On Labor Day, September 5th I received what would be the worst phone call of my life at 6:04 pm.
I had just ordered chicken wings for dinner, and we were all about to load up to go get our dinner when my Mom called. She refused to speak to me, she only wanted to speak with Dustin. I knew she was scared, but I didn't know why, I also knew she was talking to him because she was worried I would panic. She was right to worry.
She told Dustin that my 11 month old nephew, John, had been injured significantly at the babysitters while Angela was at work. She told him it was a head injury and there was a bad brain bleed and that he was being taken via life flight from Monroe Regional in Ocala to Shands in Gainesville. This was all she knew and ask could we meet them at the hospital to take my Dad's truck home, as Angela (my sister, John's mother) had their car. I instantly called my Dad, knowing he would be able to explain better since my mom was so upset. He confirmed what Mom said and the first question I had was what had happened?
He didn't know.
I rushed and packed a bag, not knowing how long we might be at the hospital and Dustin drove me to my other sister's (Virginia) house so I could ride with them to the hospital to take Dad's truck home. Dustin took our two babies, and my niece(Virginia's daughter) to get dinner and back to our house since they had school the next day. We headed to the hospital, so unsure of what we were walking into.
When we arrived my Mom and Dad were standing at the corner outside of the children's emergency room waiting for us, and waiting for them to wheel John out to the helicopter. My Mom was crying and my Dad just looked scared. Their faces as we walked up will be forever etched in my mind. We stood there for a few minutes, when the doors opened, and they started to wheel our baby out. He had tubes and wires and people all over. One lady was pumping the oxygen for him while the others rolled his cart. A nurse walking out with Angela took a minute to briefly explain what was happening. She explained that when Angela walked in John was not breathing and did not have a pulse, they immediately administered CPR and got his heart beating again, but he was not breathing on his own. She also said that the CT scans showed a severe brain bleed and swelling. There was a detective present, as head injuries are reported immediately to the Sheriff where we live. Angela was in shock and we still had no idea what had happened.
The sight of John's little tiny body laying in that big hospital bed, with so much life support hooked to him devastated each of us. There are so many images of him over the course of the next 24 hours that play on a constant reel in my head. I work tirelessly to replace those with images of our happy fat man, but they are ghosts that will probably haunt us for the rest of our lives. I can't even begin to put into words how unreal and just unfair this has been.
My Mom told me that when she walked in they were on top of John administering CPR, and that Angela had carried her limp lifeless baby into the hospital in her arms. How do you fix that kind of broken heart? How do you help your sister cope with that? How do you help your Mom cope with that? If only there was a way to turn back time...
Once John was on his way to Shands, we then sorted out the vehicles. I rode with Mom, Dad and Angela, and Virginia and her husband took Dad's truck home, then followed us up there. We waited for what seemed like an eternity when they finally moved us into a small waiting room in the ER at Shands. They were trying to get John into a more stable condition, and run more scans before they came to speak with us.
When a young female doctor finally came in we were given a little bit more information, and some hope. She informed us that they were keeping John sedated because he had began to move, and they didn't want him to. She also ask what event had led to his injuries. The only answer we had was that he had fallen at the babysitters. She informed us that an injury to this extent was NOT from a simple fall. I asked about the severity of his injury and whether he would have brain damage once he came through. All she said was "if" he survived, yes...there would be severe brain damage. She also said that they were looking for abdominal bleeding, or another source of bleeding as they were having to give him transfusions due to significant blood loss. Then the detective came to speak with Angela again.
We joked about having a "helmet baby"... A little chunky butt that might need special care and a helping hand through life. We never thought the worst. We were ever hopeful that his movements were a good sign. We could not have been more wrong, and life could not have been more cruel. They had John listed at this point as stable but very critical and they were moving him to ICU while they waited for all of the test results.
They moved us to a new waiting room, where we stayed all night, all awake. We called every couple of hours for an update, all they told us was the doctor would meet with us when they had more information. It was the longest night of our lives. We cussed. We prayed. We cried. We laughed. But more than anything...we were absolutely frightened.
At approximately 4:30 the morning of September 6th, the pediatric ER surgeon on call came to meet with us, along with the neonatal neurologist. She started to explain just how severe his head injury was. The moment she sat down and began speaking, we all knew what she had to say but we never wanted to believe it. We didn't want to listen. After discussing the technical details of his injury, Angela finally interrupted and ask a question that rings as loud as alarms in my head to this very minute...
"Is my baby going to die?"
She did not say no, but she hesitated.
He was brain dead. There was nothing they could do. There was nothing anyone could do. Our baby was not going home with us. Angela was not taking her little man home. What was going on? How did this happen? We never thought this would be our family.
At this point, we were finally allowed to go in and see him.
It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, walking into that room that morning...I still get sick to my stomach when I think about how scared I was. My little fat-man laying there, so broken, so hurt, and no answers. We couldn't even cuddle with his little tiny love muffin chunky body because there was just...so much. We could hold his hand, kiss his sweet little warm face and touch his little square feet.
Those little moments that we got to steal in that room that day will be the best moments of my life. Getting the chance to love on him while we still could. While we could still feel his warmth. Feel his heartbeat.
He was just so beautiful. So perfect. I just don't understand. I would've given anything to trade places with that baby. Anything. We all would have.
Angela made some tough decisions that day, things no mother should ever have to decide.
She is amazing, and strong. And John got the best mommy ever while he was here. She loved and still loves that boy more than life. And oh how he loved his Mommy. We talk about his big beautiful smile, but it was never as beautiful as when he was looking at his Mommy. It tortures my heart that so many never got to see that smile for themselves, that they never will.
At 2:31 pm...my sister held her little man one last time as he passed. I will never be able to forget the sights or sounds. I will forever be haunted by her broken heart. I will never be as proud of her as I was in that moment. So strong. So in love. So beautifully broken. I wish I could have taken her pain in that moment, still wish I could take her pain in this very moment.
We all held him. Loved on him. Loved him. Kissed him. Talked to him. Stole whatever moments in the flesh that we had left with him. The nurse ask Angela if she wanted to bathe him, so we left her with him and my Dad while she gave her baby one last bath.
When we came back in he looked so perfect. Smelled like heaven. I wanted to scoop him up and run. I didn't want to leave him, but I knew we would have to so they could do what they needed with him.
We gave our final kisses. Said one more goodbye and left. Walking away was the hardest part. Leaving him all alone in a strange place with strange but amazing people.
I had to make a trip back up to the pediatric ICU to retrieve a cast they had made of John's hand and foot. We didn't know they would have it ready so quickly. I couldn't go in to get it. Thankfully the detective that had been with us went and got it for me. It killed me having to leave him a second time. I sat in the truck and cried. Screamed. I was suddenly very angry.
One thing I have to mention is just how amazing the people were at both MRMC and Shands. They were there for our family every step of the way, and answered all questions we had as best as they could. They even provided John with a beautifully knitted blue hat to keep his little head warm. If you have the ability to knit or sew, take time to make some little hats or mitts and donate them to your local children's hospital. That little knitted hat meant the world to our family in a very hard time. I would love to hug and thank whomever made it. It was a little light in a world of darkness.
Since there is still an open investigation I cannot release any details surrounding the babysitter or the way in which he sustained the injuries. It was not malicious, but mistakes were made, and there will hopefully be consequences. Angela, bless the amazing woman she is, has been forgiving since the start. I'm trying to get there. I just can't. Not yet.
John was so beyond loved while he was in this world. Even though he was my nephew, it feels like I lost one of my own babies. And I know that the pain I feel is nothing compared to what Angela must feel. Every single one of us just loves that baby. The days following have been so incredibly difficult. My sister has been so strong and displayed a level of elegance I could never explain accordingly through words.
She decided to bury John on his first birthday, which was September 14th. He passed one week shy of his first birthday. That's how cruel life can be. That's why we still have so many unanswered questions. The reason I am sharing those horrid couple of days, is not to evoke a feeling of sadness from you, but to show the strength and endurance of our family, and of John's mommy. To show you that even when the world was crumbling around us, we held tight to our family, our love and supported each other. Things like this can rip a family to shreds, but John brought this family together when he was born, and sealed our bond upon his passing. As bent as we are, we can't be broken. In a time when we could have been spewing hate, we chose to continue loving. That is what you see here, through all the pain, through all the heartbreak... there is still so much love.
I'm also sharing this today because the month of October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss awareness month. Not only is there a stigma when it comes to talking about miscarriage, but there is also this hush when people find out that someone has lost an infant. Yes, it is very hard to talk about what happened to John, but more than anything we love talking about him. The good, the bad, and the hardest part of all. If someone you know has recently lost a pregnancy or baby, just be their friend. Talk to them, don't avoid them. And more than anything, don't tell them they can always have more children.
John, and any child lost, whether we get to hold them or not, is absolutely devastating to an individual and their family. They are not replaceable.
Love your babies. Love your family. But more than anything, love everyone. There is enough sadness and heartache in this world.