Carys was dying in my arms, and there was no-one around to help me.
Actually, that wasn’t strictly true. There were plenty of people driving their cars past me, filing bumper to bumper, in a long slow unconcerned procession into town, but no-one stopped. I guess its human nature; don’t get involved, you don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for. That may be unkind; perhaps a woman crying and cradling a lifeless child on the side of the road just doesn’t look like an emergency.
Of course, Carys wasn’t dying, but I didn’t know that at the time.
This particular incident took place during one of my uglier moments, a detour on my journey to the dark side. I won’t re-live it now; suffice it to say that Carys quite possibly saved me from myself by what happened next, but in so doing, very nearly lost her own fragile little life.
A tiny cough disturbed my morbid, self-concerned thoughts. How could it be that I had forgotten she was with me?
The cough, so minute, so frail, so insignificant, was rapidly followed by another, and then another, in fact by a whole series, each coming so fast, one on top of the other, that she had no time to draw breath in between. She turned pale, did not respond when I called her name, and slumped to her left.
I watched all this in growing alarm through the rear view mirror, immediately pulling over onto the kerb. Heart hammering, shaking violently, fingers like unresponsive sausages; I could barely undo the buckle on her car seat. Time slipped a few notches into slow motion. I was moving through treacle, not thin air.
I dragged her from the car, crouched down, turned her face down over my knees, and pounded between her shoulder blades.
I flipped her back over.
Still motionless. Her eyes were already looking somewhere beyond this hard, cruel world.
It was so windy, that I couldn’t feel any breath coming from her mouth or nose. The traffic was so noisy, that I couldn’t hear if she was breathing. And I was shaking so much, I couldn’t feel her pulse, or detect any movement of her chest.
By now, I was hyperventilating in extreme panic. I couldn’t think. My memory, always leaky, abandoned all knowledge I had ever retained about CPR.
Helpless. Afraid. Guilty. Inactivity condemning my daughter to die. How could I live with that for the rest of my life? I did the only thing I could, for her and for me. I scooped up her lifeless little body and held her tight. As if the beating of my heart would encourage hers to respond. As if my arms would lend her their strength. As if my blood’s warmth would beat off death’s grip. If she was leaving me, I wanted her to feel my love and know she was not alone.
And then she came back. She opened her sweet little mouth and let out a weak, plaintive wail. I have never been so glad to hear her cry.
I resolved never to let such a situation arise again. Of course, we live under the constant threat of Carys’s medical conditions. They are our Mount Vesuvius. We can’t avoid them, and they will inevitably run their course. But I could do my best to learn and be prepared. I took a First Aid course, reasoning that logic and knowledge would assume automatic pilot when need arose.
But we are talking emergency situations here. And I am not, have never been, a rational, logical person. You have only to ask my husband about that! And panic was to rear its ugly uninvitedlittle head on yet another such occasion.
Two weeks before Christmas. Twelve days before Carys’s birthday. Mid day on a Sunday. Dinner time. I was feeding her cassoulet.
Suddenly, Carys began coughing and spluttering. She was choking, and it wouldn’t stop.
I pulled her out of the high chair, calling for Conor. I thumped her high on the back. Conor snatched her and tried the same. Nothing. Then she collapsed. She was blue, I mean really blue. I didn’t know it was possible for human skin to take on such an unnatural shade. We were losing her. Everything slowed. I remember looking at her and thinking, I know we will lose you one day, but surely not now, and not like this?
Against all advice ever given, I put my finger into her mouth, and tried to hook out the obstruction. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?
Conor took over whilst I phoned for an ambulance. They asked me to drive her to the main road and meet them there. It would be easier and quicker that way than them driving around all the back roads trying to find our house.
Then, with his long fingers, Conor found something lodged deep in her throat and hooked it out. There was blood all around her mouth where we had scraped her throat in our desperate removal attempts. Wordlessly, he held out a shaking hand. Resting innocuously in his palm was a chick pea. A bloody huge, rock-hard vile monster chick pea.
But how? I had soaked the little buggers all night, before I cooked them for three hours, and then mashed them to a pulp for Carys.
Carys began to cry in the car on the way to meet the ambulance. I was glad. It meant she was filling her lungs up with lovely lovely oxygen. It meant she was going to be fine.
Next Christmas, I did not make cassoulet.
But disappointingly, panic had overwhelmed me again, and I wallowed miserably in that knowledge. How would I ever fight back? How could I prepare myself to be Carys’s saviour? Next time, Daddy might not be there to be her knight in shining armour. In an emergency, there is no opportunity to take time out whilst you gather your thoughts, do a few deep breathing exercises, and ransack your medical journal to find out what to do. You just have to do it.
To be fair, I have helped others when necessary, and not turned into a jibbering, quivering lump of jelly. I even saved my son Malachy from choking to death on a marble when he was three (and old enough to know better… and yes, I still have that marble). But when Carys needs me, I fail.
I won’t give in. Can’t. There is no other option.
And I’ll take a First Aid refresher course. And will keep on doing so until finally, one day, it sinks in.