***Continued from May 31, 2019***
***Content warning: This blog post discusses a child death that I investigated several years ago. To continue reading, scroll down.***
Concerned my daughter had a serious head injury and plagued by images of the nine-year-old girl who died from a brain bleed, I picked up the phone and called 9-1-1.
“I’m sorry, but the phone you are using does not accept emergency calls. Please use a different phone.”
Not at all what I wanted to hear.
Our landline is a Voice over Internet Phone. We’re using a Google voice phone number. My husband knew that when he set up this phone number, it wasn’t compatible with 9-1-1. But we have three kids, so in the event of an emergency, he knew we needed to be able to call 9-1-1 from any phone in our house. He connected our phone number to a paid service that routes the call to 9-1-1. This was a very bad time to find out that the service we’d been paying for didn’t work. And because I’m not glued to my cell phone, I had to send my seven-year-old upstairs to get it.
He found it quickly and brought it to me. This time when I dialed 9-1-1, the call went through.
The dispatcher asked me a series of questions:
- Did she loose consciousness? —No.
- Is she sleepy —Yes.
- Does she appear to be in pain? —I can’t be sure but she’s holding the back of her neck with her hands. (The problem with this was that she normally sleeps with her hands clasped around the back of her neck and she often will do this when she’s tired. But it was too early for her to be tired. So the fact that she was doing this under this set of circumstances was alarming to me.)
- Did she vomit? —No.
Both the fire department and the EMS were dispatched to our house. The fire department arrived first, asking me the same set of questions over again plus a few extra questions. Their presence frightened the baby and when they tried to examine her to assess her condition, she wouldn’t cooperate.
“Well, there’s good news,” one of the firefighters said. “She won’t cooperate with us. The cases that scare us the most are the ones where small children don’t fight us. On the other hand,” he said, “because she’s fighting us we can’t complete the exam which means we can’t determine how seriously she might be injured. BUT. Her pupils are both the same size. Just listening to her breath sounds we can tell that she’s breathing at a normal rate. Often if kids are injured, their breath sounds are at a much higher rate.”
The ambulance arrived a few minutes later. The medics asked the same series of questions and were also unable to perform a complete exam because the baby fought them.
“The only way to know for sure is to take her to the hospital,” the medic said. “And we’re more than happy to take her.”
“Can my son ride with us in the ambulance?”
The medic shook his head. “Unfortunately no.” That meant I would have to drive with my son in the minivan, following behind the ambulance. The medic took the baby from me and the baby immediately started to cry. “It might be a whole lot less stressful if you take her to the hospital,” the medic said.
“Is it okay to do that?” Ambulance rides mean that the baby is given first priority in the emergency room. There’s little-to-no waiting for treatment. “I’m happy to take her but I’m worried about a neck or spinal injury.”
“She’s able to move her head to the right and left. She doesn’t have any apparent symptoms of a neck or spinal injury, it’ll be fine for you to take her. If anything happens during the car ride over that makes you nervous. If she starts vomiting or something of that nature, pull over and call 9-1-1.” He told me once again that he was willing to take her in the ambulance but that it would be a whole lot less stressful on her if I drove her myself.
I opted to take her.
I thanked the fire department and the medics for responding so quickly. As they left, the baby seemed to perk up. She began to chit-chat. I sat there and debated as to whether or not I even needed to take her. If she presented with signs of a serious injury, the medics would’ve taken her. There wouldn’t have been a discussion. They would’ve placed her inside of the ambulance and I would’ve been instructed to drive behind the ambulance. But then, images of that nine-year-old girl flashed through my head again. Her mother did everything she knew to do for that child. She loved that child with all of her heart. And even though she did everything she knew to do, it still wasn’t enough.
I put my son and the baby in the car and we left for the hospital.
When we arrived at the emergency room, there was no one in the waiting room.
Two different doctor’s examined the baby. Dr. A – the first doctor – asked me all the same questions that the dispatcher, fire department, and EMS all asked me.
- Did she loose consciousness? —No.
- Is she sleepy —Yes.
- Does she appear to be in pain? —I can’t be sure but she’s holding the back of her neck with her hands.
- Did she vomit? —No.
Examining the baby was a bit of trick but this doctor spent a lot of time observing her while she watched videos on my iPad. He listened to her sing the ABCs. And she attempted to engage him in a baby-babble conversation. All excellent signs. Dr. A. felt that the baby did not meet the diagnostic criteria for a CT-scan. We discussed her drowsiness and I explained to him that she is going through a growth spurt and that whenever any of my kids go through growth spurts, sometimes they need an earlier nap. “If she hadn’t fallen I would’ve put her down for an early nap.”
“You were right to bring her in,” the doctor said. “Babies are masters at hiding injuries and the only way we can know for sure is if we examine them.”
Hearing that made me feel better about bringing her in.
“What I’d like to do,” he continued, “Is have you wait here with her. I’ll come back in a little while and examine her a second time to be sure everything is okay. Do you have any snack food for her?”
“Yes.” I dumped two handfuls of applesauce packets and packets of crackers into the diaper bag before leaving. I wasn’t sure how long we were going to be at the hospital and I wanted to make sure that both my son and daughter had something to eat.
“Go ahead and give her something to eat. If she starts vomiting, please let a nurse know right away.”
An hour later, a new doctor, Dr B., came into the room. Dr. B examined the baby and asked the same questions that Dr. A. asked. I told Dr. B. once again that immediately after she fell, she became sleepy. Under normal circumstances I would’ve put her down for a nap but because she fell, I was concerned there was something more serious going on.”
“You could’ve put her down for a nap,” Dr B. said as he washed his hands.
I looked at him, confused.
“Babies often experience drowsiness after they fall,” he said. “It’s nothing to be alarmed about. You could’ve put her down for a nap and she would’ve been just fine. Also, 20% of the cases we see experience vomiting. It’s no big deal.”
No big deal?
Everyone I spoke to this day: the dispatcher, firefighters, EMS, triage nurse, and DR. A, all asked the same questions. And every question included nausea/vomiting and drowsiness. And here’s Dr B., telling me that I overreacted and I could’ve put the baby down for a nap. Maybe he’s right. I’m not a doctor. I don’t know these things. And yet, it’s because I’m not a doctor that I was at the hospital with my baby. Dr. B. didn’t know I used to be death investigator. He didn’t know I had images of beautiful nine-year-old who died after suffering an accident at school stuck on replay in my head. Dr. B might be an excellent doctor and yet, I don’t think he should be allowed to talk to people. Ever.
“You can take her home now,” Dr. B. said. “But just in case we missed a brain bleed don’t give her any Ibuprofen.”
Just in case they missed a brain bleed?
The good news is, the baby is just fine. I brought her home and let her run loose for a little bit before putting her down for a nap. And while I feel blessed that my child wasn’t seriously injured, the death investigation of the nine-year-old girl who died from a brain injury will probably haunt me until the day I die.
That’s all for now. I’ll see you next week!