H is for Helicopter
03/29/2009, 7:55 AM #
Hey, are we allowed to do reruns here?
Originally posted April 2007. For my brightling, who turns seven today.
When we walk into the room, they already have her in pediatric restraints. The nurse says, we had to tie her hands down, she keeps trying to pull out the tubes. Like Michael Lewis, we flew at breakneck speeds up the freeway to the larger hospital, the one with the PICU. We'd been waiting in the surgical waiting room for a couple of hours before I had started to get nervous. Doesn't it seem like it's taking a long time? I asked my husband. Then the nurse came in and took us to another little waiting room. There's been a problem, she said. She's having trouble breathing, she said.
How many kids get their tonsils out every day? Thousands. Right now, a daddy is settling his daughter on a couch somewhere, handing her half of a popsicle. He's sitting down next to her, eating the other half. They're watching a cartoon, he checks her forehead for warmth.
There's something about seeing your child fight that inspires you to love them in a way you can't when they blithely coo in health, in safety. I'm not surprised Lewis found a new, profound way to love and bond with Walker in this installment of Dad Again. It's a reactive airway, the nurse said. After we took the tubes out, she started struggling to breathe. We need to send her to one of the hospitals where they can keep her on a ventilator. I'll take you in to see her now.
Four more nurses and the surgeon greet us and try to make us calm. Somehow, our pediatrician is also there (who called him?) and I vow to never again complain if we're kept waiting for twenty minutes during checkups. You no worry, she be okay, he says in his sweet, elderly, mishmash middle-eastern accent. He pats my arm and asks which hospital we want her to go to. We don't care, whatever, we say. No, no, you must tell what hospital. I take a stab and name one (what’s it called, Saint Whosis?). He nods, yes that one, pleased, and I feel as if I've passed a "know your hospitals" test.
The LifeFlight team strides in, and they remind me of that Far Side cartoon, the one where there's a tree full of hawks wearing sunglasses and listening to walkmans. Birds of prey know they're cool. They ask, who wants to ride in the helicopter with her? We look at each other. Neither of us does. Neither of us can stand the thought of sitting in a helicopter and staring at our daughter in a medically-induced coma while we fly. I will lose my mind. I need to do something. We both do. So we'll each drive the 35 minutes to the new hospital while she flies up there with the team. It's okay, they say. These drugs are amazing, they say. She won't remember any of this.
At the PICU, we watch her for hours through swollen eyes and eventually doze through the beeps and the checks. I struggle out of sleep when I hear her hoarse crying. He wakes up too, we look at each other and then at her. She's got tubes down her throat, she's not supposed to be able to cry. We jump up and look in the bed. She's maneuvered her little hands, tied together on the same side of the bed, up next to her mouth and she's yanked her tubes out. I walk out in the hall, Um, we need someone in here. The PICU nurse says, she extubated herself! I thought we had her in restraints. And I look at her little heroic hands and really, truly love her. I was reminded of that moment when I read Lewis' words: "He's winning the RSV tourney! I look down at him, proudly…" The PICU doctor grudgingly allows that she can remain extubated. She struggles more and more out of her druggy funk. Sometime later, she cries again. I need to go potty. Well, honey, you have a tube, you can just go. No, I want to use the potty. Out came the catheter. Yeah! I grin. My kid is punk rock! By the next morning, she's sitting up in bed, eating a banana. PICU doc stops in to check on her and smiles, surprised. I think you're going home now, he says.
After her checkup two weeks later, she and I are walking through the hospital parking lot, and we stroll across the helipad. The pink loops of her shoelaces are silly against the hard yellow lines. Look, mommy, a H for me! Yes, H is for you. Helicopter for you. Health for you. Happiness for you.