A toddler, his dad, and the unthinkable

Originally published on KevinMD

The toddler was a curious, rambunctious, talkative three-year-old who loved to explore.

Every week, he’d wait for Sunday to come, because Sunday was he and his dad’s special day. Mikey and his father adored each other.

Whether Mikey and his dad were doing “horseback rides,” playing basketball, or just sitting on the rocking chair for story time, whenever they were together there was fun, love and a forever bond.

Mom called them “the twins.”

One particular Sunday, “the twins” packed a picnic lunch with a bag full of breadcrumbs for the ducks. And Mikey couldn’t wait to feed those ducks! Dad loaded up the truck, and he and Mikey set off for their favorite park.

They sang their favorite song on the way: “This little light of mine … I’m gonna let it shine.”

When they arrive, it was a beautiful riot of spring: flowers reached for the sun, the air seemed to pierce through the fluffy clouds and the ducks waddled over and ate the bread crumbs Mikey had tossed to them.

Dad spread out a quilt on the grassy area under a tree where he and Mikey ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as they talked about the clouds and, of course, the ducks.

When lunch was over, Dad turned on the radio, and they listened to music. Tammy Wynette, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and old gospel tunes — the good stuff.

Dad closed his eyes, but only for only a second. Mikey saw dad sleeping. Dad had such a beautiful smile, he thought.

Curious Mikey heard the ducks quacking and wanted to pet them. So he went down to the pond and got very close to the water. Then, one of his little feet slipped on a slick, wet rock.

At the hospital, things were quiet in the ER. The nurses were snacking on treats their families brought them after church. Sunday was always a good day for the nurses and staff. Church folk stopped by to visit loved ones and sometimes brought treats for the workers.

This particular day was eerily quiet, though. One of those “quiet days” that was almost unbearable. It was such a tranquil and peaceful Sunday that it almost “warned” us that something bad was going to happen. Amid the snacking and the chatting, there was a sense of doom.

A truck sped up to the Emergency Room doors. A frantic father carried his three-year-old son out of his truck and screamed, “My son, my son, help my son!”

Mikey was blue and lifeless as he lay on the ER stretcher. “Code Blue, Code Blue,” paged loudly and quickly throughout the hospital. Surgical nurses on their break ran out to the ER; respiratory therapists reported STAT to the ER. This small country hospital had only two MDs that day, and they dashed down the stairwell to the ground floor ER.

Mikey’s dad told the story gasping and hyperventilating.

“I fell asleep. I fell asleep … it was only seconds.”

Mikey had roamed off, and he slipped on a rock and fell into four inches of water. He couldn’t get up, and his mouth filled with pond water as he desperately gasped for air vomiting and aspirating until he was unconscious.

When Dad woke up, all he could hear was silence, but Mikey was never silent — until then.

We performed rapid CPR compressions between oxygenating him. Mikey was in pulseless electrical activity (PEA).

No pulse. No heart rate. No breathing.

Dad leaned over the ER sink, hung his head and began vomiting while he cried, “My son! My son!”

Despite our IV doses of epinephrine, rapid CPR, pleading with God and despite wanting to pretend this nightmare never happened — Mikey did not come back to life.

There he was blue and lifeless with vomit on his little T-shirt that read, “I love daddy.”

This was over twenty years ago, and the vision is ingrained forever in my brain.

Some things we cannot erase — ever.

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