The day began like any other, work for my husband and I, 4th of July crafts at daycare for the girls. When I picked Violet and Lily up, her daycare provider handed me the red, white and blue t-shirts and windcatchers they made that day, along with a picture of all the kids wearing their new shirts, proudly holding up their craft projects. I quickly glanced at the picture, smiled, and went about getting the girls buckled in their car seats.
My phone rang on the drive home and it was my aunt. Would I watch my cousin the next night while she and my uncle went on a date night? Sure, no problem. And hey, why didn't we bring the girls to her to watch tonight so Mr. Chick and I could go furniture shopping without kids in tow. They were having a cookout at their house that night, so the girls could swim with their cousins. Sounded like a plan to me.
When we dropped the girls off, I put Lily's water wings on her little arms and watched her toddle off with my uncle in her little green Elmo bathing suit. "Bye Mommy!" Lily said, as she grabbed my uncle's hand. "You really have to watch her around the pool. She will jump right in because she's not afraid." I said to my aunt. My aunt had raised four kids so I knew that the reminder was more to make me feel better, than me being worried that something would actually happen. I kissed Violet and off we went to furniture shop without kids in tow, which felt like a luxury. When Mr. Chick asked if I wanted to go out to eat after finishing at the furniture store, I thought for a second and decided we would go back and get something to eat at the cookout and watch the girls swim. I had no idea at the time what the implications of that decision would end up being. It would end up saving our child's life.
As we pulled up to the house and got out of the car, I noticed my dad running out the front door with the phone in his hand. "That's weird," I remember thinking. As I got out of the car, I heard him yelling. "If you know CPR, get in there!" We still didn't know what had happened or who was in trouble, but with Mr. Chick's first responder training as a deputy sheriff, we knew we had to hurry. We ran through the house and my world stopped. It was my baby that needed help. I saw Lily's little legs hanging over the edge of the pool while my husband performed CPR, trying to get her to breathe. I remember squeezing my grandmother's arm, screaming for my baby, trying to get anyone to tell me what had happened to her. There were no less than 15 adults around that pool and not one person could tell me how long she had been under the water.
After what seemed like an hour, but was really only minutes, my husband picked up Lily and held her to his chest. She was breathing, but was clearly dazed and having trouble. By that time, paramedics had arrived and they grabbed my little girl and loaded her into an ambulance. For some reason, they would not let me in with her, so we were going to have to follow in our car. I remember that after the ambulance tore off, I saw my aunt in the driveway, watching the scene unfold. I let out a scream unlike anything I've ever heard before which I can only describe as unadulterated RAGE. I was beyond furious. As I ran toward my aunt, I screamed "I'm going to FUCKING kill you!" and at the time, I meant it. My husband grabbed me around the waist and threw me in our car, so my anger was going to have to wait.
In the car, I rocked back and forth, unable to sit still. The best way that I can describe it is that my fear and anger physically hurt. When we got to the hospital, I walked up to the triage desk in the emergency room and I remember the nurse behind the counter ignoring me as she took someone's blood pressure. I stood there for crying for a minute or two, before interrupting to say that my baby had just been brought in by ambulance so that person's blood pressure was just going to have to wait. Another nurse popped out from behind a curtain, grabbed me by the arm and whisked me behind the double doors.
A trauma nurse met me me behind the doors and I was hysterical, asking everyone who would listen if my baby was going to be okay. I have no idea where my husband was during all of this. The trauma nurse was a total bitch, telling me that I was not helping my daughter any by being hysterical and I should just calm down. I was too out of it to respond how I would under normal circumstances, which would be a solid 'Fuck off, bitch.' She steered me to the registration area and said the best thing I could do would be to get Lily's registration completed. Right, because heaven forbid the fucking registration doesn't get done. I still get pissed thinking about that nurse.
Around this time, my mom finally got to the hospital. (Editors note for clarification: My parenst are divorced, so my mom was not there when the accident happened). They brought her to meet me in the registration area and I just collapsed in to her, saying 'Mommy, mommy, mommy...my baby, my baby, my baby' over and over again. I still couldn't sit still so I paced back and forth in the hallway, waiting for the doctor to come out and give me something, anything, any piece of information that I could hold on to.
As I waited, a detective walked up to take my statement about what had happened. They were confused on how this could have happened, with so many adults right there. Understatement of the fucking century. The one thing he said at that time that sticks with me to this day is "Nobody watches your kids as closely as you do." That one statement would end up meaning that nobody would be trusted to babysit our kids for years and years after that.
As I spoke with the detective, I stuck my hand in my back pocket and felt a piece of paper. I pulled out the picture that Lily's babysitter had given me earlier. There in the picture, wearing her homemade red, white and blue flag T-shirt and a beaming smile was my perfect little girl. Getting that picture earlier in the day already seemed like a lifetime away. I prayed for the opportunity to take more pictures like that.
Finally, the doctor came out to speak with my husband and I and his beside manner was about as good as the bitch nurse from earlier. In a matter of fact tone, he said "Well, he's stable for now but she does have water in her lungs and if a kid her age is going to die, it's going to be from a lung injury, so I really can't tell you what's going to happen." I collapsed all over again. My baby. My beautiful perfect baby. We had broken her.
When I finally calmed down, the doctor explained that they were transferring Lily to the children's hospital across town as she would need to be on oxygen in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and doctors there should be able to tell us more. The bitch nurse handed me a bag and I looked inside, finding Lily's swim diaper and her little green Elmo bathing suit. I remembered her happily saying "Bye Mommy!" earlier that day and I held her wet bathing suit to my face and cried all over again.
The detective from earlier came over and I figured he wanted to ask more questions. He led my away from the doctors and nurses and said "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but they told me she'll probably be fine." I remember clinging to those words like a life raft in the stormy sea that my life had become. I definitely understand that doctors and nurses have to maintain a professional distance, but I felt like the doctors and nurses in the ER took it to the extreme. I didn't need sympathy, but a little empathy would have been nice. I was actually glad to transfer to another hospital.
When we arrived at the children's hospital, we followed the paramedics in and waited while they got her set up in the PICU. Once she was settled in a room, we were finally able to see her. I approached her bed, which was one of those big metal cribs and I rubbed her arm through the bars. She had tubes and wires connected everywhere and she seemed to be dazed, staring into space. Finally, the pediatrician arrived and evaluated Lily's chest X-ray and examined her vitals. As he finished his assessment, he let us know that the next 24 hours were important in determining Lily's prognosis. Things could go either way because she had a lot of water in her lungs, which can cause infection, complicating the situation.
For the next 24 hours, I refused to leave the hospital. Luckily, the doctors and nurses at the children's hospital were amazing. After about 12 hours, they let me pick her up and hold her in a reclining chair. I held her close to my skin, so that she would know that I was there for her. During this time, Lily was subdued and quiet and we had no idea what damage her accident may have caused. After another 12 hours had passed, they took her from my arms to update her chest X-ray and assess her progress.
While we waited, Mr. Chick held my hand and I cried, praying that the test results would show that she was improving. After a short while, they brought her back and placed her back in my arms, saying that the doctor would be in soon. Their faces gave nothing away, even as I searched for clues. When the doctor finally arrived, the first thing he did was give us a thumbs up. Her condition was improving with no signs of infection in her lungs. She still needed the oxygen that was being pumped up her nose as her lungs cleared, but all indications were that we would be headed home in a day or two. With that, I breathed for the first time in 24 hours.
Given her prognosis, we were given the okay to transfer out of the PICU to the 'regular' hospital floor, where the nurses were just as amazing as the PICU team. Lily would still need to be assessed for brain damage the next day, but just then, the fact that she was going to live was good enough for me. As it turned out, we would have our answer on the brain damage later that day when a nurse rolled a TV/VCR with some Barney videos into the room. As Lily watched, she spoke for the first time since before her accident. "I love you, you love me...." She remembered the Barney song. My baby remembered and could sing along! I had never been so happy to hear that horribly annoying tune. To no one's surprise, she passed her tests the following day with flying colors.
Three days after Lily's near drowning accident, we prepared to take her home from the hospital. We packed up the flowers, balloons and toys that had poured in from family and friends and said goodbye to the doctors and nurses who had cared for our daughter, just like she was their own. As I carried her through the hospital lobby, she looked over and saw the bubbling stream that runs through the center atrium of the hospital and looked back at me. "I go fimming?" she asked. Yes baby, you go swimming.
My precious baby girl was going to be just fine.
At the time of Lily's accident, I did not know how to perform CPR. Lucky for me, my husband was able to use his training to save our daughter's life. As a result of our experience, I quickly got CPR and First Aid certified through my local Red Cross chapter. Parents - please please please get this life saving training...your child's life could depend on it. Visit www.redcross.org to find a class near you.