by Tiffany Armstrong
In Memory of my Victoria McKenzie
Date: Wed, 29 Sep 1999
It was her second day at the sitters. My 3rd day back at work in the field of EMS. I had been worrying about returning to work, no one except my husband could take as good of care of Tori. I had been forced into a "medical leave of absence" when my doctor no longer wanted me lifting 300lb patients everyday. I had been promised a "desk" job to work until the baby was born and when it came time to leave the street work the "desk" job had vanished due to low census at the hospital. Thus my husband took up the burden of providing solely for the family. I continued on with Paramedic school all through the pregnancy and finished up the month after Tori was born.
I had stopped by the sitters that day at lunch to give Tori kisses and to ease my new mommy separation anxiety. She was fine, a little sleepy but the sitter was giving her a bottle and I figured she was just tired. That Friday was so strange and yet I could put my finger on the reason why- until later.
I don't remember the time the call came in. I thought it was a 911 run and was surprised to have the other hospital calling us, (we compete for the calls here) A lady said Tori had been brought in by ambulance for trouble breathing. I told her I would be right there. I had no idea what was going on. Fear crept up my spine as I motioned to my partner we had to leave. I blurted out, " Baby hospital, now" and he drove us to the other hospital. I remember the light was backed up that you normally turn on and he took a different route to get us there. (Working in EMS, we know lots of short cuts.) I called my husband who works 60 miles away and told him Tori was taken to the hospital. We pulled up at the entrance and I ran in the ER entrance like I owned the place. I had to get to Tori, she was probably scared. I had to see those big blue eyes light up at me.
A police officer took my hand and then I knew I was in real trouble. Two other doctors flanked my side and I remember someone touching my elbow as they told me in the ER hallway that she didn't make it. I saw a tech come out of the room that moment with a grim look on his face carrying a pediatric intubation tray. Oh God they had to intubate my little baby. I told them I had to see her, this couldn't be real. I didn't start screaming or faint, I could feel that she was gone but I couldn't believe it. They led me to a room and told me I could call anyone I needed to.
The second biggest blow to my soul was when I called my husband and told him I needed him here now. He said, "False alarm huh?" I couldn't reply. I asked the chaplain what I should say. My husband said to just tell him. When I told him the pain became real. I could feel him falling to the ground screaming in pain. At that moment I wanted to launch the rescue helicopter to go and get him. I didn't want him driving in such a upset condition. I just knew he couldn't get here fast enough. I called my parents and had to leave a message on the answering machine. I sounded so calm it amazed even me. I called work and had them call a friend from work at home. I didn't think I could breath other minute being by myself, even though I was surrounded by 3 doctors. I had to ask what treatment they did for Tori at the hospital and try to reconstruct what had happen. I had just completed a neonatal resuscitation course a few weeks before, I wanted to make sure they did everything correct.
They took me back down the hallway to see Tori. The police officer was guarding her door. She was lying there bundled up in a blanket with the intubation tube still attached. I ran to her side and started telling her how sorry I was. Sorry for what I dont know, but those were the words that flowed forth. Sorry she was gone, sorry she had died, sorry for being robbed of growing up with her. The chaplain encouraged me to hold her. At first I was scared, but they placed Tori in my arms and the familiar feelings of holding her, singing to her, rocking her to sleep, playing with her, just talking to her came flooding back. She was so cold and had a blue tint to her skin. This told me she had been gone for a while now, not just a few minutes. They started to tell me what facts they knew. She had been at the hospital 20 minutes before they called me. That hurt. I had made 2 sets of emergency numbers and given them to the sitters. I was overly prepared when it came to my baby. Later I learned it was hospital procedure when a trauma code come in and the officer on scene at the sitters had all of the emergency numbers.
Time stopped right there. I held Tori and kissed her cold forehead while tears flowed. Cooing her pet names to her over and over. My friend arrive in what seemed minutes and I stupidly told her Tori had died. It was evident by just by the situation. She had flown over to the hospital from her house 20 miles away and had probably broken many speed limits. She hugged Tori and stayed by my side keeping me as sane as possible in that type of situation. I had to go several times to the bathroom but I didn't want to let go of Tori, I still didn't want her to be lonely. My friend offered to hold Tori while I went. I know it took guts for her to be there because she has a red headed little girl age two at home. The same red hair as Tori. I had to answer lots of questions, many I don't remember, but from reading other families stories, we got off easy. My family called me in the hospital room and I didn't know how they knew where I was. I had told them to page me. I discovered my husband was calling people on his cellular as he made his way to the hospital. They were in shock when I told them and got on the road to make the 65 mile trip.
My husband arrived via his supervisor who had driven him down here. I can tell you that 14 hours of hard labor was nothing compared to the pain we felt. The doctors told us there would need to be an autopsy and explained what would happen. We spent the next few hours holding Tori and grieving till the medical examiner came for her. I didn't want to give her up, yet I wanted to know what had happen to take our baby girl away from us. She was healthy, she was current on all her immunizations, she always slept on her back and was a beastfed baby. Every precaution the experts advise you of, we followed- and it still didn't help.
We left the hospital hours later with no idea where to go or what to do. We
slept very little for the next week. I still have problems sleeping now a month
later. We notified family and friends. I remember one of the firemen telling me
the news hit him so hard he wanted to puke. That coming from a fireman who is
train to remain calm in most fiercesome of situations seemed appropriate and
just the right words for that time. We found out the day of the funeral that
Tori died from SIDS. In a small way this was a relief because I didn't think I
could handle her death occurring due to abuse or neglect from the sitters. (They
had been highly recommend and thoroughly checked out before she ever went.)
Now her father and I begin the slow and painful process of adjusting to life without the big blue eyes and smiles that readily came when she saw us. She always woke up with a smile on her face in the mornings. And you think in 2 months and 24 days that someone cannot affect you as deeply as she did. She changed our lives, drew us closer together, made the world a wonderful, exciting place in vibrant colors. Now it seems like everything is in black and white and fuzzy. Someday there will be color again and clarity, but that is down the road.
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