A year ago, I was sitting in a Portuguese hospital as my nine-year-old daughter fought for her life.
Days earlier, I was taking her to the emergency room, asking a doctor to take her symptoms seriously. In fact, it took three trips to the ER, a quickly swelling forehead, and me refusing to take her home for someone to finally acknowledge that her pain, and my concerns, were legitimate.
And it had taken me days before that to understand she had an infection. She would seem completely fine during the day, laughing and running, and then have a fever and pain at night. It didn’t make sense. Each day, we thought she was getting better until we realized she wasn’t. And when we took her in the first time, we were gaslit right back out the same door we came in, with Tylenol and a “I have other patients to see.” (Literally.)
The second time, they ran tests but not the one she needed, and sent us away saying it couldn’t possibly be a bacterial sinus infection. The third time, they tried to send us away with oral antibiotics again, but I refused. That same night, her fever rose to more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit—with fever reducers, antibiotics, and steroids. After nearly two weeks of a fever.
This was all compounded by the fact that we were traveling and in an unfamiliar area, without access to our normal hospital and doctors.
As I sat next to her hospital bed each night, I felt helpless. And as I went back to my hotel room that night to be with my son—switching “shifts” with my husband, who slept at the hospital each night—I cried myself to sleep. With my son asleep in the hotel bed next to me, I repeated to myself silently, “She’s going to be OK. She’s going to be OK. She’s going to be OK.”
She wasn’t OK. And she didn’t get better. At least not enough. While she seemed to be improving, the steroids and pain killers masked the pain and impact of the infection in her sinuses that kept growing in spite of the double-dose, full-strength antibiotics. And eventually, she needed surgery. Urgently.
That morning of the surgery, I sat in her empty hospital room, willing myself to distract with anything: reading, social media, news, texts, television. But I couldn’t. All I could do was sit and wait and occasionally text my family, who were waiting alongside me.
Even a year later, I can feel the range of emotions of that morning. Fear and hope for her health. Trust and doubt in the surgeon and surgical team. These conflicting emotions intertwined and pulsed through me to the point of nausea.
When I was called down to the darkened post-surgery room, I wasn’t prepared for what I would see. Her little face bandaged and swollen, her eyes closed from the anesthesia, her body limp in the hospital bed. Empty beds lined the walls, and two nurses sat at a desk in the corner, checking her vitals every so often. I stayed in that room for nearly an hour, studying her swelling and bleeding, her breathing and heart rate, watching for signs of distress or infection. My gaze never left her face. I stared at her like nothing else existed, like the room around me was a dream, like if I looked away from her face, she would not get better.
But she did get better. The surgeon’s work was clean and thorough. And while the swelling worsened post-surgery, a third CT scan showed that she would be OK. It took nearly two months for her swelling to completely subside.
Now a year later, we are nearly in the clear—just one more follow-up and then I can breathe fully again, knowing my baby is going to be OK. I still look at that spot on her forehead every day, worrying that it will swell again.
There was more going on behind the scenes of my life.
Here’s why I share this story.
First, because I needed to write it down. I haven’t been able to document what happened or fully process the extent of what she went through. The story you just read is a snapshot of three weeks of hell. I didn’t chronicle the calls to doctors, the internet searches, the harrowing ER wait (in which a child coded in the waiting room), the tears I shared with my husband, how my son asked to bring her gifts and treats every day, how my daughter and I spent a week together in the hotel after she was released, how she relished in the hotel continental breakfast and eventually felt well enough to go to the park. How I teared up as she played on the play equipment, finally letting myself believe she would be OK.
Yes, there is more to say and more to write. But for now, this is what I can capture—what my heart can handle.
Second, because behind all of this was everyday life continuing on. My business, my clients, my cohort of authors. As my daughter fought for her life, I was able to be present with her. My clients understood completely and gave me the space I needed to be with her, never complaining and trusting me to recast our project plan once I was back. My dear friend took over a group coaching session for me, using my minimal plans and knocking it out of the park. When our car was hit in the hotel parking lot, my assistant dealt with the insurance and helped get us in touch with a mechanic who could verify the car was safe to drive home. And my team surveyed my calendar and projects and proactively solved any potential problems through communicating with clients and rescheduling. Along the way, friends and family checked in regularly, and my daughter’s friends sent videos and messages wishing her well. We felt, in summary, completely enveloped in love and community.
Today, I reflect in gratitude that we are not in that hospital anymore. That we were able to take our baby home. And that, in spite of all that was interrupted, my business was completely OK. I write this as a reminder to myself, and to you, to build both business and life with a mindset of collaboration and community. Because life can get flipped upside down in an instant, unpredictably, and without certainty that everything is going to be OK.
She was OK. She is OK. And I’m grateful I can look back and reflect with gratitude rather than heartache, and with a lifelong lesson to lean in to the people who lift me up and love me through the tough times.
What about you? Have you been through an experience like mine—one of fear and uncertainty—and what did you learn from it? Share with me in the comments. I love hearing from you and personally respond to each comment.
It makes me wonder how much the Portuguese value life in comparison with Americans. Americans turn into John Wayne in emergencies and scream “LET’S GIT’ER DONE!!!! UNDER ALL THIS HORSECRAP THERE’S GOT TO BE A PONY SOMEWHERE!!!” Whereas in many other countries (especially in the Third World) they view themselves as helpless against powers they can’t control or understand, and whatever happens happens. I’m not sure about Portugal, but in England and Spain I and my parents found this to be somewhat true. The English aren’t as John Wayne-ish as Americans.
Now the American version: five years ago almost, my dad was diagnosed with stage 3a lung cancer (non-small cell). He never smoked. His oncologist at Mount Sinai Hospital seemed optimistic. Twenty minutes of internet surfing and, sure enough, I found out why he was sick. It turns out the Chinese, at I think the University of Sian, found that limestone particulates can cause the lung inflamation in rats that can lead to cancer. My dad was a math teacher for 35 years, coming home every night covered in chalk dust (limestone particulates). He reacted well to the mix of chemo and radiation and is two months away from his 5 year anniversary since his diagnosis. If the lung tumor doesn’t come back between now and then, it probably isn’t going to. He’s turning 81 soon and hopefully will do what his dad did, dying two days after turning 101. I can hear the Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark theme music playing.
Thank you for sharing, Gray. Whew, what a story about your dad! I’m glad to know he was able to kick cancer and make it to such an old age. 🙂
As for valuing life, I will say that Portuguese culture very much values life, as I would say do all people in all of the countries we’ve lived in (three developing countries and Portugal, which is a developed country). I think the disconnect is the access to care—sometimes the poverty is so stark that one truly does not have access to basic card and needs. But generally, I have seen so much beauty and love from people for people all over the world.
I was meant to receive your email today. After watching “My Name is Otto” last evening, and reading about the death of a famous Japanese composer at 71 years of age, it made me even more certain I have a story to tell. I can only imagine your fear and anxiety, your helplessness and hope that your daughter would survive. Thank God, she did. My story takes more than 3 weeks.
My worst day of my life started on August 29,2021.
It’s not over yet. I thought it had been on December 30,1988 but then I was a bystander. This time it was me personally.I know I have only given you dates. For now that is enough. I have been trying to decide how to start the novel. Please get back to me. I would like to hear about your services and your fees.
Thank you for sharing and for your kind words, Linda. I’m sorry to know you’re still enduring your hardest moment. While I don’t work on novels, I’ll send you a follow up note and see how I can support getting you to the right person.
I already wrote it above.
I think for me the worst time was when l got sick in October of 2020, because l,ended up In the hospital for three weeks and lost my motivation for writing which got me through a lot of rough times but l hope to get it back because l enjoy reading. And writing.
Thank you for sharing, Darlene. That is a long time to be in the hospital! Reading can be a powerful catalyst for writing. Sending good thoughts as you find your way back to the craft.
I am so touched by his story . It’s always shows determination and heroism .I can’t even imagine , what is fighting for a child life . If I recall my childhood I remember my fight for life as I had terrible pneumonia in 3.5 age . My parents just were checking up if I still alive . I had be putted under oxygen tent and was breathing just a top part of my lungs .When I reflect that I just getting one thing on my mind .”I really wanted to be alive” .It made me somebody hungry of life . I wrote already my ER Irish version about my waiting for bed and surgery when I broke my hand . Under these circumstances I have found some lucky aspects of this situation . It may be defined as tragical optimism . All my active life style collapsed and I am out of my work for I do not know how long either 3 or six month . I don’t think that will be possible back to gym earlier as in 6 months.
Amazingly I’m dealing well with what happened . I am sure that must be any covered blessing wrapped in all of this . Just conceptualization will come along with a passing time.
Love from Ireland Stacy
Thank you for your thoughtful note, Anita. How interesting to hear you share your side of the story—a child fighting for her own life. I’m glad to know your hand is OK and you were able to get back to your life.
One of my worst days happened about 45 years ago, when my ex told me she was leaving. The impact was even worse because I thought things were going fairly well. I suppose one thing I learned from this was a realization that I did not understand people–especially women–very well. Also, I realized I needed to “do better.” I’ve been married now for 42 years to my second wife. Maybe I learned something after all. Just recently I went on hospice care and, though it’s a bit of a downer, it’s not been the blow that what I mentioned earlier was.
Thank you for sharing, Dan. It seems like you were able to find a meaningful way forward—and a successful marriage. I’m sorry to know you’re on hospice care and am sending wishes for peace and presence.
My worst day was when my son ended his life. We had no warning that there was anything wrong until his employer called me when he didn’t come in that day. None of us could locate him by phone, text or email so his fiance and I began looking for him. She got to him first and tried desperately to administer CPR but it was too late. Time heals and I am writing about this but it is not yet published. I’m trying to find my way through the writing world because I feel there are benefits to others that could come from his story.
I am so sorry for your loss, Lori. You’ve undergone the unimaginable. I’m sending healing thoughts your way—and hope that you can find purpose amidst your pain.
So much love for you and sweet Lily.
Thank you, friend. <3
Stacy I’m so very happy to hear that your daughter is well today.
Thank you, Linda. Me too. <3