Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Stepping Back From The Brink

This morning at work, I surfed over to the website for one of our news channels in the Triangle, just to see what was going on at home. I scrolled down the page glancing at headlines until my eyes stopped dead at this one: “Duke Medicine: When to take your child to the emergency department.” Before I could even stop myself, I clicked on the link, even as I was telling myself not to. Still looking for absolution. From a website. Idiot.

Under the section titled “Fever,” this is what it said:


While the vast majority of children who have a fever do not have a dangerous illness, fever may be a marker of a serious infection such as meningitis, pneumonia or urinary tract infection. Children with fever are often tired, much less active, and less interested in eating and drinking.

Giving your child weight-appropriate doses of acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin; do not use if your child is less than six months old) may make your child feel better and more interested in eating and drinking.

You should bring your child to the ED for evaluation if your child:

• Is three months old or younger and has a rectal temperature of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher
• Has a stiff neck
• Is dehydrated (mouth is dry, no wet diapers in 18 hours, eyes sunken, soft spot sunken)
• Has a condition which makes him more susceptible to infections (for example, receiving chemotherapy, sickle cell anemia, on daily oral steroids, or has a central line in place)

Call 911 immediately if your child has a fever and:

• Is difficult to arouse
• Has difficulty breathing
• Has a seizure

A few things jumped out at me. First, Hudson fit in none of the categories under “bring your child to the ED if…”  So that was good.  Second was the “children with fever are often tired, much less active, and less interested in eating or drinking.” OK, great. All good there. This is exactly how I interpreted Hudson’s signs and symptoms at 4AM. She was fighting off a nasty fever and so was very tired and obviously less active, given that it was also 4AM. Not once did I interpret her demeanor as lethargy or “excessive” sleepiness. She seemed the right amount of sleepy given the circumstances.

But then I went down to “Call 911 immediately if your child has a fever and is difficult to arouse.” Had she been difficult to arouse? Did I so badly misinterpret her slumping against me as I put her in the cool bath? Was that more than her just being really worn out? After all, she’d been just fine the night before, and even just a few hours ago, when she’d been chatty in our bed after a dose of Tylenol.

And yet. And yet. And before I knew it, it all came rushing back. My grand idea that a 4AM trip to the ER would have magically saved her life. Before I knew it, I was crying. Again. In my office. Again. Begging someone or something to let me go back and do it over.

And then I took a breath. Through my tears, I went back to my first post about this. I didn’t read the post again. Who needs to? Every single memory and emotion is burned into my mind forever. No, I went straight to the comments. And read them all. Read some of them twice. And nodded. Especially at the comments (and a separate Facebook message from a friend) that reminded me that Hudson’s pediatrician examined her fully at 8AM and did not send us to the ER, so how could I possibly have known that she needed to go to the ER at 4AM? Then I sat and thought about the fact that Hudson was NOT unresponsive, either at 4AM or at 8AM. In fact, when we left the doctor’s office at 8AM, she both waved and said, “Bye bye” when I prompted her to. She had NOT been difficult to arouse at 4AM—in fact, it was her crying in the bed that woke ME up, not the other way around.

I was talking out loud to myself in the office at this point, talking myself down from that most terrible of ledges.

And it worked. It actually worked. Rather than letting the grief take me over the ledge like it so often does, I was able to hang on and pull myself back up. Within about 10 minutes, I was OK again.

The only reason I was able to do that is because of the incredible people who continue to read and comment on this blog. As soon as my brain started heading down that road, it occurred to me to come read all those comments in hopes that I could pull myself back from the brink.  And thanks to you, I did. I am grateful every day for every person who reads here, who bears witness to this awful grief, and who comments when inspired to do so. But I have never been more grateful for you than I was this morning in my office.

Thank you.


  1. Mandy, if one of any of our words has helped you, I am so thankful for that!!!!!! My heart has ached for you and with you over the untenable situation life dumped on you. I have been amazed at your courage, and your bravery and honesty in walking through and talking about your grief. You likely have helped more people than you know, and Hudson's life has surely touched so many more. Blessings to you, brave girl, as you walk forward through this terrible valley. Soon a little hand will be holding yours, and she or he will help you come out the other side into the light of day. Because you have to, for that little person, for the ones to come, and most of all, for Hudson, that precious wonderful beautiful little girl who loves you just as much as you love her.

  2. I'm really glad this blog is helping, and I'm very grateful that you are allowing others to be a part of your grief and healing.

    Many hugs!


  3. Mandy,
    It was great to read this post today. I feel sad every time I read about your pain, and I cannot in any way know what you're going through. Every day I look at my young, tiny daughter, and I think of Hudson, you, and Ed. You are in my thoughts and prayers constantly.

    It is heartening to hear that your readers and their comments are helping you. While there may be times when we do not provide the comfort you may need, please know that we are here witnessing your grief and healing. We will continue to be here as long as you need us.

    Lisa S

  4. I've wanted to say this since your "On Writing" entry. I don't always comment, but I read. Every. Single. Post.

    I often feel like others express what I'm thinking much more eloquently than I would, or that I cannot match the poetry of your posts. Just know that for every comment you get urging you on, there are many more who are reading and quietly doing the same.

  5. So amazing that you resisted the urge to read the post, and were able to draw comfort from the comments.
    So many of us are here, pulling for you and Ed and baby pumpkin-to-be.
    Sending so much love,

  6. So sad that we are here for the reason that many of us are, yet so comforted to know all too well how much grace, love, and support comes from blogging.
    Thinking of you tonight Mandy- this post was full of love and gratitude.

  7. Mandy,
    You help us. We help you. Hudson helped us all. So it goes. And so it should go. We are, afterall, a community, and what is a community for if we do not, can not, help each other?

  8. You are a wonderful mother!

  9. So glad the blog is helpful. So glad you were able to step back from the brink. You're a wonderful mother -- and person.

    - Susan W.

  10. There is power in numbers, though it often starts with one brave person (like you). I, too, marvel at how you've kept your community by your side through this incredible grief, and how you have inspired so many others by doing so. I'm glad you found your tools, the reminders that you provide perspective, love, and a feeling of being held. Much love, friend.

  11. What Dana Miller said, exactly.

    I admire you so much, Mandy!

  12. Philip H. said is beautifully. You help us, we help you, and Hudson helped us all.

    We are friends...and that's what friends are for, dear girl. Here are some lyrics to express how so many of us feel:

    And I never thought I'd feel this way
    And as far as I'm concerned
    I'm glad I got the chance to say
    That I do believe I love you

    And if I should ever go away
    Well, then close your eyes and try to feel
    The way we do today
    And then if you can remember

    Keep smilin', keep shinin'
    Knowin' you can always count on me, for sure
    That's what friends are for
    For good times and bad times
    I'll be on your side forever more
    That's what friends are for

    Well, you came and opened me
    And now there's so much more I see
    And so by the way I thank you

    Whoa, and then for the times when we're apart
    Well, then close your eyes and know
    These words are comin' from my heart
    And then if you can remember, oh

    Keep smiling, keep shining
    Knowing you can always count on me, for sure
    That's what friends are for
    In good times, in bad times
    I'll be on your side forever more
    Oh, that's what friends are for


  13. Mandy, I want to echo what Dana and Andrea said--I rarely comment because I can't ever think of anything to say that I think would be helpful to you. But I read every post, and check often for new posts. And when you don't write, I am hopeful that you skipped a day because you had a good day and didn't need to write. You ARE a wonderful mother--the kind I hope to be.

    Allyson Lawless

  14. I want to add to the chorus:

    You did everything (and more) that a reasonable parent would have done in your shoes.

    I am so glad you are coming to see that you hold absolutely no blame for her rare and tragic illness.

  15. Wonderful, Mandy. So glad that your readers were able to help you and that you have this permanent record to return to when guilt surfaces. Hugs to you. (BTW, TOTALLY get the internet search for absolution...God, if I had a penny...my therapist has advised me to stay off the internet for the sake of my sanity.) Olivia

  16. Ah girl...the beauty of human connection. We have some things in common, others different. But I read your blog for the same reason that you came back to read your comments. And sometimes it works and I feel ready to take another step. And sometimes it works and I still feel terrible, but I don't feel alone. Keep it all coming. The connection is a blessing.

  17. Hudson's death was really a tragic accident. It was unpredictable, and there was nothing you could have done to stop it. I am so sorry that you are haunted by thoughts that tell you it was ever otherwise.

  18. Wow. Just wow.

    I often don't comment because all I can think of to write is "I'm so sorry" and "My heart is breaking for you." And I am and it is, but it doesn't seem adequate in the face of your grief and, also, your considerable eloquence in expressing it.

    But what a wonderful thing to have something actual, tangible to hang onto in dark moments. You can't always call a friend and rarely do we write the things they say down to help us through when we can't talk to them. But right here, you have that. That's amazing and wonderful.

  19. Again and again and again I think about YOU-- how you, just being you, is what helped to build this support network around you. I know there have been times when you felt weak these last months-- but the fact that even in your doubt and agony, you were able over and over to reach out to others, not to turn inside, to show us HOW we can help-- even if it's just a few words of distant support on a blog. You are still that person, despite all the changes you feel, and you will still be able to be that mother to another child. A very, very lucky child.

    I admit my heart went to my throat when I saw the first paragraphs of this. I was so afraid that you had seen something that made you doubt your efforts and abilities as a mom. I thought immediately "please don't let Mandy have been hurt like that again." And I felt such relief when I saw that the words you read reaffirmed that you did everything right.

    You are so much stronger than you know, Mandy. Hang in there-- so many people love and care for you and Ed so much.

  20. I couldn't have said it any better than Dana Miller did. I bear witness to your grief, your story, and this new life within you. I am always here, reading every single post.
    Sending love and light your and Ed's way.

  21. This is one of those times when I have read your post, and the comments following it, and might just think to myself, "Well, everybody else has said what I would say." Dana hit that one on the head!! But I am so happy to know that you read our comments, and that they have been able to bring some solace to you...that, my friend, is what we are here for ~ rooting you on, cheering your good days (or moments!), crying with you, supporting you, and listening...always listening.

    Even though I'm quite certain that if I had been in your shoes, I would have done NOTHING differently at 4am that day, my heart still sank when you started talking about this article you read... Even though the resounding echo on this blog seems to be that nothing seemed out of the ordinary, just a really stubborn fever and a really worn-out little girl... Even though you went above and beyond in your efforts to comfort and heal your daughter... Still, my first thought was "Oh please don't find some damning piece of information to cast doubts in her mind." But from the snippet of the article that you posted here, I can now hope that it just reaffirms what we have all been saying to you...and hopefully that little voice in your head will switch from "I should have..." to "I did."

    It doesn't change anything, but you DID do everything right, Mandy...and you still are.

  22. "When we honestly ask which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement . . . makes it clear that whatever happens in the external world, being present to each other is what really matters." -- Henri J.M. Nouwen

  23. My best friend once gave me a card with the quote above written in it for things I helped her get through. I love it.

    I am so glad that comments from we sometimes anonymous internet strangers helped you get back from the brink. I don't know you, but I read every post. My heart breaks for you with each one. You really did everything right. If you could have known that Hudson's condition was so serious (which you couldn't have), you would have taken her directly to the ER. You love your girl, that is beyond obvious. I wish you peace of mind that you protected your baby as best you could. That is all any mother can do. Your child-to-be is so lucky to have such a wonderful Mom. Thank you for sharing so much of your personal life with all of us. We are all cheering you on.