This past Sunday afternoon, I convinced my daughters to take a “ten minute nap” with me before we went outside to plant our gardens and pot flowers. Elizabeth didn’t close her eyes and as soon as the ten minutes were up she was rallying her sister, Anika and me to get up for planting time. The girls got up and started downstairs from our master bedroom. I stepped into the bathroom to pull my hair back.
Then I heard two hard clunks with Elizabeth screaming, “ANIKA FELL DOWN THE STAIRS!” With no sound from Anika, my stomach dropped.
I bolted down our carpeted stairs, around the landing to find our baby girl, unconscious with her eyes rolled back into her head on the wood floor at the bottom of the stairs. I held close to her to see she was breathing. I asked Elizabeth, who was frantic, to go get Nathan off the lawn mower.
I was scared to move Anika. Was her neck broken? Was her back broken? It felt like forever that she was unconscious but it was probably only a minute. I prayed and held my face right up next to her and talked. I don’t remember my words but I think they were cries to Jesus to awake her, to have her be okay. I could hear Elizabeth outside yelling over the lawn mower.
Anika started thrashing and moaning. She was conscious. Nathan came in through the front door right where she was with me. We moved her to the couch. The painful sounds coming from Anika were nothing we had ever heard and never want to hear again.
Anika is a live wire, a mover, always on the go. She falls. She cries a little usually and gets back up to keep going. But this was different and we knew it. Nathan called our local hospital emergency room. I took Elizabeth to our neighbor who was also outside mowing across the way. Hunter pulled into the yard and I waved him inside the house to tell him what was happening.
Back inside I dashed to grab Anika’s favorite Care Bear blanket and stuffed reindeer, Sven. Nathan wrapped her up and carefully held her while I drove just minutes to our small town emergency room.
She was in a lot of pain but couldn’t really tell us where. We noticed her left arm was clearly broken and based on the little she could follow Nathan’s finger without shutting her eyes, she had a concussion.
At age four, she had a concussion when she fell off her bed. By the time we took her to the emergency room then she was already getting better. This was different.
When I asked Anika her name she said Elizabeth. When I asked her the color of my shirt she said purple. It was bright pink.
I can name off everyone that helped us in our small town Wishek, North Dakota emergency room. Shelly, Aubrey, Kristi, Lisa, Sheila, Doreen and Jamie, I couldn’t verbalize on Sunday afternoon our appreciation but it is tremendous. We are forever grateful for every healthcare worker and the important role of each person.
Rural health facilities are critical. Our local team did x-rays, a cat scan, monitored Anika, contacted CHI St. Alexius hospital in Bismarck, talked to their doctors and called the ambulance. When the results of the CT scan were read, “She has two skull fractures.” I buried my head in my hands and started to cry. Both bones in her left arm were also broken. My mother-in-law who came from her house down the street a few blocks, Nathan and me all cried together.
Any parent who has watched their child in pain knows how much we want to trade places with them. I also couldn’t help but think as I rode in the ambulance for 100 miles with Doreen, Jamie and patient Anika about friends who have lost children in accidents.
Life changes in an instant. We could have built an open, more elegant, stylist staircase in our home. I have wanted a wooden open stairway. But my practical builder husband Nathan thought for safety and sound we would have a closed off, carpeted stairs for our kids. Yet Anika still fell down to hit her head and arm we believe on the maple post/ banister.
We can do everything we can to protect our children, make the best decisions we know and accidents still happen. And we do not understand why they do.
Fast forward to the St. A’s emergency room, a team of a neurosurgeon, general surgeon for trauma, orthopedic doctor and the emergency room doctor gathered along with many other nurses and techs. At one point I counted eleven people around Anika, helping, deciding what was next for her.
On the way to Bismarck in the ambulance ride I texted a few friends to please pray for Anika. I didn’t know Hunter had also texted his youth group leader, Craig of Crossroads Church in Streeter, North Dakota. Crossroads meets on Sunday nights. They prayed throughout their Sunday evening service for Anika. As Nathan says, “We saw their prayers in action” as we were in the St. A’s emergency room.
Anika turned a corner. She started talking again. She had no brain swelling. No brain bleeding. Her skull fracture is actually one fracture across two bones and non-displaced, no surgery needed, just a lot of rest for recovery from the concussion.
The surgery on her arm was closed reduction and the doctor knew us from Elizabeth’s previous broken arm. He assured us the breaks were not as serious as Elizabeth’s and while inconvenient this summer, Anika’s left arm will be okay in the future.
Nathan and I slept in her hospital room on Sunday night. We traded between the single sleeping chair and the floor. Anika was sick to her stomach and nauseated from the concussion. We had two pediatric nurses both with nearly 40 years of experience each. Thank you Mary and Cheryl for your wonderful care along with all the doctors, physical therapy, occupational therapy and administration who all visited us. Anika will forever talk about her second CT scan in Bismarck looking like a “big donut machine without sprinkles.” Thank you to a radiology tech calming her fears with that analogy.
By Monday night we had a late day discharge and brought Anika home to rest and recover.
I’ve wanted to sit down since then and write this down but haven’t had time. Anika’s rest and recovery comes first. And of all things, I had been booked to speak at a rural and public health conference last fall for May 18. I spoke yesterday morning in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
I didn’t have to worry about new content for my keynote speaking. Anika, the Wishek hospital and St. A’s medical teams provided me plenty to share about the importance of our healthcare system. You don’t think about how amazing the modern healthcare we have at the tips of our fingers until you are in the middle of the system. It’s remarkable.
I spoke in Grand Forks yesterday without crying which was my goal but I also haven’t had much sleep so it wasn’t my best but I got through it. We are all going to keep going and doing our best to enjoy the last week of high school for Hunter and yesterday Elizabeth ran, jumped and threw the softball in her elementary track meet. Life marches on. While I type right now, Anika sleeps. We will have high school graduation Memorial Day weekend along with Hunter throwing discus in the State Track meet on the SAME DAY as graduation and our party at our house.
Some day Nathan and I will look back at this month and say, “Remember when…”I am learning to let go of the to-do lists and menus I had planned. Forget all the details of decor. The flowers still aren’t planted but Nathan, Elizabeth and Hunter planted the garden. It’s all going to happen with the help of friends and family in the next ten days, not perfectly executed and clearly God is teaching me some big ol’ lessons in this time of upheaval.
Forget about my plans.
We are hugging our healthy children and celebrating the life we live. Accidents happen. So do ambulance rides. We are grateful for Anika’s recovery and praying friends and family who support us and love us through life.
This morning Anika and I went to school where she sang songs and practiced with her class for their upcoming kindergarten graduation program. Then we came home for her nap and hours later she still sleeps. Rest heals her head. We are grateful.Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. For your prayers, for your outreach, notes, gifts and to all the amazing medical personnel we met this week.
And thank you in advance to my friends and family who remind me to enjoy this next week and are always willing to help. We live a wonderful, messy life.