Sometimes its hard

It’s been a difficult week.

Over the past weekend, not one, but two people I care about, were suddenly rushed to hospital in completely separate incidents. One of those people was my 11 year old daughter.

My daughter hit the back of her neck at school on Thursday. She came home early with a headache. On Friday, her neck was still causing her pain, so I kept her home, and tried to organise a doctor’s appointment – an almost impossible feat in the inner western suburbs of Melbourne. We tried three different medial clinics before being referred to a 4th clinic which would actually accept walk in appointments from new patients! We waited an hour there, then, as I had to be somewhere else, we had to give up, but I made an appointment to come back that evening at 6.30pm. Just the time of the week that you want to spend sitting in the waiting room of a medical clinic. At 6.30pm, we waited another full hour, and she was finally checked by a doctor at 7.30 on Friday night. The doctor wrote out a referral to a radiology clinic, for x-rays.

All fairly routine up to this point.

On Saturday morning I took her in at 9.30am for the x-rays. The x-rays revealed a fracture in the C7 vertebrae in her neck. Ok. I didn’t know enough to be adequately alarmed by this, so all it meant to me was that she definitely wouldn’t be in the inter-school athletics in 2 weeks time. Then the radiologist told me, his voice suddenly sounding worried, that the consulting doctor had called an ambulance to transport her immediately to the Royal Children’s Hospital.

Suddenly the world was closing in on me, as I put two and two together and came up with: damage to vertebrae = risk of paraplegia.

My thoughts immediately spiralled into panic, guilt, and the horror of “what ifs”. I should have taken her to a doctor immediately on Thursday! I should have realised the risk! What if I’d put her at risk of further damage by having her walking around (and driving over speed humps, etc) for 2 days? And – what if I hadn’t bothered to keep persisting with finding a doctor on Friday- which could have been tempting – and had just assumed her stiff neck would improve? What if she’d hit her neck  just a little higher, or just a little lower? Would the consequences have been immediate paraplegia?

Parents have a special ability to panic about things that could have happened, and might still happen, in addition to those that did actually happen.

I was, naturally, in shock. It didn’t help that I had to leave my daughter to wait for the ambulance alone, because my car was in a paid parking space and I needed to move it if I was going to travel in the ambulance with her. When I got back, the ambulance was already there, and my child was in a neck brace, strapped onto a spinal board. That is a morning I don’t ever want to relive.

It’s worth mentioning that, despite my inner sense of total panic, I managed to appear calm for my daughter’s sake, and of course didn’t shared with her my thoughts on the reason for the ambulance, etc.  I must have been reasonably successful at hiding my fear, since she was not only calm, but told me the next day that she had thought it was “exciting.” We actually cracked some jokes as they wheeled her out to the ambulance.

During the ambulance ride my stress level remained steady as I listened to the ambulance attendant quizz my daughter on whether she had experienced any numbness in her hands, feet, arms, legs. She answered negative to all, but I couldn’t help respond with more panicked “what ifs”. What if she begins to go numb, now, or tomorrow? What if she had reported numb arms or legs to me yesterday – would I have realised there was a very serious connection with her blow to the neck?

Then followed, of course, the inevitable hours spent in the Emergency department of the hospital. Nursing staff mentioned the possibility of an operation – only in terms of something they couldn’t rule out, but it was enough to add a new fear. After about an hour, my daughter didn’t think it was exciting any more, and was crying from the combination of pain, hunger, thirst, and just the tediousness of lying on the hospital gurney for hours. But finally, after various doctors, nurses, and the orthopedic surgeon had come in and out, tested her reflexes, and asked her the same questions (How did it happen? Can you feel any numbness in your legs? In your arms? ), she was finally able to leave, in a neck brace she is expected to wear for the next 6 weeks, and armed with a prescription for painkillers and muscle relaxants to ease the pain.

At that point, as anyone who’s been through anything similar will know, I was way too emotionally drained to register a sense of relief. All I felt was exhausted. It was 4pm.

So that was the weekend. My daughter is now slowly recovering. She’s at home, doing a lot of reading, and learning how to crochet(!)

It would be nice if I could end here.

But I can’t, because on Monday, when I was still trying to process all the emotions of the weekend, and thinking of the friends that I should perhaps call for a debrief, I received the news that one of those friends had been rushed to hospital on the weekend and was in intensive care, having experienced respiratory failure. The suspected cause was pneumonia. As I write this, so far her outcome has not been as lucky as my daughter – as far as I am aware, she is still in intensive care. So, along with all her friends, all I can do is desperately hope that she makes it through this critical period. I feel for her partner and family. It’s horrible to be so fearful for someone’s health and be unable to do anything to help them.

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