say it's beyond anything someone can imagine. It's ugly. It's traumatic. It makes you physically ill.
So many people leave that hospital without their child, and I cannot imagine that. We sat near parents in the ICU waiting room who were not going to have the same outcome we had. No, it's not fair, and I don't understand it.
This is such a personal story, and filled with more emotion than I could put here. Some things are meant to stay personal, some are meant to be shared. The parts that are meant to be shared? Hope matters. Healing comes. God answers. Sometimes He answers yes, sometimes He answers no. But He always answers.
Pictures are hard to share. I'm sure they are harder for Brad and I to look at than anyone else, because that's our baby. Our heart. But here they are. Real life. LIFE.
Before we knew what our future held.
This was day 3, still in ICU. Her Auntie Debbie brought her some plastic snakes from The Rainforest Cafe. She held them tightly while she slept ~ so very Beth!
In a "normal" room. Thankful that bed was big enough for both of us. I could not get close enough.
Life is so precious, so good. I cringe when I hear parents say they want to keep their kids the age they are forever. No, you don't. Beth was almost 5 forever. You don't want that. Kids growing up is a blessing denied to many. Don't wish for anything different. Love each stage.
Thanks for listening to my heart.