The Worst Minutes of My Life, Part 4

Friday, May 21, 2010

I sat up straight in my seat as the helicopter descended toward the helipad. I braced myself for the landing, anticipating a slight jostling as it touched the ground. I was surprised though. The landing was not like that at all. It was smooth and gentle.

Waiting for the rotors to motor down I consciously made an effort to stop my foot from tapping as my impatience surged through me. I stared out the window in attempt to not concentrate on time. A clock always seems to tick slower if you're watching it.

The helipad was at the top of a hill. At the bottom there was a street. I watched a car below, stopped at the red light and the children in the backseat were pointing in awe toward the helicopter as they had just watched its magnificent landing. The mom in the passenger seat was smiling and pointing in wonderment too.

It felt strange peering from my window into theirs.

Like two different worlds existing at the same time.

If there was a Looking Glass to pass through I would have taken my little Cayman and entered their world. I wanted to feel the wonderment too and leave behind the scary uncertainties that we were facing.

I unbuckled myself and leaned forward in my seat.

The eagerness...

The impatience...

I'm not sure what to call it...

Whatever it was, I couldn't hold it back.

I was ready to jump out and get Cayman inside those beautiful familiar doors of the U of M hospital. In a strange way it holds a special place in my heart as if it's home.

A major part of our family's life happened there.

Began there.

That place will always have a distinguished spot in my heart. And then there is the fact that there is no other person that I trust more with my daughter's life than the Neurosurgeon that works there.

My heart began to beat a little bit more smoothly since we landed.

Inside the E.R. I was overwhelmed by the number of people waiting for us. The look on their faces showed relief when they saw us.

A woman made herself present by my side and she rarely left me. She introduced herself as a social worker. I was grateful to have her there with me. I felt so alone and missed Mike terribly. This lady, she was a complete stranger to me and yet the lonely burden I felt was alleviated in her presence. Her empathy and affirming words made me feel understood and accepted and I had barely breathed more than one sentence to her.

Even now in my memory as I think about her, standing next to me, dressed in white, I feel like Cayman and I had a little angel with us - guarding, helping, encouraging, protecting - seeing us through that difficult segment.

I stood back watching the busy scene around Cayman's bed. There must have been nearly a dozen people surrounding her. I could see Cayman's sharp movements as she fought against them.

It was a hard moment for me wrestling with the urge to run up and rescue her all the while knowing I needed to stay out of the way so the medical staff could do their jobs in order to save my little Cayman's life.

An unfamiliar man soon approached me and introduced himself as the chief resident of Neurosurgery. He was kind but honest as he informed me how critical Cayman's condition was. Her heart rate was so weak he was not confident that she would survive surgery. "I want to get a set of CT scans done and talk with her attending Neurosurgeon before we make any decisions about what we'll do for her shunt. If we don't think she'll survive the O.R. we'll extract her shunt right here in the E.R. with local anaesthetic at the neck and see if we can get it working. Then in a few days when she's recovered we will take her back to surgery to re-internalize her shunt."

The doctor explained to me how he had inserted a needle through her shunt and pulled off an ounce of fluid from her brain before Cayman's heart rate began to stabilize into the 90's. It had been dipping into the 50's and they were unsuccessful at getting a blood pressure reading.

Through the parting in the crowd around Cayman I could see her resting comfortably. Her beautiful pink face was asleep. I found myself constantly basking in the appearance of her pinkness trying to drown out the horrid memories of when she was blue.

When Cayman had been fully assessed and every vital being continuously monitored a doctor approached me. He worked in the PICU and would be taking care of Cayman while she was there.

"You can go up to her bedside now. I need to tell you though I had to give her something that paralyzed her. She was fighting us so badly we couldn't do our jobs and right now she's in such a critical state we need to work quickly. I also gave her a small dose of a sedative and something for pain so that way she's not just laying there miserable and can't tell us. But she's awake and she can hear you even though it looks like she's sleeping."

Her temporary paralysis felt eerie to me as I approached Cayman's bed. She looked just like she does when she's sound asleep but it was so different knowing she was awake but couldn't voluntarily respond to me.

I continued to mutter out my words sounding so much stronger and calmer than what I felt on the inside. Talking. Singing. Telling Cayman how Daddy is on his way and will be there soon.

Then some more medical people came and took her for a CT scan. I was not allowed to go in. I stood outside the doors feeling shaky. It felt like Cayman was worse off when my Mama eyes were not looking over her. I knew that was not a rational perspective. But when it comes to matters of the heart, a mother's love, rarely is it logical.

My little social worker angel reappeared at my side. She had badges for both Mike and I printed up all ready to go so we would not be bothered by stopping at the security desk. Again her presence helped me get through the minutes of waiting.

When the doors opened to the Cat scan room I saw Dr. Maher, Cayman's Neurosurgeon. Oh it was a blessed relief to see him there. I trust his guiding opinions and rest so easily in his medical decisions. He was the first one to exit the room as he headed in my direction. He walked with a strong step in his gate, full of serious business agenda written across his face. He started to speech at the same time I bellowed out a sigh, "Oh Dr. Maher, I am so happy to see you."

The doctor paused, laying aside all business for a moment. He compassionately looked at me and replied, "You've really been through a lot today haven't you?"

It was all I could do but give a weak little smile and sigh as my eyes filled up with tears.

Cayman was wheeled out from the room and into the hallway. The doctor and I followed in step behind them. As we nearly cantered down the hospital's corridor, he spoke with an earnestness in his voice as he explained to me how sick my little Cayman was, "From looking at the CT scans there is no doubt this is a shunt malfunction. Her ventricles are much larger than they were at her last scans in October."

We turned the corner and stood before a pair of Patient Elevators.

Dr. Maher looked at me and said, "These elevators go to the O.R. and it's confusing how to get back to the waiting room, where Big Bird is." He turned around and started to walk in the opposite direction motioning for me to follow him. "I'll take you this way and make sure you get to where you need to be."

I quickly changed directions and started to follow the doctor. When I turned the corner I suddenly felt the impact of the space that now separated me from my little Cayman. I stopped abruptly. Looking worried I asked, "Can I kiss her really quick?"

Dr. Maher, so compassionately and apologetically replied, "Oh yes, please. Of course. I'm so sorry."

I ran in the direction toward Cayman and caught them just before they loaded her into the elevator. It was a short good-bye, not really satisfying at all but it was better than nothing.

"Please come back to me my little Cayman." my thoughts bleated in my head. I held that one last little kiss close to my heart begging God to give me a chance for more.

Knowing we did not have much time and not wanting to keep the doctor waiting, I was careful to not stagger away from the elevators slowly. I followed in quick step next to Dr. Maher as he continued to speak kindly but honestly, "I know we always talked about the next time Cayman went back for a shunt surgery we would plan on checking out the possibility of putting it into her abdomen but today is not going to be that day. I think that is too risky to try because right now she is so sick and if we place it in her belly and it fails in a few days before her brain has a chance to recover we'll be doing her a disfavor. Today is not going to be about taking risks. It's going to be about doing whatever we have to do in order to save her life."

I nodded showing I completely understood everything the doctor was telling me. I looked up just then and saw Mike. I was so frazzled by all that was going on that it took two, maybe even three glances at him before I reacted on the familiarity to the face of the the man I love.

"Oh Mike's here! I'm so glad you're here! You made it!" I felt my words just roll out from me at the speed of a race car. Mike looked so different with wide eyes full of worry. That two hour drive he had just made must have wore on him terribly.

Mike and I sat close to each other in the waiting room near the giant Big Bird that brings a sort of glamorous cheerfulness to that lobby. We tried to distract our minds yet we kept coming back to the details of what had just taken place that morning for us.

I felt much like 10 second Tom in the movie "50 First Dates".

Tom has a memory that only lasts for 10 seconds at a time and then he forgets. He's hit with the same things continuously over and over again as if he's taking it all in and learning about it for the first time.

That's how I felt as I sat there processing and recalling the moment I looked at Cayman, blue and pale. Not breathing. No heart beat. Performing CPR. Calling for a crash cart.

Mike, stunned and serious, turned to me and asked, "Is that the definition of dead? Was Cayman dead?"

And in about 10 seconds we were asking the same question all over again.

It still felt like it just all couldn't be real. Like we were caught in a bad dream or something.

*The Worst Minutes of My Life, Part 5

11 Showin' Comment Love:

Tiff said...

This is so hard to read b/c I love you all so. I can't believe any of you had to go through this. I am still praying for you as I'm sure it is hard to recover. Hugs!!

Beth said...

Wow!! Hugs to you all!

The Soldatke family said...

keep writing my friend, keep writing!! You have so many talents and writing is definitely one of them.

Kristen said...

Jill (The Soldatke family),

Thank you! That encourages my heart greatly. I have struggled with finding the energy to even finish writing this story.

Grandma S said...

...sitting in a restaurant in Toledo by myself reading this...big mistake...getting some odd looks...

Gabriella said...

I am so sure that this day was a blur for you, but by writing down the minutes, the details, the people, the words... you are actually slowing this day down. You are appreciating the value of this day. I'm not certain everyone would be able to do that. It's remarkable the details you recall. And yet, they are all so meaningful. God bless you.

Colette said...

Thank you so much for sharing such a stressful and traumatic time for you all! I can relate to so much of it, not from a parents persepctive, my parents went through episodes like this with me too when I was a child, and even though we have talked about those times, it was not until I was older I fully appreciated how they must have felt, very much like you and Mike! I hope writing this brings you peace and healing! Your family are in my thoughts and prayers and I hope Cayman is continuing to make progress and recover.

Anonymous said...

Dear Kristen, I am a friend and co-worker of Jill Soldatke, I am so happy that you are Caymen's mommy, keep looking to God and know that strangers are praying for sweet Caymen (Matthew's girlfriend! They are both so dramatic!) Jill is right, your writing skills are phenominal! Hugs to you and Mike, Jaime Stoll

Anonymous said...

Kristen, I just cannot imagine how scared you must have been. I pray every day for that beautiful little girl of yours.

Is your neurosurgeon by any chance Dr. James Maher? Originally from Middleton, Wisconsin? If so, I went to school with him and he is an incredible person. You're lucky to have him.

Many, many hugs to you, Mike, and of course, to Cayman.


Kristen said...


No, this Neurosurgeon is Cormac Maher.

Bree said...

I really have enjoyed reading these the last few days even though they tend to make me teary eyed. You defiantly have an amazing ability to write. Keep sharing!!