Friday, July 15, 2011

What Happened

This is a hard post for me to write. My heart is pounding a little faster than usual, and I'm thinking about stopping and just never writing this at all. Because I've done a really good job for the last 12 days of not thinking too much about what happened. That's what I call it: "what happened." Or "the accident."

But things are slowing down a bit: fewer doctors' appointments, fewer hospital visits, fewer headaches, fewer vomiting episodes. But also fewer hours of sleep each night because no matter how tired I might be, depression and anxiety have been known to keep me relatively sleepless for months at a time.

First, she's better. That doesn't mean she's fine. She's nearly back to her normal self, and if you didn't know "what happened," you wouldn't know anything had at all.

Second, my nine-year-old daughter was hit by a car on July 3 while crossing an intersection with my 14-year-old son.

She'd walked with my son, husband, and in-laws to go watch fireworks at a nearby park. Originally, I'd said no, it's too late, the kids need their sleep, fireworks aren't even a novelty anymore, so why bother. But they were all in such a good mood and I thought, fine, it's summer, even if they don't sleep in we can survive a day of them being a little tired. Then my 12-year-old wanted me to drive because his ankle had been hurting him. I said okay, and then my six-year-old wanted to ride in the car as well.

I dropped my older son off at the park then headed to look for parking. I found a spot on a street not quite a block away. I took my youngest's hand and walked a few yards before remembering I didn't have the chairs. So we went back to the van, unlocked the back, and I grabbed them. Then off we went again.

Then as we neared the intersection, I saw a little girl get hit by a car and fall to the ground. I got out my cell phone and started dialing 9-1-1. As I watched the street, I saw someone try to pick the girl up, and I yelled for them to leave her where she was, to wait for the paramedics. Then I heard a man shout and run to the girl. The street was dim, but I could see it was my husband. I thought, good, he'll take care of the little girl. Kneeling next to her, he was holding his arm out and shouting for cars to stop.

And that's when I finally realized that little girl was my little girl.

My husband moved her to the yard at the other side of the intersection. Because there were no police on the scene yet--and hundreds of people milling about waiting for the fireworks to start and cars still looking for parking more than they were looking for pedestrians, let alone children lying in the street--keeping her where she was would have been more dangerous than picking her up.

By the time I got to her, I was calm enough to try to calm her. She was crying and scared and had no idea what had happened that day, why she was lying on the ground, why her head hurt so much, or what the boom of fireworks in the background was all about. The paramedics eventually assured us there were no external injuries aside from the abrasions on her arms and legs, but, of course, they were worried about her head b/c the driver's side-view mirror had hit the back of it hard enough to spin her around and throw her to the ground.

Once she and I were in the ambulance, she began screaming at me to wake her up. And then she began screaming for her dad to wake her up, even though he wasn't there with us. She was convinced she was dreaming. And I realized at that moment how completely helpless I was. Holding her hand and shushing her gently and talking to her and singing to her--none of that helped. She just wanted to be woken up.

She had a concussion and was kept overnight in another hospital for observation. Her memory came back over the next 24 hours. She now remembers it all, unfortunately, and has nightmares. But at least I can wake her from those.

She also has/had a small subdural hematoma--too small for surgery. For the first five days, she couldn't keep anything down except enough liquids to keep her hydrated. She was given a blessing that fifth day, and by that night, she was finally able to really eat something. She's only improved since then, although she has double vision, which the pediatric ophthalmologist says should go away within the next six months. We're waiting for word from our doctor's office about a referral for a pediatric neurologist. We hope to get her in either today or early next week.

It could have been worse. I'm no polyanna when I say that. I'm not sitting here at my laptop shrugging my shoulders and saying, "Phew." I'm saying: it could have been worse. And how worse is what keeps me from sleeping. It also could have been better. I could have said no, we're not going. I could have insisted she ride with me. I could have left the stupid chairs in the van and gotten to the corner in time to hold my daughter's hand myself and crossed her myself. She could have been my responsibility that night instead of someone else's. Which is why I don't blame my son for walking her across at the wrong moment. And I don't blame my husband for not having hold of her himself. I'm the safety freak in this family. It's my role and it's one I've generally been pretty good at.

But it's not guilt that digs into me or makes my heart race or my hands shake. It's the tenuous hold we all have on life. It's the alternative realities any one of us might be living if even one event had played itself out the tiniest bit differently.

I was telling one of my sister-in-laws that sometimes you have to believe in miracles because otherwise you have to believe in good luck. And if you can believe in good luck, you can believe in bad luck. And good luck has to run out eventually.

The first few nights after the accident, I waited until she was asleep next to me in bed (she won't sleep anywhere that isn't beside me) to cry--from relief, fear, visiting those alternative realities for too long. And to bring myself back to the sound of her breathing, I had to chant to myself, "I have her. I have her. I have her."

I still do keep that mantra running through my mind. I have her. I have my other three children. I have them all. They're mine. They're here. And for all of this, I am incredibly blessed/lucky/grateful. I do know how much worse it could have been. And when I'm not aching over the thought of not having all that I have, I'm aching over the thought of all those who don't have what they once did.

We're not all the way to fine. But we will be.