How could this little cheeky face cause so much trouble?

How could this little cheeky face cause so much trouble?

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.

No reaction.

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?

No obstruction.

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.

16 Comments on “Panic

  1. You are strong, Ali. There are always situations in which our strength seems to fail us. I agree with Mark that you would certainly have found a way to help Carys.


  2. Ali, my heart goes out to you. I did get teary-eyed, and am so glad Carys is with us. I see great strength in you. Strength to share your story and what you’ve been through so openly, and strength to stay present with and be there for you little girl even in the darkest moments. You did what was needed, and would have done what was needed if you were alone as well. I do have a thought about why emergency situations with your other children don’t feel the same as when it’s Carys in serious trouble. You thought you would lose her before she even made it here. I’m sure every trauma with her now takes you in some way back to that harrowing time before she was born, and wanting to do everything for her, and knowing she’d have to live or not by her own strength. Responding the way you do is completely understandable. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Your love and awareness with Carys shines through. Having a child almost die is the worst nightmare of a parent. And you were there, completely there, not hiding, not doing any myriad thing to disappear behind something or someone else. That is strength: not the absence of panic but acting through, because, despite it, acting with love and giving everything, even when you feel you have/can do nothing. You ground Carys within a world she will never fully understand, and in that, you are her world. Hugs to you and Carys.


    • “You ground Carys within a world she will never fully understand, and in that you are her world.” What a beautiful line that is Éilis, thank you! Your poetic tendencies shine through even in your everyday writing! Carys is very much with us and making her presence felt, although at the moment she is peacefully asleep on daddy’s lap…she’s suffering from a cold and conjunctivitis, poor little thing…if it’s not one thing, it’s another!


  3. Oh, Ali! I know how scary that is to watch your baby stop breathing and not be able to do anything. (Jeremy was a very sick kid.) And nothing is more frightening! Your writing is so beautiful and moving when you talk about your beautiful Carys. You are truly her angel. And I know you are a lot stronger than you think. I just know you would have found the chickpea and removed it in time. You’re an amazing Mama!! *HUGS* for you both!!!! ❤


    • I have had a love/hate relationship with chickpeas ever since lol! Thank you for the hugs and the lovely comments, Rachel. Amazing mama? No, just a mama, but I appreciate the compliment, and add ‘Ditto’!


      • LOL! Now, see if you were a family with autism like me and mine, you’d never eat or serve chick peas again. Ever. EVER. 😉 It’s a bit strange how few foods we actually eat, but I always appreciate when other people like variety. 🙂


  4. You are very strong, Ali, stronger than you know. Both you and Carys came through both situations, did you not? If Conor had not been there to dislodge the pea, who’s to say you would not have gotten it out with another try at it? Feeling the panic of your fierce, protective love does not mean that you will not do what must be done to help dear Carys.
    Thank you for sharing these tales of your life with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a relief to get it out of my system and burden you all with it, Mark, hehe! Thanks for reading it and for leaving such a beautiful comment.


    • Thanks Grace! She’s a tough little cookie! Thanks for reading my post… have you got a follow button yet? I’m hopping right over to check!


          • Oops I think I need to hire you. I updated that site as well and lost the subscription widget in the mix. I have just done it now so thank a million. Have a great weekend.


            • Ha! You’re going to think I’m a right picky cow, but I love following sites I enjoy, and never want to miss a post. I would never remember to visit all the sites I like if I couldn’t follow or subscribe to them (on account of this terribly faulty memory I have been blessed with, lol!)


            • No you are not picky and you are definitely not a cow, but just really bright, clever and helpful.
              I have six sites (I know I am mad) and I do them all on my own (twice as mad)
              I am working on my gardening one today since it is raining and I can’t garden for real.
              I have a head like a sieve so I am so very glad of any suggestions or reminders I can get.
              Take care now


    • Yaay! I am subscribed to your Ballyyahoo site but couldn’t find a button for your practical creative writing site!


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