Friday, July 9, 2010

Anatomy of a Phone Bill

I was shocked to see that this month’s cell phone bill was almost $500. I thought that Verizon must not have received my damaged phone back and they were charging me for it. Until I went to look at the bill. I forget that phone bills are billed off-cycle. The billing period actually began May 10, the day Hudson went into the hospital. Over the course of the next 30 days, Ed and I talked on our cell phones for a combined 2947 minutes.

But it’s not the numbers in the bill that stopped me in my tracks. It’s the story that it tells. The story of those horrifying 4 days.

May 10

6:29AM: I call the pediatrician’s office, hoping someone will already be there and will tell me I can come in right at 7AM. I get the answering service.

7:01AM: I call the pediatrician’s office again and talk to the doctor, who tells me I can come in at 8:00.

9:28AM: I call St. Ann’s to tell them Hudson won’t be in because she is sick. We are waiting to get a blood culture and chest x-ray to see if we can figure out what is wrong with her.

10:53AM: I call my office to tell them I won’t be in because Hudson is sick. We have dropped Ed off at work and are headed home. Hudson is very sleepy in the car seat. She spends the next few hours asleep on my shoulder in our glider at home. I try to offer her something to drink and she says no.

1:10PM: I call the pediatrician’s office, worried that Hudson is getting dehydrated. She sends us to the ER, “just to get some fluids.”

1:40PM: I call Ed to tell him we’re at the ER.

1:59PM: I call my dad to tell him we’re at the ER.

3:50PM: Ed calls me to tell me he’s in a cab on his way to the ER.

5:39PM: I call my dad to tell him the docs think Hudson has meningitis and that they’re doing a spinal tap. Dad gets in the car and heads to DC.

5:59PM: I call Jessica to tell her the docs think Hudson has meningitis and that they’re doing a spinal tap.

8:24PM: I call Jessica to tell her that Hudson definitely has meningitis and that we’re getting admitted to the PICU.

May 11

8:42AM: The pediatrician calls me wanting to know what the hell has happened because she got a call from the PICU docs the night before.

8:48AM: I call St. Ann’s, where the staff is panicked that Hudson has a contagious form of meningitis. I can’t tell them anything because we don’t know yet whether or not it’s contagious.

9:08AM: Jessica calls to check in. I remember this call so clearly that it hurts. A few hours earlier, Hudson’s pupils have begun responding unevenly to light, which is a really bad sign. We are terrified that the worst has happened. We wait for what seems like agonizing hours for a CT scan. It shows some swelling in her brain, so they put her on a ventilator and into a medically induced coma to try to bring the swelling down. The docs tell us that a good sign would be some kind of voluntary movements on Hudson’s part as the sedation wears off and around 8AM, we see some—they try to put a catheter in her and she rouses, eyes still closed, and tries to pull her breathing tube out. The neurologists do some tests and her pupils are responding normally again and she passes some other reflex tests as well. We are hopeful that she is turning a corner. Jessica calls right after that, and I tell her that I am glad she didn’t call a few hours earlier because I would have been freaking out, but now Hudson is responding, at least some, and we think she is going to pull through. How stupid we are.

9:38AM: I call my office to tell them that Hudson has meningitis and that I will not be back in for an indefinite amount of time, regardless of what happens. Even if Hudson survives, she will be in the hospital for several weeks of IV antibiotics and monitoring. If only that could have been our fate.

2:10PM: Jessica calls. The worst has happened. Hudson has blown both her pupils this time. This time we wait forever for the results of the CT. We aren’t sure if she has even survived it. When the social worker comes to get us out of the family waiting room to tell us that the doctors will meet with us in a private consultation room, we know the news will be bad. When we go into the consult room, and two doctors, two nurses and the social worker all file in, we know the news will be very bad. The CT scan shows massive swelling in Hudson’s brain. The doctor says that many children do not survive this kind of brain injury, and that even if Hudson does survive, she will likely not be the same child she was before. She might never walk again. She might never talk again. We scream. We sob. We shout, “NO!” I tell Jessica this, in a nutshell. Jessica tells me that a plane is leaving Helena in 45 minutes and that she will be on it.

2:38PM: My sister Diane calls. She and my brother Jason make plans to come to DC that afternoon.

6:51: My sister Laura calls. We make plans for her to fly up in the morning.

May 12

1:48AM: Jessica calls to tell me she’s arrived at the hospital. She gets upstairs and I collapse in her arms.

The rest is a big blur of calls (and one day, I may write about these terrible hours) with the exception of two calls that stand out.

May 13

6:46PM: I call my Aunt Sandra, who I haven’t spoken to since this nightmare began. I am lying beside Hudson on the hospital bed, spending quiet time with her. We know that in about 2 hours, the doctors will repeat the brain death test from the night before and Hudson will be declared dead. My aunt and I cry together.

6:55PM: I call my cousin Tate, who I also haven’t spoken to yet. She can’t believe I am calling her right now. It just seemed like the right thing in that quiet moment. We cry together, too.

There are no more calls until the next morning, when all our loved ones begin calling to see when they can come by and what they can do.

Who knew a phone bill could tell such a terrible story? I remember all those moments like they happened yesterday, but sometimes it is hard to believe they happened at all. This is proof that they did.


  1. I remember when you first posted on Facebook that the doctors suspected meningitis. I posted back that it was most likely the far less dangerous viral form, and that Hudson had received vaccinations for the most common bacterial types. Then I remember feeling shell-shocked to hear it was bacterial.

    Another friend of mine's child had caught that terrible ailment, at just 1 month old, just last year, so I was very familiar with the dangers. That child, Sofia, lived -- thank God -- though she is believed to have suffered severe brain damage and her parents' life now is consumed with the specialized care she needs. Their blog, if you are interested, is

    I assumed Hudson would pull through as well, so as we followed your posts we grew more and more despondent. We couldn't believe this was happening. Still, it was really only after Robyn and Renee visited that we began to accept how serious it was. I remember rushing home so Kate could go visit and just feeling this incredible sense of urgency and, at the same time, helplessness. St. Ann's hosted a prayer service. It was done Quaker style, though we didn't know that would be the case, so I didn't prepare my remarks. Instead, I got up there and cried. Madelyn came up and I held her. We said a Hail Mary.

    And the next day, when it was over, we knew that your life would never be the same, and truly, neither would ours.

  2. The last sentence Shawn writes says it so well...such a painful chronology....thinking of you and Ed. Kirsten

  3. This is a very touching post. Thank you for sharing some of the details of what happened over those terrible 96 hours. It's truly heart-wrenching and sickening to read. Bacterial meningitis is such a savage, stealthy thief. I am in the middle of a 12 week rotation on a neurosurgery floor at Duke Hospital and know all the signs and symptoms of brain swelling that you saw your sweet Hudson go through. It's what health care providers most dread and fight to keep at bay in neuro patients.

    This entry also made me remember getting my cell phone bill after my mom died. It, too, told a terrible story. She went missing just before Christmas in 2003, on a morning she was to have a dreaded surgery that she knew would not fix the fact that her body was failing her. There were dozens and dozens of calls back and forth between my sister and I, my uncles, and later the police, as we tried to find her. She was found dead 36 hours later in a cheap motel room. I was, I think, the last person to talk to her before she killed herself. At least that's what the cell phone bill told me.

    Thanks you again for being so honest and being brave enough to tell your story. It is helping a lot of people.

  4. I remember reading on Mother's Day your post about taking care of a sick child on your special day. What was wonderful about it is how you took it all in stride as par for the course (no complaints). A short time after, I read the post that you were on "your first trip to the ER". I smiled at the thought because I assumed that we would all travel that path at some point or another and I was glad we hadn't been there yet with Amaris...still haven't (as I sigh with relief). I didn't check fb in my normal addicted fashion until the next day (late at night)and I was puzzled seeing all these post regarding praying for Hudson. My first thought was "what the heck is going on...why are all these people praying for Hudson, she just has a fever...geez!" Stupid...Stupid me. As I scrolled through the post and found yours, my heart felt like it stopped when I read bacterial meningitis. My mind raced and I started reading everything I could find on the subject. The more I read, the more mortified I became. I called Robyn, it was nearly 1am. I apologized perfusely for calling at such an obscene hour but I needed to talk to someone who could calm my fears. Robyn answered the phone in tears saying..."Renee, Hudson is sick...they don't know if she's going to make it". There was silence on the phone that was haunting. Robyn said "I know, I know...I'm sorry but I can't stop crying". We talked for a while and then I sat in the dark praying all night. Sleep never occurred to me. That afternoon, Robyn and I decided to come to the hospital. When Ed saw us, he sobbed in our arms and we were in utter fear as our brains tried to register what was happening. When Ed went to get you, you leaned in, weak with grief and unbearable pain, tears softly streaming. While grabbing your arm, I asked the question as you shared the state Hudson was in..."wait Mandy, what are you saying, Hudson is going to make it, right"? You looked at me with words a mother should never have to say..."well Renee, she could die". My heart ached in a way I have never felt before. I remember thinking, this is strange, I don't know this feeling. You and Ed were so gracious with letting us see Hudson. When we saw her, she looked like she was "just sleeping". I remarked "her color looks good". You responded "yeah, they're taking good care of her. The machine keeps the levels of carbon monoxide down so she won't take in too much". I smiled at you because I was in awe of your courage to stand in the face of death and hold on to hope. I also recall feeling how selfless of you to allow us to visit with your daughter, tell us that all we had to do was wash our hands; but if we wanted to, we could snuggle in bed with her. You were letting us say "goodbye".

    Thank you, my friend for your continued courage and for allowing us to be a witness to such love. Renee P.

  5. You are so strong to write all of this, Mandy. As others have said, thank you for your courage. It seems like just one hard day after another, and more reminders you're not expecting. This is really really tough, I know. I send you strength.

  6. Mandy, we have never met but I am another parent in Brookland. I have heard through neighbors and the list serv what happened to your lovely daughter. I just wanted to extend my condolences and thank you for writing this blog. ~Stephanie

  7. Everytime I read your blog, I am so moved by your insight and ability to share. Thank you for giving us this often untold journey. -Sarah Nichols Hughes

  8. Mandy-Your courage, strength and poise continue to amaze me. I remember sitting at work on May 12 and reading your FB update, signing into FB as Robert to see how you were doing. I was on a contract job, in a room full of 10 other lawyers, with no privacy. I remember getting up from the table, clutching my cell phone and wandering into a bathroom stall where I sobbed for 20 minutes on the phone with Robert.

    I am so sorry that you have had to live this pain, to relive it upon seeing this bill--to relive it every moment of your day. Such an ordinary thing to some-- a phone bill--though to us, it almost reads as a script. Oh how I wish it was. So I could change the ending for you. . . how I wish I had that power.

    Your beauty as a person, a mother and a friend continues to stand out Mandy. Thank you for sharing so much with us.

    Miss you guys and sending you love--Christine Mayhew

  9. This story is an absolute nightmare to anyone, but especially a parent. We have all had those nights with our kids where all we did was hold them while they were obviously really sick and feverish, but most of us are lucky enough to have that little pink medicine fix everything and be back to an active, eating, and smiling baby a couple days later.

    I, too, have been sent to the ER for "fluids" and took my very perked up son home 12 hours later with a shot of antibiotics and a bandaid where his IV was. Your story hits home to me because our stories could have been reversed. You did everything right. You were on top of Hudson's care with loving attentiveness. Just really bad luck caused the very worst case scenario to play out for you, Ed, and Hudson.

    I am a stranger to you. I found your blog through the blog of one of my friends, but I mourn for Hudson with you. I read this post yesterday and have been thinking about it since. I cried for Hudson while I drove to work this morning and thought of her last night as I cuddled my son to sleep.

    I am sorry you had to live out these events and have them play over again in your mind since. I am sorry you will not watch Hudson grow up and you have to find a way to live your lives without her. I know that no matter how many children you and Ed have there will always be an empty place at your table for Hudson. I only write because I hope the fact that even a stranger mourns for Hudson will provide some small measure of comfort for you. I am thinking about buying a couple of books to donate to the library for Hudson. I don't know what Hudson's favorite books were, but I thought I would choose a couple of my son's favorite books--he was born 4 months before Hudson so they are practically the same age. That's the one good thing I can do for Hudson.

  10. I am weeping for you. I am so, so sorry.

  11. Today, I found your blog through another that I follow. I've read every single entry. There's alot of tissues sitting next to my laptop right now. Now I don't feel so bad about getting a little crazy about watching fever temps any time one of my kids get sick.

    I can't fully imagine how you felt during your time in the hospital, or the days and weeks following. You are so brave, and strong. It's amazing that you continue the lesson of One Good Thing with yourself. I wish you peace, comfort, and smiles with the memories you have and the life you will.