We raced next to Annie’s bed as she was transferred into another part of the hospital: The Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) The PICU’s overhead lights were off, but bright lights illuminated each patient’s area. Monitors buzzed and squealed. As we rounded the corner to Annie’s space in the open unit, I saw the empty, exhausted eyes of other parents as they sat beside their children’s beds.
As soon as her bed stopped rolling, nurses and doctors swarmed around her, barking questions at Dr. Bass and at us. “How long has she been so pale? When did this red mark appear on her skin?” I struggled to find the answers, wanting to shout, “She’s fine! Please just leave her alone, because she’s just so tired.” Annie began to wake and struggled as the nurses changed her gown. I could tell that she was embarrassed and again, the tears of rage fell hot against my face as I tried to preserve her dignity. We were ushered into the waiting area so the attending physician could speak with us.
“Dr. Bass has ordered another test, but we need to stabilize her first. She isn’t stable enough to go through a major procedure at this point.” The doctor’s voice was even and calm, but decisive. My fight to tell the doctor that she was “just tired” diminished as I listened to the next steps. The doctors would place a breathing tube down Annie’s throat and put her into a medically induced coma so that her system could try to recover. New IV lines would be started as well to ensure that medicine could be administered quickly and efficiently. Annie would also be attached to several machines that would allow the staff to monitor her at all times.
The doctor told us that we needed to wait outside the PICU during these procedures, and suggested that we try to get some rest. It was nearly 4:00 in the morning and exhaustion was beginning to set in. We stretched out silently on the waiting room benches.
“Mr. and Mrs. Wetherbee?” I opened my eyes to see the PICU doctor sitting across the room. “Annie is stable, and she is being transferred for her angiogram. I’m glad you could close your eyes for a while. Would you like to walk down with her and meet the radiologist?” We stood quickly and followed the doctor into the PICU. Annie lay, motionless on her bed. Wires and tubes invaded her little body; these hideous lifelines dwarfing her tiny form. The nurses began to wheel her bed out of the unit, and Tom and I followed like ghosts.
We met the radiologist as we entered the testing area. He explained the procedure. The angiogram would allow the doctors to examine Annie’s blood vessels. He also told us the very real risks of the procedure. I was suddenly and completely overwhelmed, and burst into tears. “Please take care of her,” was all I could say as I melted into Tom’s arms. The doctor promised that he would watch Annie carefully, and we were instructed to return to the PICU waiting area.
Tom wisely went to get us some coffee and breakfast while I went back to the second floor. The elevators in this part of the hospital were painted with Peanuts characters…Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy. I remember being thankful for this attempt at good cheer, thinking how much Annie would like looking at these pictures. Once in the waiting room, I made a list of people I needed to call. As soon as the clock read 6 am, I dialed my sister’s number. She answered immediately. “Betsy. She’s had a stroke,” I whispered.
“I’m coming,” she replied, those blessed words racing through the phone lines and instantly calming my heart. Once Betsy is here, things will be better. She will know exactly what to do. Tom returned from the cafeteria and I sipped on the coffee he had brought before calling my parents. My father answered right away, but in typical Livingston fashion, he already knew what I was about to say; my sister had called them immediately, telling them to get to the hospital as soon as possible. “We’ll be there shortly,” he told me, “and we’ll find you. Don’t worry.”
Tom and I sat in silence and waited for word from the doctor. What was taking so long? Was she all right? I picked at the bagel he had brought from the cafeteria, realizing that we hadn’t had much to eat for the last two days. Still, it was cold and unappealing, and my stomach churned. I threw it away. The hospital had begun waking up; overhead lights were now on, doctors were rounding and families were beginning to creep into the waiting room. I glanced up and saw my mother’s face as she rounded the corner. “Thank you for coming,” I said, as I hugged my parents. And as I spoke, I wondered what we would have done had we still been in Maryland…six hours away from these loving arms that we needed so much.
We updated my parents with the information we had. As we talked, I noticed a young woman approach us, her kind smile and sympathetic eyes directed toward me. She introduced herself as Debbie, a social worker on the floor who would be helping us during our stay in the PICU. As I looked at her, I wondered where I had seen her before. “We went to high school together,” she told me. I graduated a year after you.” Again, gratitude for familiarity washed over me.
The elevator opened and Dr. Bass walked out. Tom and I quickly stood up to greet her. “Just a moment,” she said, and she asked the social worker and Child Life specialist to come with her into a conference room. They closed the door behind them, and we waited for several minutes before being ushered into the room with my parents.
“We aren’t sure what has caused Annie’s stroke,” Dr. Bass began. It’s a medium-sized stroke on the left side of her brain. The angiogram will allow us to look closely at her blood vessels. However, the doctor also found a bleed in her lung, and we don’t know what caused that, so we need to watch it carefully. There are several things that we’re going to be monitoring.” Dr. Bass described the next steps, but I had stopped listening. I gathered my courage and focused on the question I needed to ask:
“Is my daughter going to die today?”
Dr. Bass looked directly at me and sighed. “She is very, very sick. But~ this is not my death-bed speech. There is hope here. We have to focus on that.” She promised to give us updated information as soon as she could, and left the room. Tom and I asked to have the room to ourselves for a moment. We prayed and we cried.
Then, we opened the door and returned to our chairs. And we waited.