The Night My Son Almost Died

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I hold on to him more tightly than the others. I do this because he is, by nature, more affectionate, but more than that, because I almost lost him. Not in a supermarket, but to a freak illness. My oldest son almost died of croup at the age of four.

It was an ordinary Friday night in October, three years ago. He had developed a cold and we prepared ourselves for the first croup of the year. We put our two boys to bed. I went out to buy a humidifier. I came back a half hour later, set it up in their room, heard the sound of rough pre-croup breathing, and braced myself for what might come – probably a trip to the doctor in the morning after a sleepless night. We had done all this many times before.

About 15 minutes later, I thought I heard an unusual noise coming from their bedroom, so I went in to check. I found my son thrashing around in his bed, gasping for breath. I quickly grabbed him and brought him into the living room. In less than a minute, he was flailing in my arms, turning blue and I was calling 911. While on the phone, he stopped breathing and the phone call quickly turned into the operator instructing us on CPR. I remember those moments so clearly. We laid him on the floor by the front door, where moments earlier we had been prepping to rush him to the ER, and my husband performed CPR on his own young son. I stood there watching in horror, paralyzed. His whole life flashed before my eyes and in disbelief, I wondered if this was how it would end. Just like this? Really? So fast?

I was shaken from this horrifying reflection by the entrance of 10 firemen. I had never even heard the two firetrucks and ambulance arrive – I had not heard the sirens. They picked him up, brought him into the living room, cut off his favorite green pajamas, and started working on him. There was nothing I could do for my little boy. His life was totally out of my hands. My brain did strange things like focus on how interesting it was that they wanted his carseat to strap to the gurney. I didn’t know they transported kids like that. Before I knew it, they were wheeling him out the front door to the ambulance.

He was not stable. His oxygen was very low, so right there in front of our building, in the back of the ambulance, strapped in his Cowmooflage carseat, they intubated him. My husband and I sat on the curb, surrounded by curious on-lookers, and cried. When the job was done, I hopped into the front seat of the ambulance and off we went to Children’s Hospital. It was the longest 15 minutes of my life. I remember asking the ambulance driver if my son was going to die. (The things those firemen must witness and the conversations they must have!) He assured me that he would live. And he did.

After a couple days in the ICU, and a lot of steroids, he came out of it. No permanent damage.

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It is a difficult thing to describe what it feels like, as a parent, to watch your child almost die. There is a feeling of complete helplessness, sort of like trying to grab for a rope you can’t reach as you fall from a great height. You realize acutely, in an instant, how much you love this child and how much he has impacted your life. You realize how much you don’t want to live without him. You would do anything to assure his survival. It is so much more than taking a deep breath of relief when he actually does pull through, it is more like the breath you might take if you were rescued from drowning. Three years have passed and I still find myself emotional when October rolls around. I still relive that night sometimes. I still have that green pajama top, cut in half right down the front. I can’t bear to look at it, but I can’t get rid of it. I want him to have it as tangible evidence of the miracle of his survival. [inline_ad] Even though I didn’t hear them that night, I bristle when I hear sirens. I still want to hug every fireman I see. I still shudder at the thought that if I hadn’t gone in to check on him, I would have most likely found him dead the next morning. This week my son brought home a school assignment to make a timeline of his life. We pulled out the photo books that I make for each child for each year of their lives (my one and only hobby these days). He started reading them cover-to-cover out loud. There was much laughter as he paged through his baby and toddlerhood. And then he got to the story about the night he almost died – a night he has absolutely no memory of. He read the story aloud and before I knew it there was a pause, and the tears were falling down his face. He stopped reading to give me a hug and a kiss. [inline_ad] And then, effortlessly, he turned the page and continued on. That moment of him turning the page held brilliant symbolism for me. He is still here. His life continues on.

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