It is 3:00 a.m. and I have just been awaked by the pitter-patter of footsteps. I have written before about the characteristic “fingerprint” of the cadence of my three daughters’ footsteps. Taylor walks with a medium, fast, and firm step; Blair is slow and deliberate in step; while Brooke has a very irregular and rapid “tip-toe” gallop. Today it is the first step I hear, that of Taylor my 5-year-old, medium, fast, and firm. I was awoken by an odd request. “Daddy, may I please draw you a dancer in a flowerpot, like I was in my recital last week? I want it to be your Father’s Day gift.” So now I am writing this story in the dark of the night at 3:00 a.m. from my desk. In the next room I can hear my daughter struggling to finish her drawing, which she, for some reason, feels driven to complete for me. All the while I hear her tearful and frustrated approach to the drawing. She feels is it not perfect because she “messed up the petals on the daisies” and “cannot find the right color for the pot.” Little does she know that the Father’s Day present has already been completed. It was my having been awoken by the cadence of her footsteps (medium, fast, and firm). Allow me to explain…
Last week Kim and I and our two twins went to watch Taylor in a dance recital. On this evening she was dressed in a flower suit and danced beautifully in a large flowerpot on stage. It was a wonderful sight that most parents who have little girls ought to experience. On the following morning Taylor and I did crafts, which means that we drew pictures, painted paintings, and did some of our reading books, including her alphabet. In fact, it was the first day that Taylor ever wrote out the entire alphabet in sequence unprompted, and I had planned to keep that sheet of paper with the date on it for my remembrance. Only one hour after she completed this alphabet we went to the swimming pool so that the girls could play and have summer fun. On the way to the pool, Taylor kept commenting that she was excited about going off the diving board. Like the other parents, I was sitting at the base of the diving board making sure that she followed all of the rules that we had established. Walk directly to the end of the board, jump off straight and not to the side, and swim quickly to the ladder so that you will not be in anyone’s way and no one will jump on you.
Taylor had already gone off 10 to 15 times without incident, but then she had a deviation from her normal approach. Her friend ran underneath the board and Taylor wanted to wave to her. As she bent over, just beyond the rail of the high dive, she lost her balance and fell 15 feet head first onto the cement with her skull and spine crashing on the hard surface and then her body falling into the water. While I saw her fall, there was not time to break the impact of the devastating blow to her little body. I was jumping in the water as she fell and I caught her just beneath the surface only to see blood coming from her head. In a flash I had her out of the pool with adrenaline surging, yet it seems to me that it was all happening in slow motion. As I ran around the corner of the pool I noticed that the hand supporting her head was covered in blood and her eyes were rolled up in her head, so that all I saw were the whites of her sclera. With a convulsion and her lack of responsiveness, I placed my darling daughter on the ground quickly to stabilize her and screamed for an ambulance and a neurosurgeon. I remember beating the cement with my fist wondering why it would happen that I would lose my daughter in such a rapid fashion. You see, in my mind there was no question that I had lost my daughter. How could anyone sustain such a blow and have normal brain function without being paralyzed, severely retarded, or die? My wife and I, both being physicians, knew all too well the likelihood of permanent or complete loss of our beautiful daughter.
Taylor was quickly brought in traction to the emergency department where a team of neurosurgeons and trauma physicians descended upon her and whisked her through the hospital for a variety of CT scans, x-rays, and other tests. In the ensuing days it became apparent, however, that Taylor’s neurologic recovery was likely to be complete. While she had two large skull fractures and a severe concussion she was able to speak, move all of her fingers and toes, and she knew what was going on around her. In fact on one occasion after she had heard the story being told for the umpteenth time, she explained, “Guys, it’s over. Let’s move on.” With wisdom beyond her years, I suppose we were forced to take notice. Interestingly enough, despite throwing up, sutures in the back of her head, and being on intravenous antibiotics to prevent any meningitis due to the open nature of her fractures, I have not heard a single complaint from her regarding pain or headaches over the past five days.
I am staying home this week so that I can be with my daughter during this recovery. Today we will paint some pottery, sit and talk, and maybe even catch a movie. She has already informed me that she wants to enroll in an art class. Last night she exclaimed, “When I grow up I have decided to be an artist. I was going to be a policewoman or a doctor or a scientist. Now I have decided to be an artist so that I can paint pretty things for other people and make them smile.”
Back to the middle of the night… As I have been writing this story, Taylor has now completed my Father’s Day gift in her mind. That is, the drawing is finished. I am not allowed to look at it because, of course, it is a surprise for the upcoming Father’s Day. But guess what, I have already peeked. The giver, Taylor, considers the gift imperfect because of oddly shaped petals on the flowers and the color of the flowerpot. I, on the other hand, am on my knees with arms outstretched to the heavens, tears flooding down my face in thanks to the Giver of the real gift. He has given me my daughter, who is 5 years old, stands about 3 feet 3 inches tall and weighs 40 pounds. She has sandy-brown hair and azure eyes. She can dance like a flower, miraculously growing from the earth in a flowerpot. No conventional measure of gratitude, no words of praise, nor any character of pain can grasp the magnitude of my thankfulness. The image of my falling and nearly fatally injured child is now fading into the miracle of her current vitality. With each new day, I will immerse myself in appreciation to the Giver. I hope that our family will be cognizant always of God’s goodness in granting us gifts, which we have not earned. For you, the reader of this story, I want to recite my favorite blessing (Philippians 4:7) which seems pertinent considering our recent experience, “May the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, guard your hearts and minds and be with you and your family always.”
Wesely Ely, MD, MPH, FCCP
Vanderbilt University Medical Center