The Day an Ambulance Drove Away with My Heart

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.

Ambulance drove away with my heart

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.


While waiting for another test, I was sitting with the Girl holding her hand. When I looked down, it struck me just how vulnerable my little girl was that night.

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. 

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  1. Joanne says

    So glad she is okay!!! I have been in that place once before and I pray I am never waiting in the ER for my daughter to arrive with EMT’s again. Hugs to you and your family!

  2. says

    Jen, I had no idea! I knew it was quiet from your end, but…how scary was that? I’m glad things are looking good. Still wondering about the EKG, though. They’ll be watching that, right?
    And you are so right. Something like this really makes us see what is truly important. Love and hugs!
    Lorinda McKinnon recently posted…Fly on the Wall – MarchMy Profile

    • Real Life Parenting says

      We have an appt for follow up in June. I’m sure she’ll be checked again. There are ongoing issues, though. So we’ll continue monitoring. Sigh.

    • Real Life Parenting says

      Yes, it’s still rolling around in my thoughts, especially since there are lingering issues. I have a feeling we’re not done.

  3. Sue DeGeorge says

    So glad she’s OK. Will continue to pray for you and her both. I have watched my (at the time) 6 year old daughter be taken away in an ambulance because she was having an anaphylatic episode. The next time was all three of my kids plus a friend’s child because we were rear-ended….oh, yeah, we were 5 hours from home. It is THE most disturbing feeling in the universe. You have to put faith in those around you who are, for all intents and purposes, strangers. I just prayed that for that time frame, my daughtert/my kids plus one, were the most important people in those emergency workers lives. God bless…..

    • Real Life Parenting says

      Oh, wow, Sue. Stressful isn’t even the right word for what you described!! Being able to put our kids in others’ hands is so hard! Xoxo

  4. says

    This is incredibly well written. As I read this I could not help but feel tension and worry, and finally relief when it turned out your daughter was just fine. Thank God. Best wishes to you and your family!

    • Real Life Parenting says

      I would tend to agree with you, but she seems to like the selfies and thinks they’re fun. Sigh.

  5. says

    I had tears in my eyes as I read your post. I’m so glad to hear that your daughter is okay, but every parent who reads this will feel that gut gripping fear that you write about.

    I remember that I was driving up to Chicago on business once when my phone rang. It was built into the car so I could just tell it to answer in handsfree mode. A strange voice asked for me, and asked if I was somewhere I could talk about my daughter. I pulled over to the side of the road, and until the day I die I’ll remember the pattern of the sun shining through the leaves above, making little wavery patterns on my windshield as they told me she’d been hit by a car as she walked to class. Head injury, back and hip damage, perhaps internal injuries as well, I was told.

    Since I was already up in Chicago, I just drove straight to the O’Hare and boarded the next plane out west to her school. Although she had to leave school, she did eventually recover for the most part. She is already leading the amazing life that any parent would want for their child. But I still remember those leaf shadows overhead, and that stranger’s voice coming over my phone. And I know what you mean by perspective.
    Barb Taub recently posted…Tuesday Updates: You Are What You BreakfastMy Profile

    • Real Life Parenting says

      Oh my, Barb!! I’m sure you felt like that plane couldn’t get there fast enough! Amazing how we fly right into action in those moments. I’m sure I’d have done the same–straight to the plane! So glad everything turned out ok. I’m sure that was a long road. XOXO

  6. Cindy Mutigli says

    Boy, Jen, this hit home. I can tell you no matter what age your children are, those feelings are exactly the same. I will never forget the phone call in the middle of the night from Christopher’s wife, “can you come to the hospital, Chris has a brain tumor..”…and the tears…oh my…so hard to hear her. This has been a nightmare, and I pray everyday for GOD to allow Chris to be a miracle that beats the odds. We go again this week for his scan, and when they call his name and he takes that long walk back, my heart is overwhelmed. Then after the scan we take the walk to the Dr. office, anywhere from a 1 to 2 hr wait to hear the results….there is NOTHING, like seeing the eyes of Chris and Ash, when the doc says, it is stable. So, yep this blog hit me hard…thanks for sharing your story…I can say I know the feeling.

    • Real Life Parenting says

      I know, Cindy. I thought about you. I’m so glad you post on Facebook. I think about you guys all the time!! XOXO

    • Real Life Parenting says

      Oh, Darlin. I love you more than words could ever express. Too. More. Most. Best. Best than ever. Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious. <3

  7. B.J. Kelly says

    I’m glad I never had to go thru that personally (except for Stef biting her tongue and needing stitches as a toddler) with the ambulance and all. I, like many others, took ordinary motherhood days for granted. If anything like your experience happened to me now I would be a nervous wreck! I guess in my case being ignorant was bliss as a young mother. Love you and Miss M!!

    • Real Life Parenting says

      You know, I thought about when we wrecked our car and you were in AZ. Glad that wasn’t too serious!! I would have been a worried wreck in your shoes!

  8. says

    Today was an emotional day for me and when I read your post, I lost it. No mother wants to go through this. Thank God your baby is OK. Afer an episode like this one, a schedule doesn’t matter anymore. Enjoy every minute with your babies:) Hugs!

  9. says

    As a mama first, nurse second, I. CAN’T. IMAGINE. how wild I would have been. That you were calm is such a credit to your spirit. That you could channel quiet so that you could really be present for The Girl shows what an amazing mom you are. The Girl is lucky in more ways than one. And, anything you need, you just say the word. I’m a PA girl and I can jump in my car to prop you up, pour you vodka or slap you silly when you are hysterical. Hugs, my friend!
    Christine recently posted…Book Blogversary Bonanza!!!My Profile

    • Real Life Parenting says

      Loved this comment, Christine! Sweet and sassy, just like you!! I’ll call when I need an emergency vodka–it slapping! :)

  10. says

    I know this feeling well. My then 8-year-old suffered a concussion during a soccer game and couldn’t stand after she came to. She had blurred vision, and was being tended to right on the sideline. Everything went in slow motion for me. I felt like I could keep it all together somehow, even though those were her little cleats and her ponytail on that gurney being loaded into the ambulance.

    it wasn’t until I couldn’t keep up with the ambulance that it really all hit me.

    I loved reading details in this, such as The Girl laughing and talking with ER personnel. And the picture of you holding her hand. We do all we can to protect our kids, but at the same time encouraging them to live to the fullest. Sometimes, life has a way of knocking it all for a loop.

    Here’s to the day you can watch her run and almost – almost – forget this whole thing happened.
    Eli@coachdaddy recently posted…What Happens When it’s Dad vs. Tree? It’s a Toss-UpMy Profile

    • Real Life Parenting says

      That helpless feeling is awful … Compounded when it has something to do with our kids. At least seeing her in an ambulance it wasn’t an “emergency” like yours. There are so many things that I think about where I recognize that we were lucky.

    • Real Life Parenting says

      I’ve been thinking about you both a lot. Hope she’s getting relief. Damn teenagers. 😉

  11. says

    It’s terrifying moments like these that snap everything into place. I’m SO happy to hear she’s going to be ok. It’s cheesy but it really does make you hold onto your loves tighter.
    Stacia recently posted…LysolMy Profile

    • Real Life Parenting says

      Everything does snap into place. You’re exactly right! And I don’t mind the cheese because you’re right, sister!!

  12. says

    Wow, I’m so glad it wasn’t something more serious. I have had a few moments when something has happened to my kids, or even my own health, that have caused me to pause and realize that none of that stuff I worry about on a daily basis matters whatsoever. And yet when everything is okay again, I slowly move right back to my frazzled life.
    canigetanotherbottleofwhine recently posted…I Finally Moved My BlogMy Profile

    • Real Life Parenting says

      I’m sure I’ll drift back to frazzled too, but I’ll probably wait until everything is more settled. She’s still having issues …

  13. says

    Perspective adjustments are often disturbing when you’re in the midst of them. Remembering them and staying in balance in the months or years ahead is the tricky part. Thanks for sharing your experience – it’s a good reminder for all of us.

    • Real Life Parenting says

      You’re right. It’s hard to keep that line of thinking front and center and we tend to slip back. Unfortunately we get reminders often enough that we don’t stay ungrateful for long.

  14. says

    How scary that must have been for you! I am so glad she is ok! It’s like that quote talks about “your heart walking around outside of your body…”
    My youngest when he was very little would stop breathing and pass out with no warning, and it was very scary because it went on for months. Twice he went to the ER in an ambulance; numerous times we drove him to the hospital. At one point they found something wrong with his blood, and they talked about the possibility of leukemia. It was most awful point in my life, thinking that something was going to happen to my child. It turned out to be a food allergy in the end. He’s completely fine now, thankfully.
    dishofdailylife recently posted…White Bean Chicken Chili {Quick and Easy Meals}My Profile

    • Real Life Parenting says

      OMG. That is scary! My son had sleep apnea when he was little and that was nerve wracking too. So I can imagine if he was passing out when he (or she) was so long. So scary. Glad you figured it out and that it’s manageable!!

  15. Jennifer says

    I am freaking out – My son went through almost the exact same process. He ended up passing out 3 separate times prior to being diagnosed with autonomic dysfunction. One of the things that both the cardiologist and neurologist stated was a lack of hydration. He was losing so many electrolytes that drinking water was just ‘flooding’ him and did not actually hydrating him (he was not absorbing the fluids). You are right, it is manageable. My son is still very active in many sports, we ensure that he has a Gatorade and/or PowerAde a few hours before a game or long practice and he has not had another episode since. So glad your daughter is OK!!

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