Thursday, June 08, 2006

The day my daughter almost died

After checking with my daughter, she gave me the go-ahead to write about this. Here she is the day she was finally leaving the hospital.
I watched my teen daughter set out for the pool today. She looked beautiful. Then I noticed the large scar across her abdomen and my heart ached as I remembered the day she almost died - the day my stupidity almost killed her.

It all started on a Wednesday. My daughter came home from school saying she didn’t feel well. She had a fever so I gave her some Tylenol and put her to bed.

By Thursday, she seemed better but I could tell she still did not feel 100-percent. Any other mother might have kept her home. But she had perfect attendance and she asked to be allowed to go to school. I gave in, handed her my cell phone, and asked her to call me if she felt worse.

December 2003 -- a horrible flu epidemic had hit our nation. Emergency rooms were full of sick children. Local newspapers addressed the issue of crowded emergency rooms and long waits – many patients were taking up time, space and beds that were normally allotted for more serious conditions.
Why do people run to the emergency room with every little runny nose and cough, I wondered. As a former E.R. nurse, I saw plenty of cases where a child could benefit with a little Tylenol and rest. In many cases, the visit to the emergency department was not necessary. Of course, I never advised anyone against coming in. "Bring the child in," I would always say.
Sadly, I did not take my own advice. Since I never rush into the emergency room for every little ache or pain, I saw no need to take her in.

Sure enough, the school nurse called me. She told me she had sent several kids home that day with the flu and it looked like Catherine had the same thing.

Friday, my daughter got up and tried to go to school. This time I said no. She didn’t argue with me and went back to bed. Later, I heard her crying out, asking me to help her. I sat up with her, gave her Tylenol, and each time, she'd settle back down. She was not experiencing lower, right-quadrant pain, so I did not believe it was appendicitis. With so many people having the same general stomach-discomfort symptoms, we had no reason to believe it was anything else.

My daughter had a rough night and moaned softly off and on in pain during the night. Each time, warm towels to her abdomen calmed her. She fell asleep. I wanted to take her to the emergency room but her father insisted she was fine and refused to let me take her.

Then came Saturday. 5 a.m. I awoke to loud cries of pain. I rushed to her room and found her in severe agony, almost screaming. She was weak and burning with a fever of 105 degrees. She was pale and turning listless between the cries. I yelled at her father to get out of my way, that If I had to pick her up myself, I was taking her to the hospital.

He physically scooped her up and we rushed the three blocks to the emergency department. Shortly after arriving, she was calm again and sleeping.

Two hours and many tests later, the doctor informed us that it did not look like appendicitis, but she did need to be admitted for observation. But the hospital was full and they said they would keep her in the emergency room until a bed was free -- approximately an additional four hours.

She was slightly medicated and she slept peacefully. She was in good hands, so I stepped out to check on our other two children while her father stayed with her.

I also had a story assigned that day and I was going to Porterville to cover the Zonta Club Christmas Home Tour. I planned on being back by 2 p.m. Everything was under control.
But I didn't get very far. Before I reached the freeway, I got the call no mother ever wants to hear.

“Something’s gone wrong. They want to transfer her to Children’s Hospital,” James said. “Hurry and get back. She's not doing good -- they’ve already called the ambulance.”
How could that be? She was asleep when I left. I rushed to the hospital, hoping to beat the ambulance so that I may ride with her. But there was more bad news -- and all I can remember is hearing something about a "possible code blue" en route if they tried to take her. The doctor called us aside. The transfer had been cancelled. My daughter was drifting in and out of consciousness by now and it was too risky to transport her. There was a possibility that she would not make it to Fresno without coding. (her heart could stop) The doctor said she had no idea what was wrong with her but they needed to take her for emergency exploratory surgery.

I broke down.

What had I done? Why did I wait? Why? Why? Why? I had so many questions, but there was no time for answers.

And just like that, I kissed my little girl as they literally ran the gurney down the hall towards emergency surgery as paper after paper was placed before us to sign.

“It shouldn’t take more than two to three hours,” the surgeon told us as she rushed off.
We waited, hour after hour after hour, in a small waiting room. Every few minutes another family member arrived until the room was packed with praying family members.

Four hours went by...then five hours. "The doctor said two to three hours," I cried. "What is happening?"

Six hours later, the doctor walked in.

Her appendix had burst – perhaps as much as 24 hours prior to surgery. Complications had developed and a long hospital stay was eminent. Because of the severity of the contamination, she could not be stitched close and she had an opening the size of a baseball on her abdomen.

“It was a mess in there,” the doctor said. “She gave us quite a scare. We almost lost her.”

It turned out my daughter did code (cardiovascular arrest / her heart stopped) on the operating table. She was resuscitated. Only by the love and grace of God, did she live.

I stayed by her side – never sleeping for more than four hours a night. But I didn’t care. All I knew was that I almost killed my daughter. I was beating myself up with that thought and prayed for forgiveness -- and prayed for my baby - day and night.

I did not go home for more than two weeks. I slept at the hospital, got up, showered, dressed and I'd leave for work at the newspaper. I'm not even sure anyone at work really knew what I was going through. I would have loved to have taken the time off but we were understaffed. I had only been working at the newspaper for three months and since I was new, I did not feel I had the right to ask for the time off. What can I say? I was stupid.

Day after day, I'd rush to work, write two or three stories as fast as I could and rush back to the hospital. I'd pray and sometimes cry during my commute. I really had no business working.

In the meantime, my daughter lay unconscious. She never opened her eyes and seemed to be in a distant place.

But, God is good. And on day five, we saw a miracle.

My little girl suddenly woke up, looked around, and asked where she was. I was happy I happened to be there when it happened. We laughed and we cried.

She had no recollection of the pain, no recollection of the last five days. No recollection of the surgery. And, after not eating any food for eight days, she announced she was hungry.
My daughter was also surprised to find the numerous tubes that attached her body to the wall and to machines. She looked at her large abdominal bandages and puzzled, looked up at me and asked, “What happened?”

I turned away for a brief moment so that she would not see my tears - or my guilt.

What could I say? That I thought she had the flu? That even after realizing how serious it was, I hadn't taken her to get medical help? That my delay in obtaining medical intervention almost cost us her life?

“Hi baby,” I whispered to her as I brushed a wisp of hair away from her face. “I’ve been waiting for you to wake up.”

After being hospitalized for 15 days, we brought her home -- two days before Christmas.
At first her pediatrician was recommending an additional week in the hospital -- but since her father and I are both in the medical field, and we live down the street from the hospital -- they let us take her home. We just wanted her home for Christmas. Plus, they were not doing anything that we couldn't do.
My daughter missed an additional month of school. But she still amazed us. She made up all of her school work and still graduated at the top of her class - valedictorian of her school. She's definitely another miracle child. I remember rushing out Christmas Eve to get a tree. We had a lot to be thankful for that year.


  1. Oh wow. That does sound scary. I'm glad she made it through okay.

    I can't imagine what my parents went through when the doctor told them that not only did I have a heart murmur but it was also causing an aneurysm and I needed surgery. I was only two years old. So, I don't really remember any of it. Maybe that's a good thing. I don't know.

  2. What a heartwrenching story--my kids have died a thousand deaths inside my own mind, already. We parents walk a fine line.

    I'm sure you know there was no way for you to know what was really going on, right? But we parents always feel we should have known. I'm so glad she's okay, now. Beautiful girl!

  3. I can't imagine what a terrifying experience that was for you. I'm glad everything turned out fine. :)

  4. Andrea: Wow, you had a rough start as a baby. Glad you made it through too.
    Shelly: Thank you. I know what you mean and yet, I kept blaming myself for the longest time.
    Jeff: Thank you.

  5. Poor you! I could sense your agony through that period. Yet you only reacted the way most parents would, given the situation.

    Such a miracle, indeed. You are blessed, and so is your daughter. Here's wishing the very best for your entire family :)

  6. OMG September, that must have been horrible!! I'm so glad everything turned out fine in the end. And don't blame yourself, you know you did all you could. Illnesses are very, very tricky.

  7. What a story!!! We don't realize how important our health is until it's in jeopardy. Thanks for sharing. I'm glad all turned out well.

  8. Bhaswati, Dama Negra, KelliC: Thank you. Yes, very agonizing and I blamed myself for a long time. Still feel bad to this day. We won't know the long term effects until ...well....thank you for your kind words. We are a blessed family and I will count on God to take care of my little one's future.

    it was a miracle, really.

  10. daughter's doing great. thank you, manic. Yes, it was a miracle. :)

  11. Anonymous9:08 PM

    I am so glad that your daughter is okay! Don't beat yourself up. I have known several people that have told me stories of having appendicitis and thinking that they have the flu or some kind of stomach bug. Your a good mother, and I could tell by the anguish you described in your story. I have a little daughter as well, and pray that nothing like this ever happens to her. Take care.