Tears streamed down my face as I looked out the window of PICU at SickKids Hospital, May 11, 2012.
Walkers from all over the city formed a circle around the hospital — a giant hug for all of the kids, families and staff inside the walls. It was Meaghan’s Walk.
I looked back at my 4-year-old son, sedated and intubated on the bed behind me. IVs poking into arms still soft with baby fat, a glowing red toe attached to blinking monitors, mechanical waves of his breath. “Do you feel that big hug, Baby?”
The day before, 3:07 p.m., I got a calm call from the school office. I was on my way to pick up the kids. Ten minutes until the bell rings, I thought. Couldn’t they wait? No. Five minutes later, a frantic call from one of the parents: “Hurry, Haley! They’ve called the ambulance.” WHAT?!
I fought through garbage trucks and idle walkers to get to the school, screaming and gasping in the car. I couldn’t get there fast enough.
But I arrived in time to see the ambulance and fire trucks for my son. Children were gathered along the schoolyard fence (it was home time!), excited to see the emergency vehicles. Mothers were slouched with worry for my son.
I ran through worried-looking teachers and oblivious young students to the office, where my son lay. Not seeing me. Not knowing I was there. I moaned and my knees gave out. The emergency crew carried him out and I followed — the school principal holding me steady as I moaned, wailed, struggled to breathe and looked beside myself at my son.
“Does he have diabetes?” No. “Allergies?” No. “Anything like this before?” No. Is he going to be okay? No answer.
We climbed into the ambulance. My mother, there now, reaching for my car keys. Dark. I sat in the ambulance and watched and didn’t know and asked and moaned.
They kicked me out into the front seat because there were too many of us in the back with him. Five of them working on my son.
The siren came on and the people on the street looked through the large front windshield of the ambulance and saw the mother of the child wailing and gripping her armrest.
Ninety minutes later in the SickKids Hospital Emergency Ward, they got him to where they wanted him, intubated him and immediately sent him for tests.
“You’re going to hear a lot of scary things,” the (wonderful) social worker told me as she handed me some ice water and we watched the crowd of doctors hover and scurry about the bed. “Don’t listen to any of the words, okay, Mom?”
Is it going to be okay?
YES. YES YES YES YES!
It was going to be okay. The first round of tests came back. And he was ALL CLEAR.
And so we waited for him to wake up and grasp at the tubes. And he did it, and it took FOUR of us, including Josh, to hold him down. Horrible to witness. But an excellent sign.
I held his little foot (poor thing, he inherited my feet…) as he slept. And I listened sleeplessly to the sound of the machine pumping air into his little lungs.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, siiiiiiiiiix,1, 2, 3, 4, 5, siiiiiiiiiiix,1, 2, 3, 4, 5, siiiiiiiiiix.
Late the next day, the doctors argued passionately about how to extubate my forceful, unbelievably brave little guy, and he was breathing on his own and calling for me soon enough. So thirsty. When we got another “all clear,” we were released to a room he wouldn’t leave for the next five days as he fought relatively minor symptoms of what, after countless never-wracking tests, appears to have been a virus at the bottom of all of this.
And he was ALL CLEAR.
“Mama,” he said after several hours of fasting for one of his countless tests, “I’ne so hungry, and there’s nothin’ I can do about it….” And he cracked a smile.
Miracle Flower. Josh got me this flower for Mother’s Day (that Sunday). It drooped when I placed it by the window, and stood straight up when we weren’t looking after I placed it in front of the hospital bed.
I can’t share every detail of this nightmare because it is just so dark and so personal, and you would be reading for days…. And while sometimes I really need to share this (like right now), there are other times that I just can’t share it at all, and I feel guilty and anxious sharing such a profoundly personal experience.
But he is ALL CLEAR. Though still a little tired, he’s running around at school like nothing happened. He’s fighting with his sister (who’s dealing with her own feelings around this still), and playing soccer with his friends.
…Except that he’s hugging me a little tighter, and I’m hugging him and his sister a lot tighter.
I have to thank our FAMILY for being there every minute of this journey. My parents even managed to text me a photo of themselves when I was having a particularly hard time late one night and they couldn’t be there…. And they all showered us with toys and snacks and love while he recovered all those days in isolation.
I want to thank the wonderful team at Today’s Parent Magazine for the support they gave me that goes way beyond the parametres of co-working — and for the support (and space) they continue to give me as I heal from this trauma. The wise Ms. Scarbiedoll, my manager, got the brunt of my dark, frantic blatherings, and I’ll never forget how she was there for me.
And thank you to my amazing friends, both online and off, who offered to send us food, baked us cookies, called off the hook, DM’d, tweeted, Facebooked and emailed.
And thank you to my beautiful yoga sisters, who brought me delicious vegan food, received my desperate emails, called to check in on me, and emailed and dedicated practices to us.
And, oh my gosh, the TEACHERS and PRINCIPAL of our school, who moved school buses and called and emailed off the hook, and listened and worried, and just adore him….
And, the teachers at our morning school who baked us bread, called, texted, offered childcare and hot lunches for his sister, and listened and worried, and just adore him….
And fellow parents at the school, who kept my fingertips busy texting back and forth, and made veggie meals for me and had their kids craft the cutest get-well cards ever….
And thank you to our pediatrician and his assistant for following this every step of the way and for answering my teary calls and questions.
And, oh wow. Thank you to incredible the staff at SickKids Hospital: Ashley, Emily, Eva, Jenny, Sandy, Dr. F, Dr. Z., Dr. C., that wonderful social worker in Emergency, and all those doctors and nurses whose names I never caught. They gave us the speediest possible results to all the tests we went through, kept us calm, gave us hugs, and listened with such compassion and patience. They saved us.
And thank you to all the walkers at Meaghan’s Walk for that giant hug that touched so many children and families that day.
We are so beyond grateful that for our little guy everything was all clear. Please consider helping the families that are still there by supporting the amazing place, SickKids Hospital, that is there with open arms if you ever need it.