Sunday, 4 January 2015
So that was Christmas...
There was barely enough water in the bath to cover her face, but she lay beneath its surface with her eyes open. I thought she was playing. A second before she had been standing and stacking toys in her corner of the tub, her brothers squashed in around her. I had turned my attention to Darcy for the briefest of moments, responding to a request to fetch his clothes by the pool with a "no, I need to stay with Thea." And then I looked down and saw her, and scooped her out, expecting her to splutter and cry, and there was no response at all. It was Christmas Eve.
She was stiff, staring into space, and quickly turning blue. I shook her, but her arms and legs were locked, her gaze on something far away. Darcy asked what was wrong and I said I did not know as I ran into the hallway with a guttural cry tearing out of my chest, my daughter in my arms as I hit her on her back, trying to get the water out of her. My sister came running and then my mother was there and I handed her my baby girl and watched as she pounded three short, sharp blows between her shoulder blades then lay her limp, blue body on the floor and started breathing into her tiny chest. I slid down the wall beside them and time slowed down as I watched Thea's chest rise and fall with my mother's breath and waited for a cough, a splutter - anything to show she was still alive.
How many breaths? How many seconds, minutes, hours? It felt like an eternity but it was probably less than a minute. "What can I do?" I asked as I sat there grappling with the terrible reality that I was going to lose this child, my only daughter. I could see her three brothers clustered in the doorway of the bathroom. Then Darcy pulled the door shut and left us with the portraits from my own childhood hanging over us: my mother, my daughter and I in that dark hallway as I wailed that she was dead, oh God, she was dead.
The dog kept trying to get past me to Thea and I pushed him away again and again before my dad dragged him down the hallway and shut him outside. I could hear my sister on the phone, telling the operator that her 18-month-old niece was not breathing and thinking, "but she is 20-months-old now," and wondering whether that really made any difference. With the awful lucidity that accompanied each terror filled second I knew that I was somehow, impossibly, not going to get to keep this gorgeous, glowing child with her tousled blonde hair and her cheeky green eyes and her arms that clung tight around my neck as she cuddled me close in the night. And I thought, perhaps that was why the vasectomy did not work, but then how could we ever replace her?
My mum, a clinical nurse with a lifetime of training and practice resuscitating children in recovery at the children's hospital behind her, stopped to feel for a pulse. "She is not dead, she has got a good pulse." And then Thea was breathing again; short shallow breaths as she whimpered and returned to her body. "She is coming back." The boys tiptoed past and I heard Lewis reassuring his brothers as they dashed downstairs "Its okay, she's not dead."
Mum passed Thea to me as she gave the briefest of cries and said my name, "Mama," and I clutched her to my chest and sobbed, "Oh, my darling, oh my baby girl." But my mum said no, she needed to see her breathing, so I lay her across my legs and cradled her loosely in my arms as she slipped into sleep and my body was wracked with the deepest of sobs as I rocked against the wall and wailed and waited another small eternity for the ambulance to arrive.
"She was rigid," I told my mum, for this seemed one of the most terrifying things of all. And why was she asleep? "I think she has had a seizure," my mum said, "She is normally so strong." I carried Thea to the ambulance and was strapped to the stretcher with her asleep in my arms. She woke up as we pulled into the emergency bay at PMH and was the picture of health for the rest of the night, although Grant was vomiting into a bucket beside us when my mum brought him in to visit. Thea slept snuggled beside me in the observation ward while I watched Clint Eastwood silently chipping his way out of Alcatraz and the clock ticked past midnight. "Happy Christmas my love," I whispered, as I kissed her sweaty head.
We were discharged at 4.30am so I could be there when the boys opened their presents. My mum collected us as the birds started their dawn chorus in the gum trees across the road and we drove down the empty freeway towards home. Jingle Bell Rock was playing on the radio as we drove across the Narrows and I felt like crying with relief.
We drank tea and said goodbye to Mum and the boys woke up and had just opened their last present when Thea fell into a box. I scooped her up and she was stiff, her arms and legs locked, her lips turning blue. I screamed for Grant, who had mercifully stopped vomiting and just stepped into the shower. While he called for the ambulance I turned around and saw that Quinn was frozen to the spot, standing on the couch with his hands over his ears while Darcy observed "This is the worst Christmas ever." Thea fell back into the eerie sleep that I now know comes after each seizure, while the boys huddled on the bottom bunk in the next room.
The croissants were just ready to come out of the oven when we left and the roads still empty as we headed back to the hospital. Thea lay alone on the stretcher, leads attached to the growing collection of ambulance dots on her chest. There had been a shift change in the emergency department since we had left but the doctor who had discharged us quickly found us, her face full of concern. Grant and the boys arrived with my croissant and then my Mum and sister took the kids back to their house.
Our team of doctors arrived and, after examining Thea and watching her running happily around the Christmas tree by the main desk, advised us to start her on anti-convulsant medication and return after the Christmas holiday was over for more testing. We walked out into the sunshine of Christmas Day, feeling a little shaky on our feet by now, and headed back to the house where we were staying near Fremantle.
I made it into the shower and Grant was just passing Thea to me to bathe when she slipped into another seizure. I jumped out and called the ambulance, my hands still wet as I tapped at the phone, my voice shaking as I called out each of my daughter's shallow breaths to the operator on the line. She left the house on the stretcher, the cluster of dots now covering her chest attached to machines monitoring each precious heartbeat. I carried bags packed for a longer stay than we had originally planned. We travelled up the beach road, the Indian Ocean shining turquoise under a brilliant blue sky as people frolicked in the waves.
Father Christmas came through the emergency department and give Thea a purple teddy bear. Christmas lunch was a dry egg sandwich eaten with no appetite on the pavement outside at two in the afternoon. I stepped into the bathroom to brush my teeth and came back to the bay to find Thea had slipped away from us again. Grant had been holding her up to see a star hanging from the ceiling when the seizure took hold. The nurses were changing the sheets on her stretcher, soaked with blood after a failed attempt at inserting an IV line into her hand.
Grant left to be with the boys and I curled up on the end of Thea's stretcher and watched the drug dripping into my daughter's vein. She was still wearing nothing but a nappy. I walked beside her as she was wheeled to the elevator and taken to the infant ward where we would spend the next four days. She bashed into the cot and camp bed like a drunk when she woke up and tried to stagger around the room. She learned to eat with her left hand while her right was bandaged and splinted to hold her IV line in place. We ate our meals on the floor together and and looked at the babies through the window of the nursery. After two days she was crawling the walls with boredom and we left the hospital and walked the streets of the surrounding suburbs to kill the hours between doctors' rounds and medication doses and nurses' observations.
Monday finally arrived and Thea's brain trace was clear and we were allowed to go home. First to my parents' house, where the flashbacks to Christmas Eve played in a constant loop in my head, and then back to the south coast. Mostly we have been hunkering down at home, but every time I leave the house and stop to tell this story to a friend in the street I relive those moments when I thought I had lost my little girl and am left shaking. I hope that by writing it down I can start to put it behind me.
Tomorrow will be Thea's first day off the anti-seizure drugs and I expect she will be fine. The gastro virus which had felled us all in the days before Christmas can cause seizures in a small number of infants. In all likelihood she will never have another one. But we don't know that for sure.
We just feel incredibly lucky and grateful that we were in the city when it happened. That my mum was there to save our little girl. That the hospital was a short ambulance ride away. That we got to bring Thea home. I am so grateful for each normal day holding my family close. I will take that over Christmas any day.