I realize folks want to know……..
First, some background.
A friend-of-a-dear-friend had two daughters my daughters’ ages. Her eldest is a couple of months younger than Grace, and her youngest, two days older than Alice. I’d met her, but did not know her well. My friend came to me at the beginning of the year, very pregnant and sobbing. Her friend had found their 19-month-old dead in her crib, and no cause of death could be determined. I cried and cried at this news. Though I did not know them well (yet), I could not help but put myself in their shoes; their sweetie was only two days older than ours, after all. I wondered how they could even make toast again. Or get in a car. Or get out of bed. My heart broke for them. I hugged my kids more.
Friday, July 26, 2013—Alice had her second birthday. We had a sweet party for her at her school that day, and a party for family friends here at the house the following day. She took an unusually long nap that Saturday; we actually had to wake her so she could be on time to her own party. She had a great time, but was noticeably sleepy, and definitely wanted Mama. At one point, she patted next to her place on the blanket and said, “Sit, Mama, sit.” I was rushing about hosting, but I swear on a stack of bibles that I felt compelled to sit and distinctly recall thinking, “Oh, baby. You are right. It’s your party, and I should sit with you a spell.” I remember thinking this moment was odd, even before Alice died. In the wake of her death, I consider it a gift.
Saturday, August 3, 2013—Alice had her annual check-up with her pediatrician. She earned a clean bill of health. All clear. She was 50th percentile for weight and height, but she had a big ‘ol head. There was nothing unusual found at this visit. No shots. We had a happy, healthy kid. She was on her way to being fully potty-trained, at her own insistence. I generally took Grace to dance class on Saturday mornings, but was feeling like I needed more private time with Alice, so made arrangements to spend the following few Saturdays with her.
Monday, Aug 5, 2013—Alice had a regular day at school, but had developed a rather nasty diaper rash that day. She even pointed to her bum and said “OW!” Other than diaper it was a regular Monday night.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Alice woke up with a low grade fever and a raspy voice, but the diaper rash had disappeared, which was amazing, as it had been pretty bad. Tuesdays are my “alleged day off.” I say alleged, because I never really get them off. They are meant to be my day to catch up on paperwork, billing, laundry, cooking etc. Somedays I would pick up the kids early from school so we could have a “special day.” And, sometimes, I spent them with a sick kid, chilling, resting, care-taking, and trying to keep myself well. This was a day I was clearly not having “off,” but I was grateful, in lieu of what I had just arranged the previous Saturday. I got some private time with Alice that Tuesday, but I will never get it again. And this fact, it crushes my soul.
Alice was unusually sad to see her sister go that morning, so we walked out to the porch and sat there waving goodbye and blowing kisses. This was not the general order of things, but again, I give thanks that we did so, for unbeknownst to us, this was to be the last time Grace would see Alice alive. It was also the last time Alice would get to go to her beloved “outSIIIIIIDE!” She wanted to run around, but since she had a little fever, I didn’t indulge her.
We returned inside, where I tried, unsuccessfully, to interest her in her breakfast. This was somewhat unusual–she had a healthy appetite for the things she liked—but she was teething, and she had the fever, so it wasn’t entirely out of the norm. I tried, unsuccessfully, to get her to cuddle with me on the couch to watch Sesame Street and read books. Alice didn’t give a rat’s ass about TV generally, and today was no excepetion. She shimmied off the couch, and began to play. Really play. She made the rounds:
- She played with her dolly, arranging the doll’s bedding and feeding the baby. I took some video of her doing this, because her Grandma just adores watching the girls play “Mama.”
- She ran towards me and away from me, kissing me on the lips every time she came back to me. I loved it, and did not give one hoot that she had a cold. I wanted kisses. Thank God, I got kisses that day.
- She played with her blocks. Her books.
- She pulled out her sister’s Ninja Turtles chair that she was never allowed to sit in. She sat there for a few seconds with a satisfied grin, before returning to the business of playing. She just wanted the satisfaction of having sat there, even for a second.
- She took my phone, hid it behind her back, tilted her head and said, “MY pone. MY pone, Mama” with the biggest, sweetest grin you’ve ever seen. I laughed and said, “Alice, that’s not your phone.” She laughed and said, “Yes, Mama, MY pone!” And then, with a sweet grin, she handed it back to me, and said, “OK, Mama.” I will never, ever forget the expression she held at this moment. She was making baby jokes, and she was proud.
She did not look like or act like a sick kid, but she sounded like Kim Carnes, and would not even eat blueberries. Or yogurt. Yogurt and blueberries were perennial favorites, so she was clearly down a bit. I finally got her to eat some of her beloved watermelon. She loved watermelon so much, it served as her “birthday cake” where we put the candles she blew out. This watermelon was her last meal.
As it neared her nap time, she was pulling on her ears, so I gave her some homeopathic ear drops for the first time. I normally save the Tylenol for fevers over 102, but Alice had spiked a 105 fever last fall (and may or may not have had a febrile seizure—it was hard to tell as I was driving her to the hospital) I went ahead and gave her some Tylenol this day. I knew she needed her sleep, and didn’t want her fever to spike.
I took her to get ready for nap. As I stated in the previous post, she was in a serious “Mama” phase and had not wanted to sleep for the last couple of weeks, so I got started a bit earlier than her usual nap time. We sang her beloved “Twinkle Twinkle” song. We sang her ABCs. We did our little re-write of Twinkle which ends with “Twinkle Twinkle little Alice, one day you’ll live in a palace,” which always made the girls laugh. We hung out, Alice on my chest, on the toy bench. I felt our hearts beating together and thought “how cool is that?” I told her that I loved her.
I went to put her down with some trepidation, because in recent weeks, she had started to scream and throw her blankies and binkies out of the crib when I tried to leave the room. This day, she didn’t scream, but she did throw her blankie down. I went back in to toss it back to her, smiled at her, and left the room. She did not cry again. I was a bit shocked, but was relieved my sick girl was going to get herself some sleep.
I wish to God I could go back in time and give her one more kiss. One more cuddle. One more “I love you.”
The doorbell rang a minute after I left her room. I silently cursed. Our neighborhood is heavily canvassed by Jehovah’s Witnesses, which was a major problem in Alice’s infancy. Every single time I’d get her down for a nap, the doorbell would ring. Every. Single. Time. I’d posted once on Facebook that every time a Jehovah’s Witness rings my doorbell during nap time, an angel gets annoyed on my behalf. We put up a NO SOLICITATION sign about a year ago, and it worked like a charm. No witnesses had come by in over a year, until August 6th, 2013.
I opened the door and saw two ladies, and immediately knew they were out to save me. Now, I can respect that they are doing what they feel is right. I can respect that they would have no idea that God and I are cool. But, I take issue with them ringing the doorbell during naptime. I said, “Oh, ladies. My young one is sick and I JUST this minute got her down for a nap. See, we have this NO SOLICITATION sign here to try to prevent folks from ringing the bell during naptime.” One of the ladies apologized profusely, saying she was sorry, that they weren’t selling anything so thought it would be ok, that she had six kids and knew exactly how I felt, and that I should rest while Alice did.
I thought, “You know what, she’s right, I should.” I was feeling rather borderline. This cold had gone from Grace to Alice, and though I wasn’t sick yet, I could tell I was vulnerable. I could not afford to miss work, so I decided to use this “alleged day off” to rest, hoping to stave off the cold. Before I retired, I sent the videos I’d taken of Alice that morning to the relatives, godparents, and my friend Carol, who had given Grace the doll that Alice played with that morning. I went to lie down. It is rare for me to sleep during the day, but it seemed the smart thing to do on this day.
I woke up at 2:30 and saw I had a call from a new patient. Now, 12-2:30 would have been a decent nap for Alice, but she’d been sleeping longer when possible, so I went to return the call. I recall basically collapsing back down on my left side. I obviously fell back asleep, because I woke up again at about 4 PM, clutching the phone to my chest. I thought, “Damn, she has slept a long time again!” But, she had slept that long the previous weekend, so I was not immediately alarmed. I returned the call I intended to make earlier, thinking “I’d better do it now before I go get her, because I won’t have time after she is awake.” I was on the phone for about a minute as I walked toward her room. My patient and I scheduled an appointment, and when I mentioned I had to go get my two-year-old up, he said that he too had a two-year- old. I hung up and immediately opened the door to Alice’s room, phone in hand.
Nothing seemed that strange at first, other than that she was apparently still sleeping, but in retrospect, I know that I knew something was wrong, because I approached her very slowly. I slowly went to touch her. Even then, it seemed like I was operating in super slo mo. She felt a bit cool. My heart raced. I picked her up. My heart stopped.
Her face and hands were blue, and her legs did not move from the tucked position they were in. “Bad, bad, very bad,” I thought as I frantically dialed 911.
“All circuits are busy……all circuits are busy.”
I held her and ran as fast as I could to the front door, threw it open and screamed, “SOMEBODY CALL 911!!!! ” as loud as I could. I placed her on the floor and started CPR on my baby. On my dear, sweet, baby. The neighbor we barely knew walked over. She sat next to me on the floor. Somehow, 911 finally picked up. I have no idea if I redialed, or she did, or if it just came on, but in any event, there a man was on the other end of the phone. I was becoming unhinged. It felt like it took forever to give our address, and my baby needed CPR. Or I hoped she did, anyway, for it did not look good. They started to direct me back to CPR. I resumed. She began to change color, there were noises from her chest and mouth. “Holy shit, this might work,” I thought, “but she was blue so there is no way she won’t have brain damage. No way.” I continued CPR while breaking down statistics of this sort of thing in my mind. I was very focused, and very logical.
Eventually, a very thin, red-tinged watery substance began to dribble out of her mouth and nose. I screamed this to the man on the line. He told me to keep going with the CPR. I did so, and a little more came out. The neighbor began to scream “More is coming out!” to the man. He said to keep going. I did. I was more focused than I have ever been in my life. The door to the house was still wide open, because I didn’t want to have to stop CPR to open it for the paramedics.
The firemen arrived, and looked noticeably shocked as they ran up the steps. They told me to back away and stand still. I did, but my limbs, my insides, my mind, all felt like they were running amok all throughout the house. I guess I breathed, because I am still here, but it seemed like all my body functions went on hiatus. I saw them get ready to place an oxygen mask on her face, and thought, “OK, OK, there is hope…” But, I also clearly saw a non-verbal exchange between the two firemen on the ground. The one touching Alice then looked up at me, and said it.
“She’s gone. I am so sorry.”
I released an inhuman sound, and collapsed on the ground.
What followed is a bit of a blur. I remember it all, but the sequence is unclear. My heart was pounding out of my chest. “I should have checked on her all the time!! I should not have taken a nap!! I should have checked on her all the time! She just had her birthday!” I wailed. Captain Trujillo touched my shoulders, and looked at me in a way that demanded eye contact. The eye contact made me feel like a shark that had been turned over on its back. I went limp and looked him the eyes, like I have never looked into another human’s eyes. This made me aware that before this encounter, my eyes had been darting around like a caged, wild animal, though my body was stationary. He said to me, “Ma’am, I have seven kids. I know people have to sleep. Did you check on her any less than you usually do? No, right? There was nothing you could have done. Nothing. ”
I remember thinking that what he said was bullshit, that of course I could have done something, but I also hoped he would not stop telling me it was not my fault. I was hanging by a thread.
The panic hit a fever pitch. What/how was I going to tell the family? Oh my God, what was I going to say to Grace? Or to the grandparents whose email replies to the video I’d just sent a few hours ago were arriving in my inbox while she lay dead in my arms? WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?
I called the first person and started screaming into the phone to come to the house. I continued to scream into the phone, exactly what I do not recall, until the fireman took the phone away from me. He looked me in the eye again, and said, firmly, “You can not tell people on the phone. You CAN NOT.”
As I waited, it occurred to me that no one knew this awful news except me, some firemen, and possibly Alice.
At some point, police officers arrived, but I can’t say when exactly this happened. They were just suddenly, and quietly there.
I held Alice and cried. I kept saying “But she just had her birthday! All of her birthday stuff is still up!” to police officer at the door, who was clearly assigned there to regulate the flow of traffic into the house. I have no idea why I thought her recent birthday should have insured us against that day’s events, but I must have, because I kept saying it. The police officer at door was young and forlorn, and could hardly look at me. The next time I looked up, he was looking down and was wearing sunglasses. Seconds later he left the house, and a new officer came in and took his place. I saw a gigantic fireman facing the corner, shoulders shaking. There were several men in the house, and they all looked gutted. And this fact gutted me further.
I overheard one of the fire captains whisper to an officer. “Can’t we get any female officers here? Can’t we? It’s all dudes.” He came over to me and asked if I would feel more comfortable with a female officer, that the officers were only here to help me, but would I feel more comfortable with a female? Inexplicably, I responded nonchalantly, “Oh, I’m not sexist, it’s OK.” Why on earth I said that is anyone’s guess. What a ridiculous thing to say. It was like another party had taken over command of my body. He said, “I don’t care if you are sexist, I want to know if you would like a female officer here.”
“I don’t want any of you here. I don’t want this to be happening at all. I could care less if the officers are male or female,” I replied. It had just hit me that there were officers here at all. I had seen them, and talked to them, but it had not registered until this point. They were all very quiet, very respectful, and looked like they had been punched in the stomach. My heart went out to them. How these fine men and women can do this everyday without going insane, is beyond me. They deserve only the best. The very best.
As I held Alice, rocking back and forth in complete shock, the firemen kept asking me if I had family nearby I could call. I don’t. We don’t. They kept asking. I finally realized that I should call Bubba, my dear friend, and one of the kids’ Godfathers. They returned my phone to me, and in two seconds it took for Bubba to answer (and it was amazing that he did answer; we generally don’t chat during the workday), I went from silently rocking Melissa to hysterical Melissa. I can’t recall what I said, but Bubba sounded breathless and said he was on his way. I must have said she died, because they took away my phone again.
The question of what to do about Grace came up. She was at school. I was clearly not going anywhere, and nor would Duff be able to when he arrived. We had about an hour to decide. They talked of sending a squad car for her. I became Mama Bear and said, “NO WAY. She will think it is happening because she took her seat belt off while I was driving one day. She will be scared.” They reminded me that only certain people could pick her up from school, so there was no choice but to call the school and send a squad car. I informed them that, first of all, Grace could NOT come back here and see this scene. There were firemen, police officers, detectives and all manner of first responder vehicles. The door was shut by then, so I really had no idea how many cars or first responders were actually here, because they were clearly only letting in a few at time. There had to be a lot, however. I knew it had to be a zoo outside. The coroner would be arriving soon as well. No way did I want Grace to be here for that, and nor could I have cared for her if she were here, because I was in a bad, bad way. I was literally crippled with guilt, and was unsure how I was going to survive the feeling I had.
I informed the officers that the girls’ daycare provider was on the list as a responsible party, that the girls sometimes spent the night there, and that they used to pick the girls up on Mondays for us, therefore, Grace would not be too alarmed if she and her husband were to pick her up. Grace was surely going to have something to say about it, since we had not warned her in advance, but it would not be totally out of the norm. We went back and forth about it, but the officers finally gave into me, and let me call Teresa. I think I told Teresa what happened but I could tell she did not really get it. My heart sank. Teresa loves my girls as her own, and I knew she was going to have a very hard time. Teresa agreed to get Grace and have her overnight. They took my phone away again.
At some point, I realized that I was sweating profusely. I mean, I was literally dripping with sweat. It was dripping off of my scalp, my back, everywhere. I asked the firemen if they were hot, it was so hot in here. They said nothing, but went to turn on the air conditioner. I could not feel it. I could barely feel anything.
I sat there wondering how this could be happening. The odds of such are thing happening at all are very low. The odds of it happening to a child over 12 months were very low. The odds of such a thing happening to two kids over 12 months that are in the same circle, albeit a wide circle, were probably nearly non-existent. How could this be? HOW COULD THIS BE?
I am not sure if I blinked in the near hour we waited for some family to arrive. The absolute longest hour of my life.
I was on the floor, in front of the door, holding Alice, rocking, wide-eyed and breathless, when loved ones began to arrive.
To be continued……….