I cradled you against my chest and walked in measured steps towards the ambulance. Every doorway and window on our street was open and dotted with heads big and small. Emergency vehicles bathed the neighboring houses in epileptic flashes of REDBLUEREDBLUEREDBLUE. Heads big and small peered out to see what was going on. No more than five minutes had passed since I called 911.
When your mother and I put you to bed hours earlier, we thought you were just about over the nasty cold that had been dogging you for days. I cranked the white noise on my headphones (a carryover from your pre-cry it out days) and crammed them into my ears, content you were out for the night.
Thank goodness Mom stays up later than I do. Two hours later I was jolted awake by the creak of the door. Your mother carried you into our bedroom. The suburban darkness gave me just enough light to see that something was off. The way you slumped against her chest kicked my amygdala into overdrive. A soft mewling emanated from your tiny body. “I think something’s wrong,” your mom whispered as she sat on the bed and cradled you. Those four words were all my brain needed to hear. Adrenaline flooded my system and within seconds I was awake and carrying you downstairs.
Your mom called the advice line. I listened as she answered the advice nurse’s battery of questions with a patience I don’t possess. No, neither your skin nor your lips were blue. No, the skin around your ribs didn’t seem abnormally tight.
With one ear on the conversation, I held you and tried to figure out what to do. One sentence kept bobbing to the surface: if something seems wrong with your baby’s breathing, call 911 immediately. 9-1-1. The numbers burned phosphorescent in my mind’s eye, cutting through the association salad that is your dad’s typical ADHD association salad.
“911” I said. “911. I’m going to call 911 right now.” Your mother looked at me and cocked her head. “Okay… we’re going to call 911” she said, ending the call.
What a privilege that I didn’t have to make my first legit 911 call until I was 38. I rehearsed my script while waiting through the multiple rings it took before someone picked. As soon as I heard the iconic “911, what’s your emergency?” I unloaded. I barked out objective statements as calmly and efficiently as possible. My goal was to front load everything the operator needed into one stilted string of barely concealed fear.
18 MONTH OLD FEMALE INFANT BARELY BREATHING. INFANT WENT TO SLEEP AT 6:00PM. INFANT SPENT THE LAST SEVEN DAYS WITH A BAD COLD. WIFE GOT INFANT OUT OF CRIB AT 10:00PM AFTER HEARING WHAT SOUNDED LIKE ABNORMAL CRYING. SKIN AND LIPS NORMAL COLOR. SKIN FEELS HOT. EYES ARE HALF OPEN AND GLASSY.
When the operator heard Joelle was still breathing she seemed to relax. She dispatched an ambulance and ended the call. At this point you were swaying back and forth in the living room, leaning against the sofa. Within five minutes two ambulances, one fire engine, and one police car were idling in front of our house.
I opened the front door and waved the paramedics into the house. “HERE! LET’S GO! DON’T YOU NEED A STRETCHER? WHERE’S THE STRETCHER? ARE YOU GOING TO PUT A FACE MASK ON HER? DO YOU NEED HELP GETTING HER ONTO THE STRETCHER OR PUTTING A FACE MASK ON HER?” Who I can assume to be the lead paramedic took a few steps into the house, observed Joelle for a moment, and then walked back out. He mumbled something into his walkie talkie.
Before I could follow him, two burly fellows tromped past me into the house. I ran back inside and peppered them with the same questions. STRETCHER? MASK? STRETCHER???
“Yea … we can give you a ride to the hospital. if you want, I mean,” burly man A mumbled. Without a word, burly man B ran back outside to prepare the ambulance. I picked you up and held you close to my chest, feeling your abnormal body heat through our winter layers. The walk from our front door to the ambulance would have felt cinematic if I weren’t so terrified
At this point, I began to realize that the reason no one was acting like it was an emergency was because it probably wasn’t. I also began to suspect that the paramedics in the ambulance with us were in some stage of apprenticeship. The lead paramedic stuck his head inside the ambulance and watched the trainees fumble around with various tubes and dials before helping them along “Okay. Did you get her oxygen levels?” he sighed. “Get her vitals and give her oxygen.” He muttered something I couldn’t quite understand and shut the door as the ambulance’s engine hummed to life.
The ambulance felt like the shock absorbers had been taken off before the ride. Single-use prepackaged medical paraphernalia spilled out of cabinets at every hairpin turn. Your mom kept you pinned to her chest throughout as I did my best to try and figure out what was going on. You ripped off every suction cup they tried to tether to your body, prompting burly man A to smile and say “See? She’s fine.”
A few horriplating minutes later, we pulled up to what must have been the back entrance to the hospital. A few workers waited for us, the glowing embers of their cigarettes disappearing into the night at various vectors as they unlocked gates, opened doors, and ferried us into a room.
As soon as we entered the room, two nurses ran in and started checking your vitals. The paramedics snapped to attention immediately. One nurse quizzed the trainees as the other plugged in various monitors. The screens behind the bed woke up and began the variable beeping schedule that seems to be a staple in hospital rooms.
“Let me guess, first time parents?” the nurse asked me with a smile. I let that sink in. You were going to be fine. Everything was okay. After a rapid xray, the flu was ruled out and the diagnosis was ready: ear infection and a nasty respiratory system virus. You needed antibiotics, sleep, and fluids.
You finally succumbed to sleep and passed out against your mom’s chest. Antsy and eager to remove any barriers to your slumber, I spent a solid chunk of time trying to map out the bleeps and bloops that ruptured the room’s relative calm at irregular intervals. I gave up and focused on playing whack-a-mole with the machines. Every time a beep went off, I leapt up and pushed buttons until the beeping sound stopped. After a few excruciating minutes of this, a nurse came in and took pity on me, putting the machines into silent mode and turning out the lights. I must have looked like I needed something to do (I did), because she gave me a corrugated plastic tube with oxygen spilling out of it and told me to aim it at your nose. So I did until it was time to go home.
A few hours later we left the hospital with antibiotics in hand and our first emergency room trip underneath our belts.