It’s not unusual for me to look back on my life and think, “Did that really happen?” From being on a TV show in China—unaware it was a national broadcast and I was singing in a competition—to birthing Daniel while wearing a pair of pants and singing praises to God, it seems like I have moments of wonder. I wonder if what happened was all just a weird dream or my reality.
Recently I found myself holding Daniel’s hand while staring at an ambulance. Lukas was inside, on a gurney and Peter was being wheeled behind me in a wheelchair. I held Daniel’s hand and thought, “Is this really happening to us?”
When the paramedic walked over to me and said, “Would you like us to fly him to this hospital or that one?” I just stared in disbelief. Fly my boy? We went from, “He’s passed out from breathing oxygen from the tank” to “We’re flying him to the children’s hospital in Atlanta.” And my heart sank.
I had so many decisions to make: Who was going to take care of Daniel? Who would be there for Lily when she came off the bus? Who will open the door to our home for my teens, how will they get the keys? Who will ride with my husband to the local hospital?
Is this really happening to us? Did Peter and Lukas really just inhale chlorine gas at a toxic level causing them to feel a burning sensation down their throats, barely able to breathe?
I made the necessary phone calls in a span of mere minutes. I handed my little Daniel over to a stranger, until Peter’s co-workers arrived to take care of him. More of his co-workers would go to the hospital where Peter was.
I entered the ambulance and heard Lukas crying for me, cries that made me so happy. He was awake, he knew me, he was oddly calm laying there. He wouldn’t open his eyes, but he asked for his mom. His brain wasn’t damaged…I feared it might be. It’s gas people, I had no idea what it might do to my little boy.
Lukas and I rode together in the ambulance leaving Daniel behind to watch us depart. Across the street I could hear the helicopter waiting for us. I made more phone calls to the school to make sure they would let Lily off the bus to be received by other co-workers. What would we have done without those co-workers? I’m so thankful we had people to call upon in our time of great need.
I saw a man standing off to the side across the parking lot. Watching my life unfold. Watching my son be placed on a different gurney, buckled into his seat with his still wet swimming shorts on. I wondered if the paramedics knew he didn’t have a diaper on, that he had just started to potty train. I couldn’t figure out the words to say it, so I just left it unsaid.
The man on the side watching had his cell phone out, videotaping my story. I wanted to rip it out of his hand but he was too far away from me.
Is this really happening to us? Am I really the one being taped, the one whose child is being placed in this helicopter, soon on our way up into that vast blue sky? I have no idea what is happening to my husband; I left him crying in his wheelchair for Lukas, coughing, hunched over in his wet bathing suit.
I sat squished between two flight medics, while the pilot lifted us off the ground. Cell phones were turned off. We had a 15-minute ride. I was unusually calm, eerily calm. I think people call it shock, but I decided it was the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Whatever. I was just glad to not be puking because the flight medic asked if I would and I assured him I wouldn’t…please, just let me ride with my son.
I asked the medic to cover my son, “He’s wearing wet shorts,” I reminded him, “He has no shirt on.” He’s just a little thing laying on a big gurney. He fell back to sleep.
And I watched the ground become further and further beneath me. I thought about how much I hate flying, how much I hate heights, and decided to sit back and try to enjoy this opportunity of seeing Atlanta from the sky. Huge jets flew beneath us; we were crossing the airways of the Atlanta airport.
I thought about how none of those people below me knew I was worried about my son, worried about my husband. I wondered how I would get back home, I had the van keys, but the van was sitting in the parking lot I left behind. It’s amazing all the thoughts that go swirling through your mind in a span of seconds.
In no time at all, I saw the flight deck of a hospital and I knew this was it. Where I get answers to the ever-pressing question in my mind, Is he okay? Is my boy going to be okay? Is there lasting damage?
It took time. They didn’t rush. They carefully brought Lukas into the ER room. He was poked. He was x-rayed. He was watched for a couple of hours, and the glorious news I had been waiting for came, “Nothing in his blood, nothing on the x rays of his lungs to show any damage.”
He inhaled chlorine gas at a toxic level. His pediatrician later said that most likely his body shut down because it could not breathe…that’s why he passed out.
Peter had a breathing treatment, spent a few hours in ER being monitored, being poked and x-rayed before he received the same news. His levels were all good, but it would be several weeks later before Peter could breathe without difficulty.
I dreamed of that flight for several nights afterwards.When I hear a helicopter now, I can’t help but feel concern for those inside. Lukas remembers. He points at them and remembers.
It took a few days before Lukas wanted to go swimming again. Before I could walk into the building. When we did, we stood by the window and pointed at the pool, watched other people playing, but we just weren’t ready to go in yet.
Those days are done. We can joyfully play in there now, but it took time. It took some adjusting to. Now 4 months later, I can’t help but think, “Did that really happen?”
Yes indeed it did! We have the hospital gown to prove it. And the bills. And the stress of insurance companies, but that’s another story for a another day when that chapter is completed.
For now, we praise God for a healthy outcome and a community of people that came to our aide.