Annie did not regain consciousness during the scan or the transfer back to the fifth floor. The panic felt like rapidly rising mercury, and I could feel my throat begin to constrict. Annie slowly wakened, and seemed much more energetic. Soon, Dr. Hoagland came in to tell us that Dr. Bass had looked at the CAT scan, and it was clear.
Early in the evening, though, Annie started struggling again. A new group of residents came to assess her. They did a full neurological exam and then made her get out of bed and walk down the hall. Her gait was contorted and awkward, and I immediately felt angry. “Stop making her walk,” I said tersely. “I want her to go back to bed! Can’t you see she is having trouble?” I wanted to push them away and carry her back to her room; I felt protective of her dignity and didn’t want any other children watching as she struggled.
Mercifully, my brother and his wife had arrived and they kept Annie busy while Tom and I spoke with the residents. As soon as they left, I quickly went to the phone to call Dr. Bass. She had sensed our concern during the initial consult, and had graciously said, “You’re might have questions tonight…please call me any time. Because she had just moved to the area, she didn’t yet have a home, but she gave us her cell phone number as well as the number where she was dog-sitting for an old friend. When I dialed, she answered right away and I told her about the last several hours. “I’m really scared,” I concluded.
Kindly, sensitively, she responded. “I know you are.” She then told me that she would order an MRI.
I put down the phone and stared at the wall, my back to Annie’s bed. The panic continued to boil and rise, and it burst into my head, accompanied by a new ache. I missed Bill, who was with Tom’s mother, Barbara. I wanted to bake the cake I had planned, and watch Annie open presents in our living room. I wanted Annie to be healthy. I wanted to go home.
The phone in our room startled me. I picked it up, and heard, “Katie?”
That familiar voice that I had known for my whole life… deep, calm and comforting. My eyes overflowed with tears. “Daddy?”
My parents were out of the country, celebrating my mother’s birthday with friends. They weren’t due back until late that night, but they had called our home from the airport, wanting to wish Annie a happy birthday. Barbara had given them the news of Annie’s hospitalization.
“Roonie?” he persisted, using my childhood nickname. “Are you all right?”
The tears began in earnest, and I couldn’t speak. “Can you talk, honey?” he asked.
A deep breath. “Daddy…” was all I could muster.
“We love you, honey. Barbara told us what’s going on. We’re on the way home.”
Late that night, Annie was taken down for her MRI. She needed to be sedated for this; I was allowed to go with her until she was asleep. After that, I joined Tom in the radiology waiting room. The Academy Awards were on that night, and we recalled that they had been on exactly five years earlier…the night Annie was born! Neither of us could focus, and we barely noticed when the awards segued to the news and other late night programming.
It was nearly two in the morning when Dr. Hoagland came out into the waiting room holding three vials of fluid. “Spinal fluid,” he told us. “Nice and clear, just like it’s supposed to be.” He looked worn and tired, and I could see the concern in his eyes.
“Did they find out what else is going on?” I asked.
“Dr. Bass is coming in, and she’s going to talk to you,” he told us. “I’ll check in later.”
As he left, Tom turned to me and said, “Isn’t that nice that she’s going to pop in while she’s here doing her rounds?”
I stared at him in disbelief. I was sure that her presence was anything but routine, and the terror of this gripped my heart like a vice. I knew that Tom knew this, too, but his denial was helping him to cope and gave us both the strength to stand up and walk out of the waiting room. “Yeah. It’s nice that she’s coming in,” I said quietly. We went into the hallway and walked alongside Annie’s bed as she was transported back upstairs. We were only in our room for a few moments when Dr. Bass walked briskly into the room.
“Okay, guys,” her voice was direct, and her gaze, intense. “She’s had a stroke.”
The room felt as though it were spinning. I watched as Dr. Bass gave orders to transfer Annie to Pediatric Intensive Care. Tom began gathering our things and stopped to look at the scan Dr. Bass was holding up to the light. I heard a child crying and residents talking in the hallway. All of this was going on around me, yet I was strangely disconnected…”She’s had a stroke. A stroke. A stroke…”
I listened for that familiar voice…the one I had known for my whole life…deep, calm and comforting. “Lord?” was all I could muster.
And even as my heart spoke His name, and was sure of His presence, I felt as though our little family was falling out of the sky at a deadly speed.
We were falling, but we would not crash. Instead, we would be caught and carried by a miraculous multitude of loving arms, prepared by God Himself to break our fall.