Some time in March, Kim and I spent an hour on the phone with a pediatrician. He was not Elena and Maggie’s doctor. He was the pediatrician that our school nurse took her children to. He had done some research into what could have happened and sat on the phone patiently answering every one of our questions. The science that he passed on was invaluable, but he did something even more important for us. Something we didn’t believe until much later. There are days we don’t believe it now.

At that time a lot of our questions were centered around what more could we have done to save our baby. Should we have brought her in earlier?

No. She would have been sent home.

Should we have seen some symptom that we hadn’t?

No. She was presenting like a child with the flu. In fact, that’s what any doctor would have seen it as.

Should we have …

And he stopped us. And then he said the oddest thing.

He said that there wasn’t any reason for what had happened. There wasn’t a real logical explanation. And in cases like that, parents would rather blame themselves than have no other explanation.

Kim and I looked at each other. We each held a phone in our hands not speaking. Just thinking. We both knew that Elena’s death was somehow our fault. It would be a while til we knew that it wasn’t.

Kim was sure that, no matter what any doctor said, that she had brought home the bacteria that had killed Elena from the hospital. That if she didn’t work at the hospital it wouldn’t have happened.

I was sure that if we’d called the ambulance immediately instead of minutes later that Elena would still be alive.

The pediatrician explained to Kim that no she hadn’t brought it home and that the bacteria is often present. It wasn’t its presence that had killed Elena. He explained to me that had she been in the hospital when she started turning blue she still would probably not have survived.

Not our fault. We both knew he was right. We both felt he was wrong. If it hadn’t been something we did, then what was it? Our job is to watch over our children and keep them safe. I had failed at that.

He was right about one thing. Blaming ourselves – never each other – was somehow natural.

Published in: on August 29, 2006 at 6:35 am  Comments (9)  

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The “what if’s” and second guessing is something that is hard to avoid, and really hard to take. It isn’t healthy. Blaming yourself only causes you far more pain than what you’ve already been through.

    I know. I went through much the same after my twin brother’s death at the hands of a drunk driver. In some ways, I also thought that there was more I could have done to save Gee from her cancer. But in either case, it wasn’t true.

    There is no way either you or Kim can be to blame. This is much like Gee’s cancer…something that happens, without reason or cause or explanation.

  2. It is good that you heard this.

    We seem to want to believe that we have control over all possible threats in our lives. If this were true, then we, by being dilligent, could prevent harm.

    You did what was right, and what was reasonable. It was out of your hands. You were good, loving, protective parents.

  3. Our family is thinking about yours today as we headed back to Boulevard School for another year of learning. I paused at Elena’s garden with my children and we spoke of how we miss her presence here in the school. We wanted you to know she is thought of so very often and missed so much. Your blog continues to make me a better Mom! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us all. Our best to Maggie as she begins another year in a new school. She and Elena will always be Boulevard kids!

  4. I ordered a bunch of tulip bulbs yesterday, pink ones to plant with my 4-year-old daughter, and I was thinking of you so much. Your post about the bulbs was a long time ago but it has stayed with me. Because of you I will cherish my daughter just a little more every day as we wait for those flowers to come up.

  5. Acceptance is so hard. I’ve had to live with people I love having mental illnesses. Nothing makes sense. You can even read about it and learn about it and it all still doesn’t make sense. You live in a world where things are supposed to happen for a reason. When they don’t, acceptance is that much harder.

    I wish you peace on your journey in dealing with this lost. Prayers, too.

  6. my son had his 18th birthday a few days ago. he graduated high school last may. he attained his Eagle Scout rank in Boy Scouts this summer. he began attending college this week. he has been hired to work at a local supermarket and begins his first job next week. so many accomplishments. so many life changing endings and beginnings in a few short months.

    what does it take to raise a child when you are a caring and loving parent? it takes devotion, diligence, attention, sacrifice, generosity, understanding… it takes the gift of one’s self.

    my son was one whose colds always seemed to escalate to fevers and bronchitis. other children in his pre-school and elementary school could go out in any weather with a thin t-shirt and shorts (we live in fl), and never seem to suffer more than sniffles. Not my son. One december when he was in 3rd grade, he went to bed on a friday night and suddenly had a runny nose. since he had mild allergies, i gave him triaminic and he went to sleep. the next morning i noticed he was breathing very shallowly. i gave him some more triaminic and told him to make an effort to breath deeply. i thought his nose was stuffy and that was why he was not breathing properly. it sounds so stupid now, to type that. he was on the couch watching tv and i called his pediatrician’s office. the receptionist told me his doctor would not be in until 2pm, but his partner was there. i had never had much confidence in this partner. i asked my son if he felt well enough to wait until 2pm or if he wanted to see the other dr. he didn’t seem distressed, but was still breathing in that shallow way. he said he preferred to see his own dr in the afternoon. i told the receptionist, and she asked me if i was sure, and i said yes. somehow i thought that my son might be affecting this shallow breathing. but when i brought him in to his dr in the afternoon, they found that his oxygen level was dangerously low, they worked on him for an hour trying to increase his blood oxygen level. finally his dr told me he was admitting him to hospital. i was devastated, i couldn’t believe that i had not realized how sick, how life-threatening his symptoms were. the dr came back to the office and told me tersely “mother, when the child can’t breathe, we don’t wait for his regular pediatrician’s office hours”. my son spent 3 days in hospital diagnosed with bronchiolitis under the care of a pediatric intensivist and i spent those days and nights by his side. i have never forgotten or forgiven myself and have never again been able to relax in regard to his health.

    i tell you this, not in comparison to Elena’s case, but to let you know that you must be kind to yourselves. We believe that we control our lives, but ultimately, ultimately control of our lives is external to our wills, and sometimes a grevious hurt may befall us, through no fault of our own, through no lack of devotion, diligence, attention, sacrifice, generosity, understanding… despite the gift of one’s self.

    peace be to you.


  7. My thoughts are with you and your family.
    You touch me so deeply everytime I read.
    Your writing is a beautiful tribute to your dear Elena.

  8. I’m sure it’s good to hear such thing, but can it ever take the self-incrimination away? Maybe. The fact that you loved Elena, and if not a fact by now – then what, shows you did what anyone of us would do without prior knowledge of unforeseen tragedy. You’re only guilty of doing what any perfectly reasonable person would have done. A fault? That you were reasonable. How does one deal with that? Heavily. But, you should do so without fault if you can.

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