Monday, August 16, 2010

Ambulances and Anguish

We live about three blocks from a major hospital here in DC. As a result, ambulances and fire trucks speed down the street pretty regularly. When Hudson was alive, she had bat-like ears—she could hear an ambulance WAY up the street, definitely before I heard it, and say, “Am-lance!” Sometimes we’d go open the door and watch it race by. This happened so often that it became routine. I did not think much about why ambulances exist or the fact that it might be sad that so many pass by our house every day. I did not think about ambulances much at all, except when my little girl would say the word that sounded so smart and so precious to me.

That is, until she died. Now, when I see ambulances, I think about how paramedics so often see people at their worst moments. The very sick or the critically injured, and maybe their loved ones, possibly in a fight for life right there in that little truck racing down the street, sirens blaring. And then I think about how angry I get sometimes that we never got to fight for Hudson’s life that way. It was over almost before the battle even began. We never even got a chance to fight for her.

But yesterday, I read about another family in their worst moment. The parents of a one-year-old little boy in Northern Virginia just got the news that their son’s cancer had spread and that there was no further treatment they could pursue. The entry on their blog said that they were watching him sleep for possibly the last time. (When I read that, I got my first real sense of what it must have been like for all of our friends and family when they read my Facebook post from the morning of May 13 announcing that Hudson would be declared brain dead that night—I can’t even describe how it felt to be an onlooker in that situation, even after I’ve been on the other side). There were pictures of this sweet, precious boy in a hospital room, roped up and tubed up and hooked up to every kind of machine possible, eyes sunken, head bandaged from brain surgery, but still fully conscious, smiling and interacting with his mommy and daddy. I could not read past the first page.

For that instant, I felt bizarrely blessed that Hudson’s illness was quick. Part of me feels awful even saying this, for fear it will be misunderstood. If we’d had the chance, we would have fought tooth and nail to keep our girl here with us, no matter what it took. But if the outcome would ultimately be the same, if we had no chance of fighting for her other than the small 12-14 hour window during which the antibiotics might have worked and during which they gave her drugs to try to reduce the swelling in her brain, then I am grateful that it was not prolonged. As inconsolable as I remain every single day that our precious Hudson died, I cannot even fathom the pain of those parents, who have had to watch their little boy endure the unimaginable for 6 months—major surgeries and presumably chemotherapy and radiation (I couldn’t read any further to see). Especially when that sweet little soul could not understand why he had to suffer so much. Especially when they fought so hard for him, only for the outcome to be the same. I think about how horrible it feels to remember Hudson reaching for me and me being unable to scoop her up and hold her close because she was all wired up, how awful it is to wonder now whether she was in any pain before they sedated her (with the infection and swelling in her brain, she must have had at the least a very severe headache, and I don’t think they were giving her anything for pain). And I take that feeling and multiply it by a million. And that’s what I imagine that little boy’s parents must feel every day.

So today, in spite of my unending heartbreak over the loss of my little girl, I thought about that little boy, and his mommy and daddy, and felt fortunate, if that is possible in these terrible situations, that my Hudson did not suffer long, if she suffered at all. My heart just aches for that family. I imagine that the only thing worse than watching your child die right in front of you is watching your child endure that kind of suffering. I guess I just feel lucky (somehow?) that we did not have to do both.


  1. ...and that is one good thing.


  2. Mandy, I know what it's like to be in the little truck with the flashing lights & sirens, trying to take care of someone who is sick or hurt.

    I was a volunteer EMT for about five years in the mid to late 80s. I saw a fair amount of suffering, some of it profound. I was able to help relieve at least some of it (thank God) but there's an endless supply of suffering in the world, and sometimes all you can do is bear witness.

    The absence of suffering, or brief suffering, are blessings indeed, if getting better isn't an alternative.

    (I don't think that I can do anything to ease your suffering, but I know that I can bear witness. I'm here, reading.)

  3. Mandy,

    I am so sorry if I caused you an ounce of extra sadness with a post about this family. I have kept up with them since April with his struggle. (Friends of friends but his birthday is the day before Teddy's so I felt a strange anonymous kinship.) I understand everything you said about the prolonged struggle and I feel like the pain of thinking you beat the cancer to see this come back and get this diagnosis is just too much to bear. I am in constant awe of you and this family and the strength it must take. I posted on my FB for prayers because I feel like it must take a lot of strength and courage to endure this kind of heartache. I hope that the kindness and love of strangers can even help assuage that heartache.
    I am praying for you and for this family and hoping and praying for all the comfort for you all.

  4. You and Ed remain in my thoughts and prayers. Keep writing. Hudson's light shines on.

  5. Mandy,
    I too live a block away from the fire station. When we first moved I wondered if we'd made the right decision. Would the sound of sirens be so frequent as to be a nuisance? Little did I know, that the sirens would literally become my siren call. In the first year after Jordan died, every time I heard them I put my hands over my ears and thought, "This is what it sounded like the night Jordan died." With time I've become less jumpy and anxious when I hear them.

    The only real comfort Mark and I got after hearing of Jordan's death was that he didn't suffer. He was asleep during the car accident and was never in any pain. Like you I count that as a blessing. I struggle though with the reality that in his final moments he was hundreds of miles away and I didn't get to hold him or say goodbye.

    I feel all of us who have lost children have blessings and regrets. Communicating with each other certainly lets me know I'm not alone.

    Be good to yourself.


  6. Mandy,
    If there is anything at all that can bring you comfort, then it is One Good Thing. As you say, if she was not going to recover, then the brevity of the illness is a relief. I feel for you and your family and friends every single day during your struggle to put one foot in front of the other.

  7. Mandy, this post really hit home.

    I often comfort myself with the alternative scenario that Veronica does in fact get diagnosed before death, has surgery and all that entails, and still dies. If the end result was going to be death anyway, I am happy she never suffered and is at peace.

    And yes, when you think you have it bad, there's always someone who has it worse. Not necessarily comforting, but a reminder that the human spirit is strong and can survive even the greatest of tragedies.

    Hang in there.

  8. Sending love, prayers, positive thoughts and hugs to you and Ed. I love you.

  9. Hi Mandy,

    I have never posted here but I started reading your blog several weeks ago after your post about your sweet Hudson on another site. I don't really have anything to say, I truly cannot imagine the anguish that you and Ed face every day. Hudson was a remarkable little girl and it is a true injustice that she was taken from you. Through your writing I can feel the true and undying love that you and Ed had for her, and that makes it all the more heartbreaking. It sucks, big time.

    I have always clung to the fact that my son did not suffer at the end of his life and I believe that Hudson did not suffer either. Whatever comfort you recieve from that, you should hold close and never let go. There are so few things to draw comfort from in a situation like this.

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I am here reading and am sending you guys my most positive thoughts and prayers during this horrible, horrible time.


  10. I also live very close to the hospital and I also did not give much consideration to the ambulances (or even the occasional air ambulance) that whizzed past our house. Now I can't bear to think about them too much, what might be unfolding inside.

    My heart breaks for the family you mention here. I cannot fathom this life at times. Your description of Hudson reaching for you has me in tears.

  11. I am glad that there is the smallest of consolations in the tragedy of Hudson's death. I'm so, so, sorry that any family has to live through this.