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Worst of times an eye-opener

Jul 15, 2014 11:30 am | By Janani Whitfield | St. Paul Journal

It was the worst three weeks of my life, but in some ways, it was the most important, life-shaping and eye-opening three weeks as well. And since it was all those things, how could I wish it had never happened?

Some of you may have already read as I blogged about the three weeks I recently spent at the Stollery Childrenís Hospital with my child.

It all started when my 16-month-old got the croup. Croup is common enough in kids, but in my daughterís case, the swelling in her already small airway made it nearly impossible for her to breathe. I took her to the local hospital, but after a long night, her condition deteriorated; every time she would push the treatment away, her oxygen levels would drop and her skin and lips took on a pale, bloodless colour.

Even when she was flown to the Stollery Childrenís Hospital, I naively believed this was just a precaution. Surely she couldnít be that sick? Instead, that afternoon, I woke into what felt like a never-ending nightmare, as her breathing didnít recover on its own and the doctor told me she would have to be intubated and sent to pediatric intensive care.

My world crashed around me, the walls of invincibility tumbling down. When they finally managed to get a tiny breathing tube down her throat after several failed attempts, I couldnít believe the sight of my ordinarily feisty, independent girl, sedated into motionless sleep and surrounded by lines and tubes to keep her alive.

Over the next few weeks, we went through a rollercoaster of emotions, from optimism and hope to despair and anger when complications would occur, whether it was a surgery, a spiking fever from infections, or an erratic heartbeat. In that time, I prayed for strength to get through it if I were to lose her, knowing that tragedy can strike anyone, that loss happens, that I was not exempt from the pains that others know.

But my daughter fought her way back to the point where the doctors could pull the tube out of her throat. She still had to work painfully hard to breathe, but over time, I could see signs of my girl returning to me Ė her reaching out to grab my hand through the haze of sedatives; her humming along while her dad played the guitar to her, or her raspy giggle while watching Dora the Explorer.

In the midst of all the madness, the kindness and support of people was like a life preserver for me. The compassion of our doctors and nurses helped me feel as if I could find my feet rather than drown in fear. Friends and strangers alike messaged me to say they were thinking of us, or tell me about their own struggles with their childrenís health, and I would remember I was not alone.

In fact, strange as it may seem, our hospital stay made me feel blessed since in that time, I saw so many people who each had their burden to bear and so many people suffering with loss.

I felt so lucky I could bring my girl home at the end of this three weeks, and hug her small, wiry body free from any tubes and that she could come home to walk, talk and breathe the summer air. We also knew how lucky we were to live in a country where we had first class, free medical health care, where, in other places, our baby could have easily died.

Moreover, I felt blessed to come home to St. Paul, a place where we were wished so well. When my neighbour told us she and some friends had pitched in to get a gift for Priya, I was expecting something like a nice big teddy bear. Instead, my jaw dropped as they brought over a swing set, and I was reduced to tears all over again (this time, thankfully, for a happy reason). Never in a hundred years could we begin to express how grateful we were for such a thoughtful gesture, or for all the messages of support and offers of help we received in that difficult time.

This evening, I sit on the backyard stoop and watch the dust motes catch the setting sun. As I listen to the children laugh and play on their new swing set, my heart is full. I donít know what tomorrow brings. I donít know if we can count anything as sure or the ground under us will always be steady, but I know there is no time like now to appreciate each moment, the blessings, the beauty and simple pleasures of this fragile and fleeting life.

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