This girl used to be nine months old.
I know. I’m hitting you with the obvious. But often when I see her all grown up, especially in this recent photo, I spin out. Because I was with her when she was nine months old, and she nearly died. ON. MY. WATCH.
I was baby sitting. Mum of the house(pretty much my ‘big sister’ Kim, I ADORE her…) had gone out for the day. No phone contact unless she called us. Dad of the house Claude had just ducked up the road for half an hour. Older brother Jean-Claude was probably five? Sister Chloe was nearly three, and Taylee was nine months old.
She’d just been put down for a nap, in her cot, and all was quiet from her room. As it should be when someone is napping right. I was playing hide-n-seek with Jeanie and Chlo, and it was REALLY quiet. Which made sense, right – in my rational mind – because the kids were HIDING. It’s supposed to be quiet. RIGHT?
Well, it was TOO quiet. Somewhere deep in my bones I knew something was very wrong.
I tried to rationalise it away. “You’re just being neurotic”. “You just don’t want to have to go find the other kids”. “You’re over-reacting”. “She’s been in her bed for at least half an hour, why are you only worried NOW”? But all the while, I was walking towards her room. I marched straight in and my heart was on fire before I even got to her cot.
She was BLUE.
And I was young. I had NO IDEA what to do. My heart froze. LITERALLY. And I went into auto pilot mode. I picked her up. She was cold, and limp, and BLUE. Her face was blue, her lips were an awful deep purple colour. She looked like a zombie ghost in a scary movie.
I tried to ‘wake’ her, although I knew that was futile because she wasn’t ‘sleeping’ per se. Meanwhile, I had two little people running around my legs, panicking about their baby sister, and vying for my attention and an ‘uppie'(as in, ‘pick me up please Jojo’, which of course I couldn’t…)
I ran to the phone with the limp baby in my arms. Called a friend of mine who was studying nursing(remember, I grew up in South Africa, I figured calling an ambulance was pretty useless). Liesel told me to try a few things, and in the meantime, she would jump in her car and come to me, and she’d call an ambulance on the way. RELIEF.
I thought Taylee was going to die. SERIOUSLY. I didn’t know how long she hadn’t been breathing for. And I didn’t know what to do. It felt like forever, but it was wasn’t long, and then I could hear ambulance sirens, and a buzz at the electric gate. YES.
But also instant PANIC. Both parents were out, in separate cars, and both had one of only two buzzers for the gate, which left me WITHOUT ONE. I couldn’t let the paramedics in. I ran outside with Taylee in my arms, and I had to HAND THE LIMP BLUE BABY OVER THE ELECTRIC GATES into the arms of a total stranger. I can’t begin to tell you what that did to me.
I was a mess. All the while with two short people still running around my feet, also distressed and upset. As you would be.
As the ambulance drove off, Claude pulled up, and I yelled out to him to follow the ambulance because Taylee was inside. That would stop your heart as a dad wouldn’t it? Well he followed, and they stopped just up the street and pulled him in, and then raced off again, siren blaring.
My friend pulled up at the same time, and came in to be with me. She made me cups of tea with lots of sugar, and even eventually gave me wine. I was shaking so violently my teeth were chattering and I could hardly breathe.
I went through the motions of calmly putting the kids in the bath, getting them into jammies, sorting out some dinner. Liesel was divine, and helped me.
It was HOURS before either parent called me. In the meantime, I’d already gone through every possible option. She’s dead, and they don’t know how to tell me. She’s dead and they don’t want to come home. She’s in a coma for life. I’m going to jail for killing a baby. Racing through what I could’ve done, should’ve done, wishing I’d never opened the door and rather could have just waited for Claude to come home and ‘find’ her himself… I knew I NEVER wanted to be responsible for anyone’s children EVER AGAIN(which was a bit of a problem, as I was studying education…)
They did come home. Eventually. Taylee stayed overnight. Turns out she’d had a ‘small fever’, and had overheated so much(babies struggle to self-regulate body temp) she’d had a convulsion, and stopped breathing. Doctors reckoned if I hadn’t walked in when I did, she could’ve died, and would’ve potentially been an unexplained ‘cot death’. Hello SIDS….
The paramedics had managed to revive her by the time they reached the children’s hospital, and doctors had done a spinal tap and various other tests at the hospital. She came home about 24hrs later, and was completely FINE.
Me, it took a while… I had nightmares. All of the possible endings to that story freaked me out. I have a rather analytical mind, and I overworked it BIG TIME on this event. I didn’t want to baby-sit, least of all for these guys, but Kim was AMAZING, and actually made me look after the kids about a week later. Once I did, I was fine again.
Clearly. Because I’ve worked with kids on and off since then.
But the lessons are glaringly obvious. Still.
Life is precious hey. Snuffed out quick as a vapour.
It only takes a ‘small fever’ to change things completely. And a ‘small fever’ looks like different things to different people.
Depression… Losing a job… A marriage break up… Financial troubles… A sick child…
And it takes all our ‘on-guard’-ness to be aware of our surroundings.
When it feels like something is wrong, LISTEN.
Is it too quiet? Don’t talk yourself out of checking on someone. Don’t rationalise things away….
You never know – you may just end up saving someone…