In the ambulance, I kept kicking myself. Why didn’t I print her medical history last night? I was lazy. Serves me right. I had updated it. All the info was there – just for emergencies like this. But I didn’t feel like printing it, and I honestly didn’t think we’d have an emergency so close to her discharge from the hospital. They had never been so close together in the past. And Catherine had had two good days at school Monday and Tuesday after coming home the prior Wed. So I hadn’t printed my security blanket of facts and figures related to Catherine’s medical history since birth, and that meant I didn’t have any info to give anyone who kept asking about allergies and meds. And for some reason, even though I had repeated all the information hundreds of times in the past, I couldn’t remember any of it.
I had told the EMTs all the nurse had explained to me – that she heard her moan at 5:20. She went to hang her feeding bag at 5:25 and noticed she wasn’t breathing. And that’s when she came to get me. I had no more info. I didn’t have my cheat sheet that impressed so many medical professionals. I barely knew what had happened. I was in the front seat of an ambulance and it was not at all like the dozens of times I’d been there before. I couldn’t think. I didn’t cry. I could barely breathe. I was scared out of my mind. I needed help. My phone became my lifeline.
At 5:57 AM, 29 minutes since I had called 911, I sent a text to my friend who is a doctor in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Johns Hopkins.
Please pray. C not breathing. In ambulance to Hoco now.
I was surprised she was up when she replied nearly instantly:
“Not breathing? Can you give me more information? Are the emts breathing for her?”
“Yes. Incubated [sic]. I think she is dead. I’m not asking questions. I am praying.”
She said she was coming. I immediately told her it wasn’t necessary. I’ll never forget the sentiment she sent back immediately.
She let me know that if I wanted privacy and space, she would stay away. She emphasized her care for Brian and me and texted,
“this is my area of expertise, and if you will let me, I want to come.”
Truthfully, I was shaking and could barely see the phone. I’m not the one who ever asks for help. I hate it. I hate to burden people. I have learned to accept help; I’m still not good at asking for it, though. As soon as I read her text, I took a deep breath and replied instantly:
In my memory, I made a post to my neighborhood friends before I contacted my doctor friend. Looking back at the texts and timestamps, however, I realize my memory has it backward. Or technology is wrong.
Either way, the timestamp says that at 6:01 AM, while still sitting in the ambulance, I posted to a GroupMe page called “Westside Girls” where my neighborhood friends stay in touch. Normally, it’s full of “Let’s meet for wine by the mailboxes!” and “Happy Birthday!” I needed help and knew I could get word out quickly for prayers:
If u have ever prayed for Catherine pray now. On way to HoCo. Serious. Please pray.
A friend immediately offered to help. She wondered who had Sarah.
“Brian and s are coming to h” I typed quickly as the ambulance pulled away. I had told Brian and Sarah to come to the hospital behind the ambulance. Sarah was safe. And then I quickly typed:
Pray. Even if you aren’t sure and don’t know how. Ask god for help.
These staccato pleas were my desperate attempts to change what I feared had already happened.
Normally, I’m chatty with the ambulance driver. I like to know what his background is and if he still likes what he does and the type of calls that stand out in memory. I barely said a word during the 8-minute drive to the hospital. I prayed. And texted. And looked back on Catherine to holler and tell her I was still there and for her to hang on and come back. I can’t believe how long ago it feels just thinking about it now as I’m writing this only 2 weeks, 1 day later.
At the hospital, the doors opened to receive Catherine. Just like teams had done in the past, they looked so serious. Frankly, so scared. I didn’t like that energy. I lifted my hands up like I was literally, physically able to raise their energy. “Come on folks. This is NOT going to be a sad day. You are gonna help her cuz this kid’s not done yet. I want to see smiles and good energy because it matters! It all matters and you have a job to do!” Where did that come from? Who was I to tell them how to do their job? Or whether to do their job, in fact.
We walked in as normally as we’ve ever walked into the Pediatric ER. As we entered the ER, I saw Catherine’s face turn a little pink. “She’s turning pink! That’s a good thing, right?” Looking back on it I don’t think I ever heard anyone answer, but later, I did hear someone reference it and say, “We got color change as she arrived.” I stood outside the door, my mouth still dry, praying “color change” meant something good.
They asked me lots of questions like usual. Only this time, I didn’t have my cheat sheet filled with Catherine’s medical history. I felt lost. I could barely remember her allergies and meds – things I’ve rattled off seemingly thousands of times over her lifetime. I had even called Brian while I was in the ambulance to tell him where the old one was in the trash. “We’ve already left, Ellen. Do you need me to turn around?”
“No, just come on. Thanks anyway,” I replied. Really, what difference would it make? Somehow I knew I was grasping at anything that might help – might prevent what I believed was coming.
I don’t recall that I ever even entered her room – unusual for me – because so many people needed access. And I didn’t really want to see this much trauma. I stood across from her in the hall – in the doorway of the bathroom, actually. Techs arrived at the door of her room, room 8, and were given clear orders from someone. “You three will do CPR when she’s tired. You’ll form a rotation.” She pointed at one of the girls and said, “OK, you’re up next.”
I didn’t even know techs were trained to do CPR. I remember thinking that and then thinking that it made sense. I also recall thinking it was odd that with all the technology we have, CPR is still the go-to option to try to save a life – even in the ER. All I could see beyond the wall of professionals working to help my baby was a footstool on the floor beside the stretcher where the Tech’s head was bouncing up and down with the weight of compressions.
At some point, Terri stood beside me for a moment – the EMT I trusted. The one who had responded to our house and to school for several 911 calls. “It doesn’t look good, does it?” I whispered. Always one to be honest, she affirmed quietly, “No, it doesn’t. We weren’t able to get an electric response in the field.” Somehow, she slipped away after that, and I didn’t see her again. It felt sort of like Catherine went with her in that moment.
Brian arrived sometime during all these random thoughts and snippets of trauma. “Where’s Sarah?” I immediately wanted to know. “She’s in the room,” he replied looking on and scanning the scene.
“What room?” I asked – as if that mattered. I just wanted to know where she was, I guess.
I told him my doctor friend was on the way. The ER team kept asking when she was going to arrive. She had texted that Hopkins had put a team on the road to transport Catherine and that she’d be there in 8 minutes. Those 8 minutes felt like eternity.
I passed that along to the attending at the regional hospital and heard him say, “OK, let’s keep her in a good place.”
I thought that might be a good sign. “Yes, let’s keep her in a good place,” I echoed in my mind and heart.