“She’s having a stroke!” I cried. Even as I said it, I knew this couldn’t be possible. She was only four years old! Still, the panic welled inside me, spilling into my words. “We have to hurry!”
Tom gently picked Annie up and took her downstairs. I hastily packed a diaper bag for Bill and we sped to a neighbor’s home. I had called her while I was getting Bill ready, and she was waiting at the door for us. She bundled Bill into her arms, saying, “We’ll have fun, right Bill? We’ll get some chicken nuggets from McDonald’s for lunch!”
I felt a strange pang of sadness at this statement. Only two years old, Bill hadn’t had chicken nuggets yet. I knew he’d love them, and I was going to miss watching him take his first bite of that yummy treat. I couldn’t reconcile, given the gravity of the situation, why this tore at my heart, but it was palpable. I glanced back and I could see my neighbor taking him inside. He was a remarkably laid-back, good-natured child, and seemed to be taking it all in his stride. And it hurt to watch him be carried away from me in this moment.
Tom sped toward the pediatrician’s office. I called my sister, Betsy, who lives in Michigan, while we drove. Betsy, a nurse, listened to the symptoms I described and promised to pray. Tom then called our friends, the Liles, and asked them to contact the babysitter from the previous night to see if Annie had bumped her head, or if anything else unusual had occurred.
Once at the doctor’s we were ushered back to an exam room immediately. The pediatrician, Dr. Davis, quickly assessed her and then confirmed, “She’s having a seizure. Come with me.” We walked quickly behind him, with Annie in Tom’s arms, toward the community emergency department. Dr. Davis pressed through the waiting room and began shouting for assistance. A team quickly assembled and began working on Annie. A nurse attempted to start an IV, but was unsuccessful. A doctor tried several times before Dr. Davis took charge, shoving the doctor aside and getting the line in. Tom and I stood about 8 feet from the table and silently watched.
I tried to pray, but the words would not come. My mind felt as out of control as Annie’s tiny body. I searched my heart and soul for the words that would express my panic. “Jesus? Help!” was all I could muster, and I repeated it silently as the doctors worked.
Soon the team began administering medication through the IV. After 45 minutes, the seizure finally subsided, and Annie slept. The doctors then began discussing transfer plans. We filled out forms and answered questions. Soon, Annie was moved to a gurney and put into an ambulance. Tom and I decided thatI would ride the ambulance along with Annie; he would go home, get Bill, and call his mother to come and stay at our house. He would then meet us at the hospital.
Once at the hospital, we sped through the basement: endless, unadorned hallways with hollow acoustics and an antiseptic smell. Arriving on the fifth floor was a welcome relief; the pastel colors and fitted carpets soothed my senses. We were wheeled into a large room, where a nurse took Annie’s history and checked her vitals. Once this was done, I crawled into the hospital bed with my sleeping daughter and held her until Tom arrived.
Annie slowly woke up later in the afternoon. Her body and demeanor were calm, and some of the sparkle had returned to her eyes. She seemed to be having a little trouble getting out her words, and her right hand was a bit weak. Still, she was much better! The medical team decided to keep her overnight for observation, so Tom and I settled onto the couches in the room. I lay awake for a long time, and then fell into a fitful sleep.
I opened my eyes to another cloudless day. It was Sunday March 21, 1999.
Annie’s fifth birthday.