Awakened from my sleep this morning by the sounds of beeping heart monitors, loud alarms, frequent interruptions by nurses, the bright fluorescent lights, and the chatty nurses’ station nearby. The hospital is no place to rest. This morning is our sixth day here.
This morning I’m going to recount what I think was the biggest horror my wife and I have ever experienced.
On Monday at 7:30, while we were having dinner, the phone rang. Since I did not recognize the number, I almost didn’t answer. I assumed it was another unwanted telemarketing call, but for some reason I answered. The voice on the other end said, “This is Brady’s friend John. Brady has had a seizure, what should I do?” I immediately told him to call 911 and tell me where they were.
Within moments Laurie and I were en route to the bingo hall where they had been playing. Minutes later, we reached this boy’s mom on the phone; she was close by and got there before we could.
On her speaker phone, she’s doing play-by-play, with perfect calm. We could hear things going on in the background: “He isn’t breathing, he has no pulse. The CPR isn’t working.”
Our son was clinically dead.
As EMS arrived, they too tried to revive him, with no luck. One EMS professional is on the phone to us explaining what they are doing, asking us medical history questions and asking us to rush there. Of course, our emotions are running high, we’re trying to drive, listen, and cope with the fact that our teenage son is dying.
Suddenly the EMS officer says, “They have a pulse.” The most beautiful words I’ve ever heard in my life.
Laurie and I are driving as fast as we can to get there, to see him, let him know we love him, and prepared in an instant to say our final goodbye. We are in shock, and can hardly believe it.
Change of Plans
“Meet us at the hospital, don’t come here. We’re on our way,” says the voice on the phone. Quickly we change direction and arrive at the emergency room, but there is no ambulance — and it should have been there before us. Ten minutes go by, still no ambulance. We’re thinking the worst.
Minds Playing Tricks
Then suddenly an ambulance appears, but it’s driving slowly, with no lights or siren. We look at each other in disbelief. Had he died along the way? Does that explain why they are no longer rushing? We’re sure this is the case, because what are the odds another ambulance would appear when one is supposed to be coming? Our minds are playing terrible tricks on us. We assume he is inside and they have done all they can. We’re watching the doors slowly open, and thankfully, as the doors open, there is a woman on a stretcher whom they were transporting. We both breathe a sigh of relief as we hold each other.
Moments later we hear sirens and see flashing red and blue lights. The ambulance rushes in and we run to the entrance to be there with our son. We see his limp body on the gurney. His face is covered with a mask and he is hooked up to all kinds of wires.
A Lucky Day
As they pull him out, they tell us he is alive. They had trouble reviving him. He was in critical condition and could not breathe on his own. The EMS officer approaches us and says, “Your son is very lucky,” of all things. “One of the doctors was riding with us tonight. If he had not been there, he may not have made it. We couldn’t revive him on our own.”
We watch helplessly in the ER, between our tears and fears. Our son’s body is convulsing and shaking. “Just the meds we gave him, we assure you.”
But we have to get him stabilized. At that point we, and they, don’t know what is going on, what the problem is. All we know is that he collapsed and his heart stopped.
Our 17-year-old baby has a dozen or more people tending to him, putting in tubes and wires, meds and fluids. We watch helplessly for two more hours. The only calls are to some friends for support, and to his siblings who rushed to visit, in case it’s our last chance to tell him we love him.
Hours with No Answers
For two hours, we don’t know if he is going to live. Then once he is moved out of the ER into intensive care, we watch for three or four more hours, waiting for him to stabilize. Finally, we’re told he is breathing on his own again, but the respirator is there to supplement and help in case he stops.
Toxicology reports show no drugs were involved. A CT scan shows no brain damage from when his heart wasn’t pumping and no head damage from the fall. “We think he is going to be OK,” says the doctor. “He is showing signs of improvement.” The words we needed to hear.
A Small Nod and Big Hope
At his side, holding his hand, kissing his cheek and talking to him, we want him to know we are there, but there is no response. Finally, hours later, a nod of acknowledgement is the hope the doctor was looking for. It’s another 12 hours before he opens his eyes.
Hours later, the ventilator is no longer needed and the tubes are removed. Soon the sedation begins to wear off and we have some signs — brief open eyes and a word or two.
Hours pass, and we don’t know if it’s day or night, but we look and see it’s 3 p.m. the following day. We still don’t have our son fully back, yet each hour that passes, we see improvement.
Doctors now think our son had a cardiac event, something that rarely happens to a teen. They study his heart and decide to transfer him to Dell Children’s ICU, where the cardiologists and electrophysiologists can study him more.
Over several days he is being monitored, probed, and tested. He is awake, alert, and bored, but he has no short-term memory. We’re assured it will return, it’s from brain inflammation as a result of the shock to revive him and the amnesia drugs used when intubating him. He cannot remember anything told to him for more than about 10 minutes. We started the week with him wondering why we were in his room, as his brain gradually came back. Though we will still experience this short-term memory problem for a few more days, maybe weeks, we’ve seen a vast improvement.
Learning About Ourselves
A moment like this is one no parent ever wants to experience. But also a time we learn lessons about ourselves. For instance, our ability to make hard decisions even as we were surrounded by devastating grief. Both of us were thinking surprisingly clearly in spite of being so emotional. We also learned how much we can do without sleep if we have to. I think we were both awake for over a day and a half before being comfortable enough to sleep. We had to know he was stable and out of danger.
Of course, parenting doesn’t stop. We not only had to deal with this tragedy, but the fears of our two other kids. They were dealing with their anxiety and emotions and we had to be there for them and help them through it. In short, we had to be at our best during the worst experience of either of our lives.
The Moment We’re Never Prepared For
All of our parenting, our training in business, and our ability to manage our emotions comes together in one moment of parenting where the best and worst are displayed at once. It’s our purpose. Though it’s not what we hope for, it’s what we’re there for. It’s a time to step up, to wake up, and to take control.
The last time I saw my son before the incident, I dropped him off at his friend’s, said goodbye. No hug, no kiss, not realizing in that moment that it may have been the last moment I saw him alive. Seeing him lying in the bed all wired up, looking at his strong teen hands, I realized that I needed to hold them every minute I could, knowing I might never get another chance. Our kids, our loved ones, are treasures we take for granted. They are precious jewels, and we need to treat them as the precious cargo they are at every encounter. We need to show appreciation and make sure every encounter is one we’ll be proud of.
In Bigger Hands
As my mind wandered into the worst case scenario, I felt peace knowing the outcome for my son was in God’s hands. Though we prayed like crazy, there was a peace, knowing we had to trust His will. Not an easy thought, but a peaceful one. There is only so much control we as humans can have.
A Second Chance
During all our waiting, I flashed through the memories of my son’s life, our good and bad encounters, some I wished I could undo. Though I can’t change our past, I can change our future in the second chance we’ve been given. And hopefully I take no one for granted and embrace every moment, knowing any of us could be gone in a split second.
Saving Future Lives
Had my son collapsed in his room playing video games, he would not have survived. Thankfully, a crowded bingo hall had one CPR-trained person. I owe my son’s life to that person. That person could be you next time. And if your family is trained, they could be saving you or me.
If we could do one good thing from all of this, it would be to ask you to learn CPR. And if you know it but have not trained in the last five years, everything is different now. I’m told that proper CPR made a huge difference in my son’s survival.
Twenty-five years ago I required everyone in my company to take CPR classes. I had a CPR trainer come to our office and train all of my employees. That night on the way home, Jim, our art director, saw an accident and gave CPR to the driver, saving his life. The very same day. Any day before that he would not have known what to do.
Your Next Purchase
This is a story I’m uncomfortable sharing because it’s very personal, but I hope it may wake you and me up to appreciate our loved ones more, learn CPR, and to get a defibrillator for our homes or offices. Turns out a defibrillator awoke my son’s heart when CPR alone would not. Yes, they are expensive, but human life is worth more. Buy one. You’ll never regret it. I’ve learned that some heart attacks cannot be resolved by CPR alone, but only by a defibrillator.
I’m not only grateful for the prayers, but for the dozens of people who saved my son’s life and who worked with us over the past week. There is surgery and at least another few days of hospital time ahead. I’m also grateful for all the prayers from people around the globe, and for all the people showing support and offering to help. I’ve not been able to work for a week, and because of my vacation and time at a workshop, I’ve not worked for a month. I’m grateful for the amazing team that has kept the trains running on time. Thank you to everyone for the good wishes.
Hug your family, and keep us in your prayers.