Before you start reading, you should know that Mabel is OK.
Two months ago today, my daughter fell down the stairs to the basement, flipping head over feet, while trapped inside a walker. I was not ready to talk about this publicly for a while, but we’re all in a much better place now. I had written about it and showed it to my wife, who was inspired to write her own version of what happened. The following are both my account and my wife’s account of that frightening day.
The Day My Daughter Fell – Daddy Version
First of all, Mabel is OK. Miraculously and thankfully, but she is OK.
On a Wednesday in late May, I brought Mabel back inside from a walk. It was 6pm. We had just received mommy’s text message that she was on the Metro and had about 20-30 minutes before we’d need to leave to pick her up. I was trying to thaw some fish for Mabel before we left so we could put her to sleep as soon as we got home. As I was holding the fish under the faucet, I heard a loud crash. There was a split second in which I didn’t know what it was.
In my haste to feed Mabel before mommy got home, I had forgotten to shut the basement door. Also, Mabel was in her walker. She managed to get the walker into the stairway and tumble down the stairs in this deathtrap that simultaneously confined her and protected her. I found the walker tipped over on its side with Mabel’s head on the floor. She started crying immediately, which is landslides better than the alternative. I remember screaming “Oh God” after that split second was over when I realized what I feared had happened actually happened. It’s not really that important but for that I never scream out loud to no one.
I ran down the stairs to get her and tried desperately to cheer her up. I took her outside, back into her room, I threw her up in the air, which had made her smile every time up until now. She was still crying, but it was more distant.
The Trip There
I got her into her car seat to go pick up mommy at the Metro. Jenn still didn’t know about the incident. Mabel stopped crying. She stopped moving. She stopped everything. She just stared straight ahead. I became a new level of scared. While in the car, I snapped and clapped to make sure she was still with me. She reacted, though barely. I set a ball on her wrist. She didn’t even turn her hand over to grab it. She looked at it briefly and turned her gaze back in front of her.
We finally got to the Metro after about 10 minutes and had to wait a few minutes for Jenn. I took Mabel out of her car seat to hopefully comfort her. As I was unbuckling the straps, she threw up her entire lunch. Green beans covered her bib, her little yellow outfit and her car seat. It was the most puke I’d ever seen. She then started crying again. I didn’t know if that was a good sign or not.
Mommy appeared almost right in front of me before I even noticed. I had been somehow staring right through her at the escalator, looking desperately for her. We buckled Mabel in and I started on our way to the hospital. Jenn was my rock. All night. After throwing up, Mabel was nodding off to sleep in the car and Jenn made sure to keep her awake until we got to the hospital.
Mabel threw up another couple times in the hospital. Not nearly as bad, but she probably didn’t have much else left in her. And then sometime around 7pm, almost exactly an hour after the incident, she was fine. Smiling at strangers, grabbing for daddy’s glasses and trying desperately to find her way out of mommy and daddy’s arms so she could practice standing up again. I was at least some level of relieved, but it would be hours and a negative Cat Scan later for me to feel the next level of relief. And possibly never complete relief.
Over the next four hours, her disposition only changed as much as you’d think an 11-month old baby’s would who was being held awake against her will in some boring, well-lit hotel with strange blue-gloved people who kept touching her. We didn’t have any toys and only had one book, but mommy managed to keep her occupied in the bed while daddy sat in the corner, trying hard not to let his baby see him cry.
In those four hours between the fall and the results of the Cat Scan, I lived in a quantum state where two possibilities were equally likely. The outcome had already been determined, but both results were possible until the moment I observed the results.
Dr. Charles Schrodinger had developed an experiment in which there was a cat in a box and a vile of poison that had a 50% chance of killing the cat. Dr. Schrodinger hypothesized that the cat would remain in both an alive and a dead state until the outcome was observed. This is the principal behind modern quantum theory. Why am I telling you this? Because it gave me something else to think of in those four hours. And because I lived in that quantum world for a while, unsure of whether I would live the life of a man who dodged a bullet and learned a lesson or one who had a constant reminder of a mistake he made for the rest of his life.
I hated quantum physics that night.
The Vine That’s Always There
While stuck playing the part of an electron in this deranged science experiment, I could feel myself falling. I reached out for something, anything to help me through this period of uncertainty before I got the results.
Plenty of kids fall down the stairs, I thought. But this fall was violent. I had to go back home to get some formula. While there, I went down the stairs and got the walker, took it to the top, and pushed it down. I was hoping it would just slide down and hit the wall and fall over.
It flipped over every time. Crash after crash. I tried this three times until I put a hole in the basement wall. Sometimes it landed on its feet, sometimes not. But it always flipped. Granted, there would have been an extra 20 pounds of person in there, but it wouldn’t have changed the outcome. The horizontal bruise on the top of Mabel’s head was consistent with this.
I shouldn’t have done that. I wasn’t ready. I could no longer live in a world where that gentle slide down the stairs was a likelihood. Plenty of kids fall down the stairs wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I needed something else. I was sobbing uncontrollably in the car on the way home to get the formula. “She’s so little! She trusted me!” I pictured her birth again.
And I prayed. For the first time since high school. If there is a god, and if you are the type to meddle in our human affairs, I need a favor. And I promise you, I’ll never ask you for anything again. I called my mom, knowing she would spread the word. Why not? And I started to understand religion a little better. Because thinking that someone else may be able to help right now brought me a little bit of peace.
The Cat Scan
My wife had kept Mabel occupied on a 3×7 mattress for over two hours now with only one book, a pacifier and the ladybug from the car seat handle. It was the greatest magic trick I’d ever seen, but the subject was starting to see the obvious misdirection. Finally, some formula and a few more toys came to the rescue. But the jig was up. Mabel was starting to realize this wasn’t just a really bright hotel and she wasn’t going to get to sleep anytime soon.
At about 9:30pm, we were pushed down the hallway for a change of scenery. When we were called into the radiation lab for Mabel’s Cat Scan, we were told one of us needed to go in with her. It was pretty obvious to all of us, including the orderly who just wheeled us down the hall, that I was in no condition to try to be supportive. And so my wife was stuck with the job of holding our daughter’s head down while she was forced into this noisy machine, screaming all the way. I could hear her screaming as the “in use” light flickered above the lab.
When it was over, Mabel came out with marks on her forehead from the cloth my wife had to use to hold her down. They neatly framed the streaks of tears that had been recently running sideways down both sides of her face.
Mabel soon got over her most recent trauma and returned to her now-normal state of exhausted grumpiness. I asked the radiation technician how long it would normally take to get the results. She said it “shouldn’t take any longer than 45 minutes.”
An hour and 10 minutes later, I went out to the common room to ask some innocuous question about something else with the obvious undertone being when will I find out the fate of my daughter? I was still stuck in my quantum world.
Some blond female doctor came in just to pacify us. This happens all the time. All parents have a story like this. She probably used the word resilient. She talked about head injuries and how rarely they end up being anything other than an anecdotal story. She put on blue gloves until Mabel started to cry and took them back off. She poked my daughter and said she looked fine. She never said anything about the Cat Scan.
She left. Five minutes later, another guy showed up. He regurgitated the same lines with slightly different words. But he used a term like “she’ll be fine” somewhere along the line. Which was unprofessional of a doctor without access to the Cat Scan. I expect that type of verbiage from my sister and mother, but not this doctor. So I asked him when we’d get the results of the Cat Scan.
“Oh, it was fine.”
Really? You didn’t think to lead with that? Apparently he thought we already got that info. Whether we did or not, I would have still liked to hear it again. And again and again. If they wanted to parade every doctor, intern and janitor still in the hospital to tell us the Cat Scan results were fine, I’d have been OK with that. She was diagnosed with a concussion, which I had already done back in the car at the Metro.
The First Night
We finally got out poor little exhausted angel home around 11pm. We fed her, read to her and put her in her crib. Only this time, I didn’t want to leave her. I just wanted to stay with her until she was 26, had a steady job and I was finally convinced she didn’t have brain damage. But I had to leave, for it was part of our bedtime ritual, and she would fight sleep to hang out with daddy if she knew I was there. So I left.
And then I went back up every 45 minutes to check on her. Since I didn’t know how to look for brain damage in sleeping babies, I just made sure she was still breathing. I did this twice. The third time, I stayed up there in the rocking chair right across from her for two hours, trying not to think of what could have been and still hoping that all the doctors, parents and janitors were right. When I got tired, I set my alarm to make sure I could check on her every hour. I don’t know why. Nobody really told us to do that. I guess it was the only thing I could control about the situation at that time, and I wanted control over something.
The first two days were the tough ones. For me. Mabel woke up the following morning like it never happened. She was smiling, playing with Teddy and already trying to climb back up the stairs. What the hell will it take you to learn?
My wife had taken off work so she could help watch Mabel because I was in no condition to take care of her myself. The what ifs were out in force. A new one would pop up every so often to give my anxiety some sort of variety. I went to see a therapist. She asked if I was sure Mabel was OK. No. She told me to go get a second opinion at a children’s hospital. That would not have helped. If every doctor in the world told me she was fine, I’d still have my doubts. My doubts were not grounded in fact.
As I tried to find a way to deal with this, I decided not to write anything on the site or anywhere. I didn’t want to ignore this and I wasn’t ready to address this. But I reached out to some parent friends and family. Everybody had a story. Nana, my sister, my mom, other friends, random parents of people I met at a show. And with each story, my mind was put a little more at ease. Also, the word resilient has been said so many times, it has no more meaning. But they were right. Babies are resilient. And not just because it makes me feel better to say that. Their skulls are tough and their bones are more flexible because evolution knows they can’t catch themselves yet. They’re kind of designed to withstand “tumbles” like the one Mabel had just experienced. And that has helped me out of the darkness.
I went back on my word and prayed one more time. This time, it was to go back in time and shut the basement door. I knew right away that was ridiculous and apologized to the God I’m not sure exists. I also apologized to Tim Allen for trying to invoke the Omega-13. Then I realized that I could have prayed for something similar before about something else and maybe I had gotten it granted and would be none the wiser. This is the inherent problem with time travel. So living with this doesn’t seem so bad by comparison.
I found that I was able to joke about it a while later. It felt good. For those first two days, not only was I in a dark place, but I was convinced much more darkness was to come. But I was wrong. It’s been two months now, and I’m OK. I still shutter occasionally when I go downstairs and see the walker next to the hole in the wall. Those are two things I should probably fix sooner than later. But the darkness was very short-lived. And it’s because I heard stories much like the one I’m telling now. And those kids grew up to own businesses and get into veterinary school. So if Mabel doesn’t at least become a veterinarian, that’s on her.
Obla Dee, Obla Da
She has moved on. She’s walking and almost talking now. She doesn’t speak about that night. She doesn’t ask where the walker went. She knows how to get off the couch. My wife and still occasionally forget to shut the basement door, and we panic when we realize that. But Mabel is smart enough to know not to crawl down the stairs face first. And she’s no longer trapped in a device that will take a little bit of momentum and turn it into a tragic mistake. And I’m not quite sure with what tone I’ll be able to tell this story years from now, but it will at least be with knowledge that she’s OK and she’s none the wiser.
Daddy and The Baby Librarian
The Day My Daughter Fell – Mommy Version
In reading my husband’s version of this day, it dawned on me that maybe I need to write something about that day. Not necessarily to share, and not to rebut or refute Dustin’s version, but for posterity and therapy.
It had been an average Wednesday at work and I was able to leave close to 5:30pm. In fact, I now have no recollection of that day at work or even really the days before that because of what happened when I arrived at the metro station. I had just pulled up and heard my phone indicate text messages. I figured it was Dustin saying, “We’re here” as he had done many times before when he thought he had beaten me by a significant amount but that’s not what I read. It said simply “Jenn.” I thought it was odd, but he has a baby with him, who knows who did the texting and what is going on. I got off the train and made my way down the stairs, through the card reader and up the escalator to see Dustin standing outside the car with Mabel. This was a first and I was excited because I thought what a wonderful surprise to get to wave and walk up to her rather than just hop into the car and surprise her. My heart warmed as I thought, “we are starting a new tradition!” That quickly faded as I got half way to the car and Dustin rushed to strap her into her car seat after waving me to hurry up. I didn’t know what was going on but I knew something was desperately wrong. I walked fast and then jogged. I didn’t want to call attention to my family or really…scare myself more than I was already scared. I walked up to her and Dustin as he finished strapping her in and noticed the smell of puke and saw chunks of green beans all over her summer outfit and car seat. “Hurry. We need to go to the hospital” said my husband as he began to tear up and I went into calm mode.
The Ride to the E.R. and the Details
I sat in the back seat with Mabel, as I have always done and still do. I looked at her, not crying, a glaze in her eye and limp but still awake. As Dustin recounted the details of what happened, I was focused on my daughter. Looking for any sign to help me help her in the best manner I could. I know I heard Dustin talking but it was certainly my second priority. Mabel began to throw up more. It lacked energy and just dripped from her mouth as she let her stomach do all the work getting it up. It bothered me to see her in this state but then she began to drift into sleep and my instinct told me I needed to keep her awake. I clapped, sung loudly and snapped my fingers all while shaking her gently. It was only a 5 minute ride from the metro to the hospital and I was determined to keep this child awake, alive, until we could get her to people who would know what to do. I had no choice. There was no scenario in my head that would keep me going if she passed out.
The Emergency Room
She cried a bit and began to throw up again right as we pulled up to the Emergency Room. I rushed to her door, got the straps open, and tilted her little body forward in the event she was actually not able to breathe because chunks of throw up were lodged in her throat. “Thank god we are in front of the emergency room!” I thought to myself. I felt helpless and desperate for professional assistance as I pulled my limp baby out of the car. Dustin drove off to park the car and I had the mission to keep our world alive. She threw up again at the revolving door and again as I fought back tears giving the man behind the window my name, her name and other details that seemed unnecessary at the time. I took a deep breath, looked at my daughter and calmed myself down. After all, Mabel needed me. She needed someone who could comfort her. My heart slowed, my breathing regulated as the man handed me the smallest ID bracelet I had ever seen. It was then that I noticed that Mabel had tightened her leg muscles and arms around my body. She was smiling and waving at a young boy in the waiting room. “Is this some cruel joke!”
Dustin ran in to the waiting room at that moment. He was ecstatic to find her smiling and waving. Somewhat back to her “old self” we would say multiple times to the bill collector, the nurse, ID checker, Doctor, Technician…you name anyone that talked to us and they heard, “she is back to her old self. It’s amazing!” For me it was a desperate attempt to comfort myself into thinking it was going to be okay. There was still the need for me to press on, be the rock, and be steady for both Mabel and my poor husband that was in over his head with emotions. We were called into a room first to check Mabel’s vitals. This is where we first learned that Mabel was scared of blue gloves. I held her in my lap as it was confirmed that there was no temperature or apparent broken bones. I held her again in my lap as I paid a bill to a woman who unwittingly tried her best to make small talk with us as Dustin was going in and out of his I-can’t-believe-this-happened-I’m-scared-and-playing-back-in-my-head-every-painful-moment face. The lady asked what happened and Dustin told her the story. This was the first time my mind accepted the story and it was painful to hear. Mabel began to squirm to be let down but this was a hospital floor, there was no way it was clean enough and besides I needed her close and in my arms. I imagine the bill lady has heard a lot of bad things and could see Mabel didn’t look distressed but she made a menacing comment in response to Dustin’s story, something like, “she’ll be okay. I bet you won’t use a walker anymore.” Dustin’s tone dropped in response and I found myself playing peacekeeper. Thinking in my head…what does it take for child welfare to be called on parents?
We finally got a room. It was bright and looked like it served as the supply closet too. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was supposed to do with one small chair, a narrow bed and a squirmy baby. I decided that it would be the bed and that for the next hours of my life I would hold my child to keep her safe as she protested. It was the least I could do for her.
A nurse came in to check Mabel. The gloves…she cried hard. I calmed her down again and thought to myself, at least it is something like gloves and not the entire experience. I could manage her hating blue gloves for the rest of her life and she could uncover her deep seated fear with her future therapist. Dustin sat in the corner of the room, paralyzed. He asked me what we should do. My head raced to come up with some plan. It was past her last meal time and bed time. “Let’s feed her.” Dustin looked into her bag and immediately grabbed his head in disdain. “We don’t have the formula!” Perfect I thought, no really, “Honey, why don’t you drive back to the house and grab the formula. I will stay here with Mabel” I thought it might give him a chance to have a moment. As he left, I was unsure if he would consider not coming back. I also wasn’t sure if he could get back in either. It was now after 8 and visitor hours were over.
I looked in the bag. I needed something for this baby to do. Something familiar. I needed this to not be a traumatic experience for her…that had already happened on her trip down the stairs and I hoped she would forget it happened. I found water, a very small lady bug rattle, a touch book my dad had given to Mabel before her birth and several dirty bibs. I gave her the water. She took a few swigs but understandably didn’t want anything to drink. So I read the book to her. I let her turn the pages. It became comforting to read to her and have her engage something. Further confirmation that she would be okay. I read it over and over and over. I was determined to read it as many times as she needed, as I needed.
Dustin came back into the room. I couldn’t tell you how long he was gone and honestly I didn’t care. Him leaving allowed me to bond with my daughter and to keep her safe and focused without any of my attention needing to be diverted.
The Cat Scan
I had made it through about 3 hours or so with a lump in my throat and a sick feeling of worry with a touch of relief only to find myself faced with a challenge I was not prepared for. The orderly (I imagine this might not be what that position is called any more but I have no clue what else to call the guy) came to get us from the room to take us to the scan room. I began to hop off the bed but he said, “No, no. Stay up there. I got you both.” I sat on the bed holding Mabel in my lap as we rolled through the hospital halls with Dustin walking next to us. For a moment I felt embarrassed because it was fun and this was serious. Our bed was lined up behind another bed who was next to go. It seemed odd that Dustin and I were talking cute and cheery around all this lukewarm atmosphere and I didn’t want to disturb the guy in front of us not knowing what his situation was.
They called for one parent and Mabel. I glanced at Dustin who seemed to expect me to be the one. After all, I had been holding her this entire time and got the free ride. It was par for the course. I went into the room, scared because she was scared and we feed off each other. She began to cry as I put her on the table and they wrapped her head with towels and duct tape. I began to shed tears until one of the techs looked at my face and said coldly, you need to calm her and hold her head down here and here. I held her and they walked out of the room. I turned my back to everyone but my daughter and shed some more tears…I didn’t want anyone to see me cry, what right did I have to cry? I was part of the reason she had to go through this Cat Scan and the least I could do was help her through it without getting emotional.
I sang the ABCs, my made up Mabel song and then shut off my feelings and just watched her as she screamed and I forced her little head down. I still hate to think about that moment because it was the moment for both of us that we realized that I could not be trusted to make everything better.
We emerged from the room and hopped back onto the bed. It was only moments later that we made our way back through the halls and to the room with the supplies. It wasn’t as fun this time.
The Results and My Frustrated Husband
The young blond doctor came in. She was very sweet and I could tell she liked children. She went for the blue gloves and Mabel began to cry. Both Dustin and I said, “No, she is scared of the gloves.” She immediately took them off, threw them into the trash and used hand sanitizer, but it was too late. Our little baby was already crying. The doctor examined Mabel for broken bones and internal issues. She needed to push on Mabel’s tummy and see if it hurt her but Mabel was already screaming bloody murder. The doctor suggested I calm her down and that I push on her little tummy…I did. Yet another thing I would hope she would forget but that I never would.
The male doctor came in with a nice big smile and a relaxed demeanor. I thought, he either tells people bad news all day and doesn’t mind or he has good news and we can leave soon. He began to talk about “these things happen. She is going to be fine” until Dustin jumped into the doctors mantra abruptly and asked, “Is this based on anything? I mean how do you know she is alright?” The doctor looked at me. I simply said, “We haven’t gotten the results.” “You could at least start with that doc” Dustin said. The doctor apologized and said he thought someone had already told us. “The Cat Scan was negative and clear.” I was ready to fall asleep right there.
We had made it through this and it seemed time to put this past us, baby proof and jump back into our routine for everyone’s sake. This was not Dustin’s plan. He asked that I stay home Thursday. I knew this was not right for my mental wellbeing but right for his and as a by-product, Mabel’s. Dustin cried a lot and kept his distance. I wasn’t sure if or how he was going to bounce back from this. He already had such bad anxiety issues and this seemed more than any one of us could bear. The next day we got out and about at my insistence that we buy baby proofing items immediately. This was my way of handling my fear…control what I can, GATES! Mabel was doing very well and only had a small bruise on her arm. It seemed ideal for my heavy heart to return to work on Friday. Dustin needed me, so I stayed home on Friday. Again, not what I needed for myself but for the good of my family. I cleaned, worked, took care of Mabel and loved every minute of it. I thought to myself that perhaps Dustin should start looking for a job now and I could be the stay at home parent. Perhaps this situation was what needed to happen for us to make that leap. By Sunday, Dustin had begun to feel better and was ready to manage MabelCorp on Monday. I had just experienced someone else’s emotional rollercoaster and the Monday ride to the metro was not long enough for me to feel back on track.
We are okay. I can’t tell you where the walker is but I know it isn’t in use. I see the painful reminder of Mabel’s journey down the stairs every time I see the hole in the wall that Dustin put there. In case you were wondering, I blame him for the hole in the wall 100% but there is not an ounce of me that blames him for the accident. If anything, I blame my very young and unknowing daughter for thinking she could fly.
I am sure some day I might feel less sad about this experience but for now I will give myself the liberty to mourn our innocence lost.
Mabel and Mommy on Mabel’s 1st Birthday