Hello everyone, here is the last part of your sneak peek! Let us know what you guys think.
“Please just let me die, Mom! I can’t do this, tell them to let me die!” My 12 year old daughter, Autumn, was clawing frantically at her face, squirming and writhing in pain.
Have you ever had moments in your life where it feels like the pause button has been pushed? Everything stops. Maybe more of a slow motion, where you are acutely aware of every detail around you. Sounds. Smells. Colors. The nurses were hurriedly whispering to each other on the other side of the privacy curtain. Their feet shuffled under the bottom hem, and the pale, faded blue curtain rustled from their movement.
“Why aren’t they in here?” I thought. “Why aren’t they helping us?” It was the middle of the night, yet the blinding lights burned overhead, making it brighter than a cloudless summer afternoon. The heart monitor that was attached to Autumn’s torso and chest and the hastily tied on hospital gown reminded me of a doll I had as a small child. The doll had buttons, snaps, zippers, and bows for practicing dressing skills. I counted at least four snaps on Autumn’s chest alone. Just like my well loved doll, Autumn’s hair was matted and tangled despite the attempt to contain her thick tresses in two braids about four days ago. The braids were no match for her tossing and turning. Through the snaps on her chest, there were wires transmitting a frantic heartbeat, that echoed through the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) creating an eerie high-pitched cadence behind Autumn’s desperate cries.
“I think I may be going into shock,” I told myself. “I wonder what the boys found to eat for dinner? Is that a stain on the floor or was a spot missed? Has it really been four days?…”
It felt like a total brain/body disconnect. Despite my brain going off on random tangents, thankfully my body did all the right things. I held Autumn’s hand, when she could sit still long enough. I washed her face with cool water to try to ease the tingling that looked to have her trying to tear her face off. I adjusted wires, blankets, pillows….anything to try to bring Autumn comfort. I also repeatedly prayed a two-word prayer. “Please God, please God, please God….,” trusting that God knew what I was begging and praying for, since I did not. Answers? Relief? Thy will be done? Healing? The ability to time travel away from this time and place? All of the above? I don’t know what was finally given to Autumn to help her sleep, but I was so relieved. My baby girl could finally get the rest she needed…
Autumn was a beautiful, perfect baby when she was born. From pregnancy through discharge from the hospital, everything was just like I had imagined it would be. Other than being two weeks early and having jaundice (not unusual in a newborn), my first pregnancy (and the following three years) could have been straight out of a feel good, happy, made for TV, Hallmark movie.
Autumn’s beauty was the type that caused people to stop and stare. Her skin was a healthy, rosy pink. Her baby rolls were the topic of much discussion, with people jokingly accusing me of putting rubber bands on her to create the sweet indentations around each of her little wrists. As the first granddaughter on both sides of the family, Autumn was well dressed every minute of everyday. Not a day went by that she wasn’t matching from head to toe, complete with hairbows, ruffled britches, and tiny little patent leather shoes. Grandmas made sure of that! As a young, 24 year old mother I was quite happy to comply. Despite an appearance that spoke of all sugar and spice, Autumn was tough as nails both physically and socially. Days would often end with Autumn’s little embroidered dresses and ruffled socks stained and wrinkled from tumbling in the dirt and mud and smearing the day’s meals across her middle. Her stubbornness and determination, even at a very young of an age, demanded that she be allowed to explore and discover, no matter the mess that was created in her wake. She had no patience for simple tasks like hair brushing, and it was a battle I wasn’t always ready to tackle. Thanks to a mass of yellow curls (she created the vision of a tiny Shirley Temple), Autumn’s hair brushing avoidance only intensified her cherub-like looks.
Because of her angelic appearance, many people tried to converse with my young daughter. Despite her angelic appearance, Autumn shut these well-intentioned people down quickly. A cousin of mine dubbed her “Tough Crowd” when she was only six months old. As a good-natured, happy guy, he was accustomed to being a kid magnet. He could make anyone, both child and adult, break into a smile…..not Autumn. She did not share her smiles with just anyone easily! Most of our portraits of Autumn during this stage in her life are stoic and serious. In the few photos we have of Autumn smiling, her father and I had to stand behind the photographer and pretend we were bopping him or her on the head with various photo props! Don’t get me wrong, Autumn was a happy toddler. She just didn’t see the need to share that part of herself outside of her circle.
Shortly before Autumn was due to turn three, her baby brother, Denver, arrived in this world with a bang. I wasn’t ready!! It was only Labor Day and he wasn’t due to arrive until later in October. I was actually worried that our new baby (at the time we didn’t know his sex) was going to share the same October birthday as Autumn! This was before the convenience of cell phones and my husband, Tim, was out dove hunting with his dad and brother. I was trying to set up the nursery and Autumn was happily following me, playing with her soon to be sibling’s nursery items. I thought I was wetting myself throughout the morning. I was embarrassed and didn’t tell anyone. It started after Tim made an unexpected stop by the house and jokingly scared me from behind. I teasingly admonished him, “If I go into labor today, it’s all your fault!” If I only knew! My Mom came to pick up Autumn to go shopping with her and allow me some alone time to finish my nursery project. I laughingly mentioned my assumed incontinence problem, but Mom didn’t laugh with me. Out of fear, I called my doctor and she had me come to the hospital. I cried the whole way there, knowing it wasn’t time. Ready or not, it was time for a baby! My water was leaking, and ironically, I was induced into labor on Labor Day! Tim found out when he returned home to a hastily written note on the counter.
I was in labor for over 14 hours. After a natural childbirth with Autumn, I was looking forward to an epidural. I was 13 hours into labor before that epidural was administered and it was still worth it! During the worst pains of labor, a hurricane wreaked havoc on Virginia. The hospital lost electricity. Though it operated on its auxiliary power, the air conditioner was not considered essential and therefore wasn’t running. With windows open, curtains blowing, and papers swirling through the room, our little boy fought to make his entrance in this world. As soon as a 6 lb 7 oz Denver was born, he was whisked away. The doctor and nurses were surprised at his size- not the typical 5 week early preemie! He too was as perfect little cherub, with tiny little rolls and big beautiful eyes. Though Tim got to cut the cord, just like he did for Autumn, I didn’t get to hold Denver before they took him away. He was cold and needed his temperature warmed quickly. At first they thought maybe the due date estimation was wrong. As Denver began to struggle for breath, it was realized they were mistaken and his lungs were actually not fully developed. For every bit as perfect Autumn’s birth was, Denver’s was heart wrenching. I think it was made even harder since I knew how it was supposed to go. Just the sight of happy, excited families oohing and awing over their babies through the nursery window made me cry. My sweet boy was hidden out of sight, fighting for his life. They had no idea the pain their happiness caused a young mother passing by! Denver was born at 5:40 in the morning and by noon, the medical staff knew things were not looking good. A transport to a NICU an hour away was arranged. Denver was not expected to live through the night.
God had other plans, though. After a two week hospital stay, we were finally able to bring Denver home. I was in love with my little family! Though Denver grew and prospered, he remained sick most of the time for quite a few years. His baby and toddler years were plagued with hospital stays, breathing treatments, antibiotics, and doctor visits. Tough as nails, he battled through again and again. Autumn was our healthy child and we were so thankful for that, as we could focus on getting Denver well.
Usually, I would only get a few minutes of sleep before a nurse or doctor would come poking and prodding on me. This night was different. You know that feeling when your leg goes to sleep? Or when you sleep on your arm and you wake up not feeling it? Well that’s what it felt like. It started around my lips and spread like wildfire throughout my body. With all my surgeries and all the physical pain I have felt, this was by far the worst. I wanted to die. I begged my mom to let them end my life. I was clawing at my face and wondering why this was the time that the doctors and nurses weren’t coming.
Every night, you could hear some kind of screaming or crying in the PICU, but that night it was my turn. You could hear everything through the thin curtains in there. You knew things about kid’s diagnoses without actually knowing them.
After what felt like forever, the nurse finally brought me medicine she put through the IV, and I slowly drifted to sleep with tears still flowing down my face.