There are few things that thrust perspective into life like following an ambulance carrying your child. Watching movements through the back windows, unable to see clearly, wondering what’s happening as paramedics tend to that part of you that walks and talks and moves separately from you–that other body that carries your heart. With a lump lodged in your throat and tension in your chest, you push away the frightening thoughts of What If. You breathe in and out, not allowing your imagination to run … the entire time feeling helpless but hopeful.
Two weeks ago the Girl passed out while running at track practice. She was halfway around the track when everything went black, then her legs stopped. The next thing she knew she was lying on the ground and her head hurt.
Hubbinator and I both happened to be at the athletic complex that afternoon because we were watching the Boy play tennis. As the match ended, I noticed the athletic trainer walking toward us with the Girl. She explained what happened and said there was concern about a concussion since she hit her head. I would need to have a doctor check and clear her before she could return to practice.
Since it was just after five o’clock, I called the pediatrician’s office from the parking lot hoping I could get an appointment the following morning, but they wouldn’t see us. “For issues like this, she’ll need to be checked at the ER. You should go straight there.” Sigh. But she seems fine … and we’re hungry … and. Another sigh. OK. We’ll go. Hubbinator and the Boy went home while I took the Girl to the hospital.
She still felt dizzy and had a headache, but otherwise seemed like her typical self. She was checked in at the hospital and they took her vitals. “Her blood pressure is on the low side.” Ok. Still normal, but low. I wonder if that has anything to do with a concussion? We walked back to the exam room and I helped the Girl change into a gown. Two nurses came in to draw blood, do an EKG, and set her up on a monitor. The doctor had her recount the details of what happened. He wanted a play by play. Second by second. Lots of questions. Can we just get cleared for this concussion so we can go back home?? You just need to check her eyes, right?
When he seemed satisfied with the information presented, he sent her to get a CT scan of her head. Good. Let’s move this along. We want to get out of here; it’s getting late.
While she was gone, the doctor came in to talk to me. “Her EKG isn’t normal. It’s not horrible, but it’s not normal. We don’t have a pediatric cardiologist here, and I won’t feel comfortable sending her home without being seen by one. Because she blacked out while she was running, that can be an indicator of a problem with her heart … and we want to make sure we know exactly what’s happening. This could be serious, so we want to cover all bases.” He was having her transferred by ambulance to Children’s Hospital. No lights or sirens, but he wanted to be able to continue monitoring her heart, just in case she had another episode. Just in case? An episode? Her heart? Wait, I thought we were just getting a note signed that said “Nope. No concussion. She’s fine.” I thought we’d be home to eat dinner.
I texted Hubbinator to fill him in. This was not what I expected … at all. But there we were. Worried about the Girl’s heart. Dinner didn’t matter any more. School didn’t matter. Track didn’t matter. Nothing did. Nothing but my Girl.
It’s amazing how the craziness of life melts away as you watch your child’s vitals ticking along on a monitor. There are no thoughts about the housework needing attention when you see her lying on a gurney in a hospital gown as a nurse attaches leads to her chest. The cares about getting homework and chores done don’t register as she’s wheeled away down the hall. And when a doctor says “we’re concerned about her heart; the results are not normal,” there is nothing else. Nothing.
Shortly after hearing all this, I was driving down familiar streets but feeling lost. Our normal, busy life of overlapping practices and being consumed with coordinating schedules felt so distant. Thoughts of planning dinners and shuttling kids were gone. I just watched through the window of the ambulance in front of me as I followed with my thoughts all tumbling and jumbled.
With my perspective profoundly adjusted, I waited in Children’s ER for the Girl to be wheeled in from the ambulance bay. It was nearly midnight. I looked around the room that was bustling with sick children and their parents trying to comfort them. I saw many parents’ faces burdened with the feeling I held in my chest. That worried ball of energy. The desperation to have someone help my child and give me answers.
While I was concerned and unsure about what was going on with the Girl, I was calm. Although I felt helpless, I was still hopeful. As I looked through the doors to the triage area, I saw the Girl being wheeled to a room, smiling and talking with the EMTs. They were all laughing. Watching that moment, seeing her taking everything in stride–my unflappable Girl–brought tears to my eyes. I walked down the hall to her and kissed her forehead.
She was admitted overnight for further observation and testing. The results were consistent: everything was mostly normal. They didn’t find anything to indicate her blacking out was caused by a cardiac issue. She was released from the hospital, but they wanted a few extra tests on an outpatient basis.
In the days that followed waiting for those appointments, the gravity of the situation hit me. I felt a profound ache in my chest. Just as I was thinking my life was harried and crazy because I was trying to manage the calendar, driving all over town to pick up and drop off my kids for practices and matches, and planning dinner around our full evenings, the rug was pulled out from under me. None of that mattered. My little girl was vulnerable. While it was likely that she was fine, there was a chance she was not. That did not sit well in my Mother Gut. I felt like someone punched me in the stomach.
I have often referred to situations like this as “perspective makers” because they give us pause … and put life into perspective. As I was feeling overwhelmed by simple things, I was reminded to reset my meter. Having to figure out how to shuttle two kids to two places simultaneously is challenging, but it doesn’t merit the emotional energy I was giving it. That’s the stuff that will all get figured out. Will we eat dinner at eight o’clock? Maybe, but that doesn’t really matter.
What is a big deal? What does deserve my emotional time and energy? My kids and husband, especially when I’m watching an ambulance drive away with one of them … carrying my heart and soul.
It was determined that she had a “simple fainting spell caused by autonomic dysfunction.” Basically, her autonomic system–namely the part that regulates her blood pressure–has not been keeping up with her growth spurts. Getting lightheaded and / or passing out is not uncommon, especially among teens. This issue should resolve itself in time. She’s back to practice, just with a bit more caution and self-regulation for taking breaks or slowing down as needed. While she has to be careful and diligent about listening to her body’s signals, we’re very grateful that this issue is minor.