Twenty-four hours can change your life, Dana thought as she sat, slumped, her face in her hands. Just yesterday Olivia was whirling around the patio in her rainbow tutu to an audience of one, Dana, who sat sipping her coffee among the dahlias. Energetically, Olivia became one with her dance. In true five-year-old fashion, she embraced life with the bear-hug of love.
Dana now looked at her daughter in the hospital bed, hooked up to machines. Olivia’s eyes were closed, her heartbeat thrumming like a hummingbird’s.
“Mama, can we have ice cream today?” she had said, after curtsying and climbing up onto Dana’s lap, stealing a sip of her latte.
Dana had appointments and meetings all day, so ice cream would have to wait. A momentarily disappointed Olivia climbed down, then, forgetting the ice cream, leaped and twirled, arms extended, into the house to get ready for school. Dana watched her go, finishing her coffee. She loved these mornings. Bill was away on another business trip, and she had her daughter all to herself. Tomorrow they would get ice cream.
The sound of monitors brought thoughts back to the present and her daughter now lying here, motionless.
She grasped one of Olivia’s little hands. A tear trickled down her face as she made silent bargains with the universe. She tried a direct connection to God, though she hadn’t had a conversation with Him in years. Oh, baby, she thought, just get well. Please come back to me.
Bill was flying back early.
When the school had called her to tell her Olivia had been feeling dizzy, Dana canceled her afternoon meeting to pick her up. When she got there, Olivia was reeling, unable to stand upright. Something was not right. She scooped her up in her arms and raced her to urgent care, her soothing banter belying her gut-wrenching anxiety. The wait had been short. Olivia’s condition spurring the medical staff into action. Once admitted, things had quickly spiraled out of Dana’s control. The next thing she knew, she was sitting beside her unconscious daughter’s bed, miles from home at the children’s hospital.
Tears flowed freely now. Worry vice-gripped her heart, unrelenting. The doctors couldn’t give her a diagnosis. It could be a virus causing an immune response; though rare, they had seen it before. Or it could be something much worse. They would need more tests. The nurses had poked and prodded, taking blood samples, checking vitals. She needed Bill. She longed for his strong presence, for his arms to enfold her, for him to make everything okay.
Day turned to night. A nurse entered silently and jotted notes on a chart. Olivia had missed her bedtime story. Dana herself would have been reading in bed until the familiar lead weight of sleep forced her eyes closed. Bill’s flight would be here soon. Dana rested her head on Olivia’s bed, spent.
The sun was high in the window when Dana was roused by a hand on her back. Bill. She saw the fear in his eyes. She embraced him and lost herself in his arms, sobbing. For the next few days, they tag-teamed at the hospital. Though Dana didn’t want to leave Olivia’s side, sleep deprivation overtook her and forced her to seek the quiet darkness of a hotel bed, where she slept fitfully, cell phone by her side. The doctors still couldn’t tell them anything. Olivia was breathing on her own, but barely. When they discussed life support, Dana broke out in a cold sweat. Nobody had warned her about the sheer terror that could overtake her as a parent.
Once again, she took up her post at Olivia’s bedside. She held one small hand and started quietly singing a song that she used to sing to Olivia as a baby, comforting verses about walking through a storm and not being alone. She sang softly. Time slowed down. As he left, Bill urged her to eat. She nodded, knowing she wouldn’t. She sang, and a peace came over her. Hospital sounds faded into the background.
They were alone in the room when she thought she felt Olivia’s hand move slightly. Her voice caught, then found itself again as she pushed the call button. Soon, little eyelids fluttered slowly, then opened. She paused.
Dana’s heart caught in her throat. There was no sweeter sound on earth.