Friday, June 18, 2010

This is the Story

"And bring the fatted calf here and kill it,and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my [child] was dead and is alive again; [s]he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry."
- Luke 15:22b

As I sit down to write, the events of the past four days seem like a surreal roller coaster of sorts, a high-speed train ride into a dark tunnel and back out into the light. 

This is what happened, as best I can tell it. 

On Monday, our friends Suzanne and AJ invited us to their home for dinner, trying to give me a break since Tim has been sick for days and days. Tim was ready to be up off the bed, so agreed to go along. We arrived with swimsuits, towels and appetites to find a full cast already assembled. I'll name them here since every one played a role in our near tragedy and resulting miracle. The Ard family -- Cary and Karen with their younger daughters, Tiffany and Anna. Troy Bryant with his two kids. David Rodriguez, whom Caroline greeted with a big hug and "When are you coming over?" Mike Wollenman. Tino Nguyen. Trevor Walker. Sam Walker. Drew Roicki. And of course, Suzanne and AJ with their three kids. 

After dinner, I went outside to check on the kids, help one of them find a swimsuit, and see how Tim was doing. We chatted a bit with Troy and then I decided to see if I could give Suzanne a hand in the kitchen, since there seemed to be adequate adults to handle the 6-7 kids in the pool and hot tub. When I left, Caroline was in the hot tub with a couple other kids. 

As I helped washed dishes, Bethany Ard arrived. Bethany, age 17, doesn't usually attend these Monday night dinners, but due to a scheduling snafu by her boss, she hadn't been assigned to work that night. Her dad, who's involved with the football players and often brings them to dinner, asked her to come by, and whereas normally she might have other plans, she decided that why not, she'd pop her head in and say hi that night. As she, her mom (Karen), Suzanne and I chatted, Bethany relayed to us how three days ago, she had saved a swimmer in distress for the first time in her 2-3 years as a lifeguard. 

Just as she finished telling the story, someone burst into the kitchen shouting, "Caroline fell in the pool!" Now, honestly, my first reaction was one of only mild concern. Our four year old jumps into the pool regularly, and can swim a few feet to a waiting adult. She can also climb out of the pool on her own. If she's in water over her head, she always has a float ring on or is with an adult. So I walked, not ran, to the door, thinking that maybe she'd tripped, and that I'd see a wet husband and a sputtering child who needed a hug from Mom. 

Instead, what greeted my eyes and ears was a scene of complete horror. Children, especially my own son, were crying hysterically. Adults were running around shouting, someone yelling, "CALL 9-1-1!" Daddy was fully clothed, but not wet. And my child was limp, unconscious, bluish, and what little I could see of her eyelids were rolled back in her head. 

I cannot tell you the exact sequence of events that transpired over the next ten minutes. I remember Tim doing something to get her to vomit. I remember the children disappearing (later I discovered that Suzanne had herded them all inside and downstairs). I remember the sudden quiet. I remember holding onto my baby and hearing her father plead with her to come back to us. I remember Bethany kneeling down and beginning the chest compressions. I remember Tim tipping her head back and blowing into her mouth as I just held her by the hands. 

I remember AJ talking to the 9-1-1 dispatcher, holding up the phone so we could hear her instructions. I remember turning my head to see David standing behind me and asking him to have the guys downstairs PRAY. I remember him quietly responding, "They already are." I remember the blessed sound of the sirens and the even more beautiful sound of her ragged breaths as they became slow but regular. 

Then the EMT's were there, covering her face with an oxygen mask and lifting her. I had just enough time to grab my purse, sob for a minute on Suzanne's shoulder as she cried on mine, and then run to the ambulance. I had to ride up front. There was a Kleenex box on the dashboard. I sat there, shivering, with every muscle in my body rigid, wishing for the ambulance to sprout wings. Halfway to the hospital, the driver looked over from a communication with the EMT in the back and said, "I can hear her crying over my radio. That's a good sign." 

A good sign indeed, but oh, how I wanted to be there with her. I didn't know whether she was conscious enough to be spooked by the mask and the strange man at her bedside. I thought about the afternoon before, how I'd wanted to sneak out to do a couple errands and finally have some time to myself but knew I should say goodbye to her. Of course, she wanted to come along. I put up a feeble resistance, but it didn't take much for me to crumble. Along the way, we talked, at her prompting, about the reasons behind our family's holiday traditions and what it means to have your heart broken. She bought gumballs at  the Origins store for her siblings. There in the ambulance, not knowing what the next hours would bring and groping for a light in my grief, I felt so glad I'd let her come along. 

We pulled up at Dell Children's Medical Center (y'all: this is an awesome place) and I jumped out. The rear doors opened to admit the sound of my daughter's screaming. I ran alongside her, talking to her, but she never opened her eyes or seemed to notice my voice. In the ER, she was enveloped by a trauma team as a social worker came up to introduce herself to me. My first thought was, "Oh no. Not a social worker. She'll think we're terrible parents and investigate us for negligence." Especially after I had to answer the team's inquiries of "How long was she down there?" "How did she get there?" with a tearful, "I don't know." That, friends, is a conversation you never want to have. 

(Incidentally, it turned out that the social worker's sole job was to comfort me and be my ally. An angel in a form called Monica.)

They cut off her swimsuit with a large pair of scissors, her body looking so tiny on that bed in the center of the room. Her face was covered with an oxygen mask, which in her semi-conscious state, she still managed to hate. She cried nonstop, turning her head from side to side to try and rid herself of the mask. They finally let me come and talk to her, and I sang her favorite songs, "Jesus Loves Me," for one in her ear. She'd calm for a few moments, especially during a song, and then start right back up with what they later described as being "extremely combative" and "purposeful." Yup. That's my girl. But she never opened her eyes. 

My brother-in-law arrived, then Tim with Tino. I stood with them in the corridor as the team did X-rays of her "hazy" lungs and sedated her so they could put her on a ventilator and spare her body the wear and tear of fighting. Then they wheeled her into a dark room for a CT Scan. 

Somewhere in all of that, I remember calling Vanessa, seeing my tearful sister-in-law, Jenni, arrive, and beginning to shiver, which is what happens to me typically when I am in shock. Monica brought me a blanket. A man had brought me a piece of paper and asked me to write my daughter's name and birthdate on it. At the top, the scrawled handwriting read "Near Drowning." I stared at it, wondering if the man's name was Neal and why he had written his own name next to my daughter's condition. Only the next day did that note make sense. 

Now that she was sedated and ventilated, we headed up to the ICU, where they asked us to wait while they got her settled in a room. We sat for an hour in the waiting room as friends kept arriving to sit quietly with us. My sister came. Bethany and her parents arrived. Others who had been on the scene and many who had not. A few church elders came. Grace got her sleeping baby out of bed and brought him and her mom. We all seemed to alternate between crying, talking, and sitting with our silent thoughts and prayers. Some prayed aloud. I heard there was prayer taking place in various parts of Austin. In California. In Massachusetts, at my parents' house. 

As we sat, a few of us managed to piece together a little of what happened. Apparently, Ian, my almost-ten-year-old son, had first spied Caroline lying on the bottom of the pool. He saw a few bubbles escaping toward the surface and at first thought she was playing a game. Then alarm bells went off in his head and something, something which he knows now was God, screamed at him that she was NOT okay. He dived down to the bottom, grabbed her, and hauled her to the surface of the pool. He couldn't lift her out, so he yelled for Tim, who ran over and pulled her out. 

Aubrey, age 11, said afterward that there had been an inflatable raft on the pool's surface and she was under it, which was the reason that no one saw her until the raft moved. We still don't know how Caroline got to where she was, and she mercifully remembers nothing. My best theory is that she somehow lost her grip on the side of the pool or whatever she was holding onto, and then couldn't reach the surface because it was blocked by the raft. As hard as it is to think of the desperation she must have felt (but doesn't remember), my cousin shared with me later that she pictures two angels holding my daughter as she lay down there. Knowing that she was in loving hands the whole time gives me great comfort. 

Once the question of life or death seemed well enough settled, the next hurdle to clear was her mental state. She stayed all night in the ICU, hooked up to about eight different tubes and fully asleep. We rested on the foldout bed, but didn't sleep much. Her nurse was an almost constant presence, with periodic visits from a respiratory therapist and a doctor or two. By midmorning the next day, they felt it was time to let her try and breathe on her own. X-rays still showed haziness in her lungs, but they looked reasonably clear. But what about potential damage to the brain from lack of oxygen? 

She came out of sedation slowly, and the first sign we had was when Tim asked her where daddy and mommy were and she slid her visual focus over to him and then to me. Her oral and  nasal tubs were removed and I could sit in the rocking chair beside the bed, holding her and letting her hear my glad, glad heartbeat. Within a few hours, despite her grogginess, she'd reassured us all that her full mental faculties were intact. In between respiratory treatments, she blew on the party blower and pinwheel the nurses provided. She wanted me to snuggle with her on the bed, in between waves of visitors, and read her story after story. 

We stayed one more night and morning at Dell before she got a resounding "All Clear" to go home. So thorough was her recovery, thanks to the wonderful care and especially to the hundreds of prayers that ascended on her behalf, that our discharge instructions read "None," and the physical therapist who came to observe her ("Let's walk to the playroom, Caroline. Can you do that?" "OK! Let's skip!") told me that we really had no need of her services. 

I need to mention just a couple more things in this already very long epistle. One is that our other children are also doing well. The hospital provided Child Life specialists (social workers) to help them process the trauma. Ian spoke with them for a long time and was able to let go of much of the re-living he was doing. Thanks to family and friends, we were able to keep him in a distracting routine for the next few days. He and his sister are enjoying having their sister home and are even back to bickering among themselves -- a sign that life goes on! Caroline knows that her brother pulled her out of the pool and saved her from drowning, and she has expressed her gratitude to him in her own way. 

The other is that we learned a couple things from this very close call. One is a reminder of how important it is to be vigilant at all times around a pool. It's easy to get distracted with a conversation or one's own thoughts and take for granted that the kids are safe. If our story can help avert even one other like it, then sharing it feels worth it. 

We also learned (again) how rich we are in precious, loving family and friends. So many people poured out love, concern, prayers, offers of help, cards, gifts, hours spent by our sides -- more than we ever would have expected or hoped for. We're humbled and grateful and will probably never get a chance to thank every single one as we would want to. 

Of course, the final lesson is about the preciousness, the fragility of life itself. As I watched my daughter dance around the house this morning and reminded her to put away her artwork, it struck me again how easily it could have gone the other way. Today we could have been holding a funeral or standing around a graveside, with scraps of artwork left only as painful reminders of what we once had. We're aware that too many stories do end that way, and our hearts have been enlarged to include those grieving parents. But today we instead celebrate our normal, ordinary life -- clutter, siblings scraps, and all -- because it is LIFE. And we're living it together. 

Thank You, Lord. 


Raji P. said...

I cried when reading this. It must have been difficult to write this - thank you for sharing. Hugs and love to all.

Michelle said...

Oh Hannah, I am in tears. Oh what you have gone through these last 4 days! Praise God He had His hands on Caroline. As tragic as this has been it is such a wonderful testimony with a happy ending and leaves me much to think about. So glad to hear that all worked out and that she is alive and well and that life is back to normal. Praise God!

cjoy said...

I, too, am pouring tears. I have no real words, but a thankful heart that your family is whole and together, embracing life today. Now, I pray that your migraine will ease completely and your weekend will be full of joy....for tears last for a night but joy comes in the morning.

Love to you all.

Moxy Jane said...

This is a story none of us ever want to have to tell. Thank you, Hannah, for sharing it and thank God the ending was one of life and gratitude. You witnessed a miracle - a very scary miracle.

My heart was especially touched by the time and attention given to Ian to help him process and accept and let go of what must have been a horrific experience for him.

How mighty God is. And how good.

keyda said...

God is good. He holds you no matter what the outcome.

Thank you for sharing and reminding us to stay vigilient.

Vanessa said...

Through your experience, I am more thankful to the Lord for everything--especially the ordinary days as a mom.

Dianne said...

Hannah, I couldn't make it past the third paragraph without tears. Only this time, the tears were those of relief, gratefulness to the Lord, and joy that Caroline is with us today. From the moment we heard from P&B, we've been praying for nothing short of a full recovery. The Lord is jealous over this little vessel. Thank you for sharing. Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers are with you all. Hugs from us (in Cali).

Melanie said...

Praise be to God for answered prayers and turning mourning into dancing! Your family has been in my prayers and thoughts, thank you for detailing this experience, I hope you don't mind my sharing the link with a few others, for the safety reminder aand example of God's goodness.

(I was also feeling pretty waterlogged with our twice a day visits to the pool for swim lessons until I heard from Vanessa Thursday what had happened, so grateful to be reminded how very, very important these life-saving lessons are!!

Barb said...

Hannah, this has to be every parent's worst nightmare. I am so glad you got to wake up from it.

When Jane was two, we had a pool party with many kids and a bajillion adults standing around watching. A little boy pushed her under and used her as his "flotation device." If a neighbor hadn't seen what was happening and gone in fully clothed to fish her out, my story would have been much like this. From then on, we always hired a lifeguard, whose sole job it was to watch the kids. Because this happens even when there are people standing inches away, and it is utterly soundless.

Please give Caroline an extra big hug and kiss from someone in New York. And give yourself one, too.

Julie said...

I cried and then cried some more..thank you for sharing this story. It is a very scary reminder that we just never know what can happen. Thank you to the Lord for saving her life and for her full recovery! We are praying for all of you from Florida!

Stephanie said...

Hannah, I just read through this for the second time. It is impossible to keep my heart from swelling or to stifle the tears. Our hearts are rejoicing along with yours on this ordinary day which is today.

Kyeli said...

Oh, Hannah, I am so so glad to hear that Caroline is okay! I'm so deeply sorry that this happened to her, and amazed at the love and strength I feel pouring not just *to* you, but *from* you as well.

I will keep you and your family in my heart, and send you love and light from here as well.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Hannah!!
Thank you so much for sharing your story with me. I, too, am in tears. HE is so very good to us. May HIS name be praised always. How very blessed we all are to be able to celebrate.

Beck said...

I'm sobbing reading this. Thank GOD she is all right.

Sherry said...

Beautiful Hannah, Thank you so very much for sharing this. I cannot find words to express my feeling, but simply THANK YOU, GOD! THANK YOU, GOD! THANK YOU, GOD!

Naomi said...

Firstly, I of course cried my way through this post. And I am so incredibly thankful to the Lord for what He did. I'm also very much in awe of how He arranged everything - especially Bethany the life-guard's being there that night.

On another level, I was confused by the "Neal" part. Did that get explained? Just checking.

Hannah said...

Hi Naomi -

Sorry if that was unclear. It actually said "Near Drowning," but my brain was so befuddled at the time that I misunderstood and thought the man's name was Neal. Just an illustration of how shock can displace logic, I guess.

Mariela said...

Hannah, I praise and thank the Lord for His care. I had the opportunity to pray with Shifrah for her before she started responding and what a relief it was to hear she was doing fine! Thank you for sharing your story and thank the Lord that He is giving her time so she can be for Him! Your experience really encourages me to thank Him for His all inclusive care and for every day He grants us with our kids!

Samuel said...

I don't think I will ever forget coming home, and hearing Vanessa tell me "there's been a terrible accident with Caroline."

What a terrible yet ultimately joyful experience you all have been through. Thank you Lord indeed.

Stephen said...

Hi Tim and Hanna,

Words cannot express how thankful we are to the Lord that Caroline is OK. We are glad to know that our prayers were answered and she has made a full recovery. Thank you for taking the time to share the details of your harrowing experience in your blog. LIfe is truly fragile.

Love to you all,

The Bellinghams

Bear Creek Mama said...

Praise the Lord!!!!
Don't you just want to meet that Angel of mercy that was at her side? Her recovery is truly nothing short of miraculous.
I'm sure you're holding all of them just a little tighter these days. May His blessings continue to rain on you!

Life with Kaishon said...

Oh my gosh. I am crying and crying. How scary. I am so thankful that she is ok. I am thanking Jesus with you.

Sarah Chappelle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah Chappelle said...

Beautiful retelling of an unimaginably horrific experience. Thank you for sharing. I'm reading this with my kids as well for their benefit and future vigilance.
Much love to all of you!! Praise our dear Lord for His mercy and grace.

Laurie said...

I was blog hopping and came across this blog. This weekend we are about to attend a cookout with an undergound pool. My son is three and not a very sturdy swimmer so after reading this I will be extra careful to watch him like a hawk. I can't thank you enough for sharing this story, I know it must have been the worse day of your life but hopefully it serves as a life lesson to many other parents.