Monday, January 25, 2016

The Phone Call Every Parent Dreads

"Mrs. Denton? This is Jason from the emergency response unit in Forest Lakes. The helicopter will be landing at Phoenix Children's Hospital around 4 pm. You know where that is?"
I watched the helicopter approach the hospital, knowing that it carried my Lily Jane.

Late Saturday morning, Lily was sledding with her girlfriends, laughing, getting cold, and having fun. She and another friend rode a tube down the hill. There's video of the run--nothing out of the ordinary as they bump down the track. As the girls hit one bump, Lily's head somehow got underneath her friend, and when they hit a jump at the end, Lily was thrown and twisted.

For a few minutes, she couldn't get up. She couldn't move. Luckily, an ER doctor was on the hill and evaluated her at the scene. She could move all of her limbs and she walked back to the car on her own. The group returned to her friend's cabin, where Lily climbed the stairs by herself and promptly crawled into bed. I started getting texts and calls from her friend's mom, asking me what I thought should be done.

It's so hard to be hours away from your child when they're hurt. Since I couldn't quite understand exactly what happened, I thought Lily would be fine until they could make it home later than afternoon. I talked to Lily for a few minutes, and although she was crying and scared and hurt, I didn't worry too much about it. I called our neighbor, a sports medicine doctor, and asked his opinion, and he agreed with me.

But something still nagged at me that wasn't quite right, and it nagged at her mom's friend, too.

I sent a few texts and tried to call Lily about 30 minutes later, but she didn't answer. I called the mom's cell, and she agreed that something wasn't right. The Forest Lakes Fire Department was on their way to evaluate her. I told her I was concerned that Lily wasn't answering the phone (fearing concussion), and when the girls walked into the bedroom, Lily had a hard time waking up. I was on the line at that moment. Daughter not responsive with the EMTs knocking at the door. I could hear everything that was happening.

And I could do nothing.

I listened as they evaluated her--she could not determine which of her toes they were touching. I listened as she cried not to be separated from her friends. I listened as she begged them not to start an IV or strap her to the body board. I listened as they described what was about to happen. Then, they were talking to me.

"Mrs. Denton, because of the type of injury, level of pain, and inconsistent responses in her limbs, we feel it best to get her to the Valley as quickly as possible. After transporting her by ambulance to an open site, she will be life flighted to Phoenix. When she is on board the helicopter, we will call you with an estimated arrival time."

Was this happening? I could barely process. I alternately paced the house looking for something to do and dropping to my knees in prayer. All scenarios played out in my mind. All of them. I called family, texted a few others, and answered calls from her friends still on the mountain. I called our doctor back. "Talk me down, Chuck. Tell me what they're thinking and doing with my girl."

And then I got in the Suburban and drove to Phoenix. Again and again my mind bounced from hope to prayer to worry to fear.

I got off the freeway at 3rd St, turned right and headed toward the hospital. Immediately something in my brain said, "This isn't right," but I couldn't figure out what it was. In my state of shock, I had driven to St. Joe's, not PCH. I pounded the steering wheel and shouted at my phone, "TAKE ME TO PHOENIX CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL," like it was the phone's fault I wasn't there yet.

Minutes later, I was stopped by the parking security guard. "Would you please move your vehicle? You're blocking traffic." I tried to be calm, my rage at going to the wrong hospital gone. "My daughter is being life flighted here. Where do I go?" His demeanor, while kind before, changed quickly. He gave me directions where to park and who to find when I got inside.

People were everywhere, each consumed with their own crises. Which kids were injured? Which were sick? Which were . . . I couldn't go there. They led me quickly through a maze of hallways, gurneys, and brightly colored artwork to the ER waiting room, where they introduced me to the security guard. "Are you here for the 15-year-old female or the 15-year-old male?" They were waiting for two flights, both spinal injuries and both from time spent in the snow. He quickly checked his notes and said Lily's helicopter should be landing any minute. I got outside just in time to watch it approach, then he guided me through the ambulance door to wait for her.

I don't know how long I waited there. It seemed like twenty minutes, but I'm sure it was less than ten. The doctors, nurses, and staff were gowned, gloved, masked, and ready, and I felt like an extra on a TV set, waiting for the doors to burst open.

And it was just like TV.
They instructed me to stay behind the gray line. She was crying and scared, and every muscle in my body ached to run to her bedside, hold her hand, and tell her it would be ok. Instead, I did as instructed--a silent, afraid, tearful witness to the drama unfolding.

I watched as they first removed her precious blanket, the one that she carried all through India and Pakistan this summer, the one she rarely shares with her siblings, and even more rarely leaves her side when sleeping. They carefully but quickly unstrapped her from the body board and the doctor called for shears. I watched as they cut her clothes off and covered her with a blanket. I watched as they touched her hands and feet and listened for her responses. Occasionally I would call from my place behind the gray line--"It's ok, Jane. I'm here. I'm right here. It's going to be ok."

After a few X rays and a CAT scan, she was wheeled through the screaming babies and bandaged kids to her room to wait for the test results.
I have to tell you, I've been in a lot of emergency rooms over my 25 years of mothering. And this one is the best of the best. Maybe it changes the level of care you receive when you arrive on a helicopter, but the staff at PCH is amazing--above and beyond what I've seen in other places. Not only was her care superior, the time we waited between tests and results was remarkably short. She landed at PCH just after 4 pm, and by 6 the PNP had reevaluated her and explained the results. The scans were normal. No injury visible. She has a pretty good case of whiplash and will need to spend a few weeks wearing this new necklace . . .
. . . but she was lucky. After I took a quick trip to get her SOMETHING to wear (she didn't even have shoes with her), we were home before 8 pm.
It's been almost 48 hours since that fateful phone call. I am so thankful. I know how different the outcome could have been. I am so grateful for the thoughts and prayers sent out through all of this.

As I was writing this post, I received a phone call from the Apache County dispatch officer who was present when Lily was placed in the ambulance. I know he was doing his job and completing required paperwork. His phone call, however, was so kind. He described what he saw and why decisions were made that afternoon. And his final words to me? "Please tell Lily that there are a lot of people up here who were worried about her and are glad to hear she's going to be ok."


  1. Long time reader, but don't comment very often. I'm so grateful Lily is okay! Stay strong, and take care of yourself. You have been through so much lately, and I pray you can have peace soon. You seem to be in the refiner's fire right now....but you'll come out stronger. Praying for you and your family.

  2. Oh, I'm so happy. I've been there and it's heart stopping for a parent. I'm glad she's ok :)

  3. So happy to hear that your daughter is not seriously injured. I can't even imagine what you went through. Sending good thoughts your way.

  4. Oh my goodness, I am soooooo sorry! I can only imagine how scary the past 48 hours were for you. Praise God she is okay and for amazing doctors and nurses and people who care. <3

  5. I'm so glad she is okay! I was so worried while reading your post and I kept hoping that she came out okay. It was a big relief seeing those pictures of her smiling in her hospital bed. I can't imagine the terror and fear you must've went through during this whole ordeal. Sending you and Lily many healing thoughts!

  6. What a story. I am so glad she is going to be okay.

  7. Oh my goodness!! After such a hard first semester for her, I'm so sorry...and so sad you're starting off this year like the last one ended, but SO glad she is ok. Whew.

  8. I am SO glad Lily is going to be okay. I can't even imagine how you must have felt and how you even drove yourself to the hospital. This was a hard post to moms I'm sure we all put ourselves into your shoes. Not even 15 minutes after I read your post yesterday, my son got a phone call to go sled riding with friends. Fortunately for me, he already has a broken foot and couldn't go. :)

  9. What a day - what a fright. I am so glad that your Lily will be alright. This was certainly the call that every mother dreads!

  10. So glad that all is well. Sheesh. Being a mom is no walk in the park some days.


  11. I'm pretty much positive that my husband and I watched her be lifted out. We were heading home from Snowflake, and were stopped on the road while the helicopter arrived. I remember praying and praying that whoever it was in that helicopter would be okay, and I'm so glad she is! What a crazy day.

  12. Oh my, Jen. You've experienced everything about now, hunh? I'm SO grateful for your happy ending...seriously, that was scary to read even. I spent many days/years at both PCH and St Joseph's...very dedicated healers at both, so glad Lily Jane was taken care of by the best. Hope her recovery has been quick!

  13. That is one wild story. Almost made me cry just thinking about what you were going through. I am so glad it turned out as it did and that she wasn't very seriously injured.