Our third child in as many years was born January 15, 2007. Although we lived far away, it was a happy occasion during a very challenging time for my extended family. A few months previous, my younger brother was diagnosed with cancer, only days after the birth of his first child. On New Years Day, on the way home from a ski trip, my dad and two sisters were involved in a head-on collision resulting in lengthy hospital stays and surgeries, especially for my dad.
A beautiful, healthy and robust little boy was a happy event. The rest of us were getting over colds and we tried to wash our hands as much as we could. When little Tobin was 14 days old he started sneezing. He seemed a bit congested but not bad. But he didn’t nurse well and didn’t sleep well. On day 17 he developed a fever and I took him to the urgent care center in our community to make sure he was okay. He was happy and alert, and with his big dimples was popular with the nurses and doctor. Their equipment was not pediatric but said he just had a cold and to take him home. The next day he had trouble waking up at all to eat but I was comforted having just seen a doctor and thought he was just getting lots of rest recovering from his first cold. He seemed really cold to the touch, but it was January after all and I just bundled him up more. I contemplated taking him in again but since I was just there the day before I didn’t want to be the over-anxious mother in the emergency room.
That night he was restless all night long. Crying out but not waking enough to eat. In the morning I was so exhausted I gave him to my husband with some pumped milk and went back to bed. At noon I woke and asked my husband how much he had eaten and it was next to nothing. I scooped him up and drove him to the emergency room at the rural hospital where he was born. I broke down explaining my baby wouldn’t eat. One look at him and things started moving quickly. He was quickly surrounded by health care professionals. He was hypothermic and his organs were shutting down. While working on him, he stopped breathing. I watched, horrified and alone, as they gathered around him and revived him. Soon they called STARS Air ambulance and flew him away to the Alberta Children’s Hospital an hour away in the helicopter. I watched them fly away and then went home with an empty car seat. Longest car ride ever. My son ended up being in the hospital for a month with RSV, a kidney infection and meningitis. My 3 and 2 year old girls stayed with my mom a few hours away for the first few days but she was needing to care for my injured father and my husband was at a new job with very long hours. I was torn between the needs of my girls and my desire to be with my son.
That is when the miracle happened.
My church community stepped forward, passing around sign up sheets one Sunday for possible child care and meals. After the first few days, my son was out of NICU and I was able to spend mornings with my girls, the afternoon they went to church friends’ houses and I went to the hospital to be with my son. After work my husband would pick the girls up and come home and find a meal waiting on the porch to feed them supper and get them to bed. Every day my daughters had somewhere to go, and every night my family had a home-cooked meal. For a month. We didn’t know where most of the meals came from but we knew we were loved, thought of, and supported.
In addition, I had a friend and photographer who not only took my children many of the days, but also in the first few rough days found a sitter for her own children and came up to the hospital, an hour away, and spent the entire day and into the night with me. She took pictures of me and my son, made me eat, let me talk, cry, vent, worry. She coaxed me to rest, advocated for me with the nurses, and was my support. She became my shoulder to lean on when I was unsure what procedures to okay, jumped with me when the monitors blared each time he stopped breathing, and brought me magazines and food.
I was not alone.
The kindness of the nurses, doctors, the hospital volunteers, the church and community members who assisted me and my family has always stuck with me. Seeing all the children in those many hospital wards and knowing many of them will not come home like my son did opened up a reality to me that in my head I knew existed but I hadn’t comprehended the magnitude of. It has given me a new perspective and I have used that perspective to help other people in that situation when I come across them. Helping someone in crisis does not have to be a big thing. A loaf of banana bread, a meal, play-dates. Time is most valuable and what is most appreciated. I’ll never forget the time all those people dedicated to me and my family.
Today’s story is from Emily. If you have a story you would like to share with us, please head over to the Submit a Story page.