For some, this post may be a little too much information about a depressing time in my life. For me, it’s a very important time and something that’s therapeutic to write about. Read at your own risk.
Today is the 1-year anniversary of the longest day of my life. It was supposed to be the first day of the rest of my life, and it was, but not in the same way I had thought.
I had been living in a hotel for the past week, having recently started my new job. And on June 4th, 2011 my wife and kids were flying in to meet up with me in our new city. It was an exciting time, the beginning of our new downsized life in a beautiful city sitting in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains. As I saw it, life couldn’t get much better. I felt I had finally understood everything, I knew what I wanted, and everything was in my control. But then, without warning, it wasn’t.
My wife and kids flew in around noon. We had some lunch, played in the hotel pool, then drove by our new house to show it to our kids for the first time. Then we drove to a park near our new house, where we figured we’d be spending many days over the next few years. It was a sunny but cool afternoon, and it was pure bliss having only recently exited the hot humid summer climate of central Texas. Both kids were having a blast, excited about all the new experiences. I was over by the swings with my son, and my wife was on the other side of the playground with my daughter.
I was pushing my son on the swings and joking around with him. But then I looked up, and I saw a look of panic in my wife’s eyes. She told me something was wrong with our daughter, and to come right away. I could see in her body language this was serious, so I grabbed my son and ran over to my daughter. Her body was limp, her eyes staring through me, and she was gasping for air. We ran to the car, asking a stranger how to get to the nearest hospital. My daughter sat in my wife’s lap as I rode recklessly to the hospital, and as we approached the emergency room entrance my daughter’s eyes had rolled to the back of her head. My wife and I both remained calm up to the point when the doctors took over, then I’m pretty sure we both broke down in fear amongst the chaos of the emergency room.
Minutes seemed like hours, but after a short while the doctors said they thought she was having a seizure. Unfortunately, they couldn’t seem to control it so they gave her heavy sedatives that required her to be put on a breathing tube. Additionally, they didn’t feel confident that they had the pediatric expertise to treat her, so they would need to fly her by helicopter to Denver. My wife would fly with her, but I would need to drive. Fortunately my in-laws were with us, so my mother-in-law could stay with my son and my father-in-law could drive me since I was in no position to be driving.
The next hour was the longest, most gut-wrenching time of my life. My 16-month old daughter was unconscious and not breathing on her own, my wife was unable to update me by phone while in flight, and I would just need to give up all control and sit and wait while we sped up to Denver. I don’t remember many of my thoughts during that drive, but I remember one very clear thought:
I would give up everything I had to have my daughter back in my hands, smiling and laughing as she had been doing just a few hours ago. Without flinching I’d give up all my money, all my possessions, my job, my house, everything.
This concept may seem obvious to many people, but for me it was the first time I ever thought that way. I had never really faced such a tragedy, and in retrospect I know now how it changed me for the better. Although I had shunned the consumerist lifestyle for something simpler, it wasn’t until this time that I became aware of how worthless all the FI-enabling money truly was compared to the important things in my life.
That night in Denver, I didn’t sleep. I sat with my daughter in the PICU, staring at her vitals on the monitor – almost trying to control her heart rate with my mind. The next day, as the meds started to wear off, she would be tested for the first time to see if her seizures were over and whether she could breathe on her own. Since no one knew exactly what had happened, we still had no clue what damage had been done. So i just sat there next to her all day, talking to her, convinced she could hear me.
Finally, as the meds wore off and she showed the ability to breathe on her own, the doctors said they would be taking out her breathing tube. By this point she was moving her body a little, and she was occasionally opening her eyes – all positive signs. When they pulled out her breathing tube, she woke up fully, screamed a terrible hoarse cry for a few minutes, then went back to sleep. The doctors said it was a typical response, and her progress was a positive sign.
Over the next few hours, she would occasionally wake up crying, then go back to sleep. When she finally woke up enough to be conscious, I still remember her first word: “Dadoo.” (That’s what she called me back then). Of course, it was probably just because I was the first person she saw, but I like to think it was more. I like to think that she knew I would be a new and better dad from now on. Not just a financial provider and occasionally fun guy – but a really loving dad that would always be there for her unconditionally.
Over the next 2 days, I watched my daughter grow so much. In 48 hours, she grew from a belligerent baby that couldn’t hold her own head up, to a clumsy little toddler as if walking for the first time, and finally to the fun little girl I remembered. In a way, it was a blessing to get to see her grow up again in fast forward.
Today, my daughter is the prettiest little 2-year old girl, and by all accounts appears to be both happy and healthy. My wife and I have the unfortunate burden of always living with a little fear that it could happen again, but we’re hopeful that she’s grown out of whatever it was that caused the seizures (she did have a second seizure 8 weeks after the first, but none since). And in a very strange and reluctant way, I’m thankful that my daughter taught me the sobering and humbling lesson that I can never be in complete control. Instead, I will just do my best to be a great dad, husband, and person – and hope for the best.
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