I can do this.
I actually have already a few times. The first several times, I know the person on the other end of the line couldn’t decipher anything through my sobs. Fortunately, they were all gracious enough to express their condolences without asking me to go through it all again.
It was a horrible, horrible accident and I’m still stuck replaying all the decisions I could have made differently that might have left my energetic little boy here in my arms, dispersing my dishes about the house, sneaking fruit out of the refrigerator and eating the tips off markers any chance he got. And it is only beginning to sink in how much worse it could have been.
Friday was such a windy day. 45 mile an hour gusts. We had an extension on our chimney with a draft inducing cap on top and the wind caught it and took it down with a crash. I was so glad I don’t let the children play outside on windy days. See, we have some loose tin on one of the barns and I’m terrified the wind will bring it down.
John went up but there wasn’t much he could do other than make sure that the chimney wasn’t damaged to the point of being unusable. It was bitterly cold. Windchill that night was expected to reach minus 25. The men from the volunteer fire department who were first to arrive would leave the basement door open, causing all our pipes to freeze and break. It wasn’t a night we could go without heat.
But that caused some challenges. The stove didn’t have enough draft so the smoke started coming into the house. Flames shot out the front and scared me to death. I had the older children help me clear the area of anything flammable. I swept the hearth to make sure there weren’t any pellets or bark near the stove to catch fire and was so thankful John had been called to a job in Lincoln. I could stay up most of the night until he got home in order to babysit the stove. I got the fire extinguisher out and re-read the directions to make sure I knew how to use it.
It was bedtime, but the children were rather excited about the whole thing. I also didn’t want them breathing all the smoke. They asked for a family movie night. At first I said no, but then I thought they could get out their sleeping bags, watch a movie and hopefully fall asleep without any bedtime struggle since I really didn’t want to leave the stove.
Plus I figured if the house did catch fire, that put them all in one place. Since the first time I set the smoke detector off in the middle of the night without so much as a flinch from the children, I’ve been terrified about how on earth I would rescue six children on my own.
I finally got the smoke cleared and the stove heated up enough that the heat of the air started the drafting in the right direction. I checked on the children and they were all sitting, enjoying their show. I decided to go ahead and put the baby to bed and see how the stove was doing before maybe joining them for awhile.
As he was falling asleep, Tiggy and Ellie came up and started wrestling and jumping around on my bed. I played for a minute, let Tiggy shower the baby with his sweet little kisses but that is an amazingly difficult way to get a baby to sleep.
“Why don’t you go back downstairs and watch the movie with Koko?”
I will regret those words for the rest of my life. Over and over in my mind I keep him. Let him stay up. Let him bounce on the bed. Let the baby be awake until Tiggy bounced himself out of energy and fell asleep.
He was such a good little boy. He obeyed immediately.
I laid the baby down.
The phone rang. It was John. I had called him about the stove but it was under control now.
I heard a crash, dropped the phone and ran to the basement.
I heard my daughter scream.
She and my son were standing there, doing their best to hold up a dresser.
A heavy dresser.
A sturdy dresser.
Nothing like what you’ll ever find at WalMart or Nebraska Furniture Mart.
I loved that dresser because it was sturdy. Hardwood, and the drawers were even made of wood, not that balsa-like material in our other drawers.
I hate that dresser. And the television we set on it because it was the most sturdy piece of furniture we own.
When the dresser started to tip, my twelve year old went for it. She was scratched by her puppy who was frantically trying to get out of the way. She was hit by a television. Still, she went toward the dresser and tried to catch it.
My three year old was hit. She has a dresser-knob shaped circle on her ankle and some bruising on her leg. She didn’t so much as shed a tear. I wouldn’t find out anyone but Mattias had been hurt until we were at the hospital and I came out to tell them how Tiggy was doing and try to calm them down a little.
And the dresser my husband had pushed and shook and stood on when we bought it to make sure it could take some climbing landed on my little Tiggy, cracking his head against the concrete floor. I don’t remember getting from the stairs to him. I only remember kneeling over him, the weight of the dresser on my back and screaming.
I shouted and my daughter was already running with the phone. I didn’t make a lot of sense, I don’t think. I said my address over and over as clearly as I could, but the lady on the other end wanted to know what happened. I remember screaming about my baby and blood and just screaming before taking a deep breath and repeating my address. She reassured me an ambulance was on the way. She had my address. But when help arrived, all they understood was that there had been an accident and a baby was involved.
I was panicking. I thought blood was coming from his eyes, nose and ear. I didn’t think there was any way he would live long enough for the ambulance to get there. I called my husband and told him he had to come home. Tiggy was dying. I was so incredibly thankful he had been called to a job in Lincoln. He stepped off the train, told his train crew he needed to go and got in the car. About an hour later, he was at the hospital. Normally, it would have taken several hours to get off the train in some outlying area, wait for a bus and so forth.
When the paramedics did finally arrive and I listened to them describe the injuries, I realized all the blood was coming from a cut above his nose.
For a moment, I could breathe. For a moment, I thought maybe he would make it.
One of the men from the volunteer fire department drove me and all the children to the hospital. The same man who dug out our whole road when our mini van fell in the ditch. The same man who advised me about the dangers of winter, the need for an alternate heat source and the need for food and water stores. The same man who put our little grass fire out. And the same man who re-graded our road after the fire.
We got to the hospital and Mattias was still alive. He was responding to pain. He had a bite reflex.
I thought maybe. Maybe there was a chance. But he was so little and that dresser was so heavy. I wanted to be in the room with him. Holding him. Talking to him. But I didn’t want to be in the way. I didn’t want to distract anyone if I screamed. I didn’t want to take nurses away if I collapsed. I knew this might be the last I saw him alive and I had to fight all my maternal drive to be with him to give him the best possible medical attention he could get.
They wanted him at the Children’s Hospital in Omaha but Life Flight wasn’t flying. The sheriff was checking to see if the roads were open. They were. They began preparing him for transport. I told my parents Omaha and they left their home in Kansas. Omaha called and said he needed to be at a trauma center. Lincoln would be best. I figured my parents would figure it out. My husband arrived.
My children were taken to someone’s house.
We left for Lincoln. An hour drive in good weather. It took us a little longer. It took them 40 minutes.
But when we got there, Tiggy was still alive. Getting a CT scan. We sat in a room with a nurse offering drinks and heated blankets. John wrapped me, practically swaddled me, while she discussed their respite rooms and that we could stay there at the hospital.
The CT scan was not good. Severe fracture to the skull. Severe brain trauma. They described the surgery and the risks. They wanted to make sure I understood the risks and I wanted to yell at them for talking to me when they could be getting started.
We were led out to the hall and told what we were to see as Tiggy would be carted from the intake room to surgery. They paused with the cart so we could see and talk with him ever so briefly before continuing the dash to surgery. Something in me knew it was goodbye. But I kissed him ever so lightly on the forehead because I was terrified of hurting him.
“I love you, Tiggy! Be a good boy.”
And they took him. The last thing I heard as he went through the door was one of the nurses informing the surgeon that his blood pressure was improving.
And again I had a glimmer of hope that would flicker faintly for another hour before we knew for sure.
He had held on for five hours.
He was a fighter. Strong and sweet and full of a life that could not be easily taken. He hung on long enough for my husband to see him, so my husband and I could be together to see him for the last time.
His funeral is tomorrow and I’ll hopefully share a little slide show if anyone wants to see snapshots of his little life that was far too short. (Update: The slide show is posted.)
In the meantime, take a look around your home. Not just at bathtubs and outlets and choking hazards for we always emptied the bathtub and had the bathroom door closed; we cut his grapes and hot dogs in half so he wouldn’t choke; we did everything we could so we urge you take a long hard look at the things you never thought about before. The things you thought were sturdy and secure. The old, heirloom pieces of furniture that seem so very sturdy. I climbed that dresser once to fix a curtain. I never would have thought it would fall. I know you can’t bubble wrap the world, but right now, I’m in the mood to try.
Please, check your homes because the everyday ordinary may not be as safe as you envisioned.
And hug your little babies. I hope and pray you never know how much you can miss all their little mischiefs.