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.