Saturday, April 21, 2012

My Baby is Drowning: Reprinted from Horizons premiere edition, 1994

Shoshana is humming as she sets the Shabbat table. She stands tall and graceful, and I can’t help feeling proud of her. Suddenly my mind flashed back to a Shabbat thirteen years earlier. I remember holding my small daughter in my arms, unable to stop the tears flowing down my face as my husband made Kiddush. HaShem had performed a miracle for us that week when I had pulled Shoshana unconscious from a neighbor’s pool. The memory was still raw and searing.
In our southwestern town, where practically every third house has a swimming pool, my story was not uncommon. We were fortunate, though: ours had a happy ending.
It started on Wednesday afternoon as the children and I set out for our weekly grocery shopping. Shavuot was coming and there was a lot to buy. As I settled my toddlers into the car, I noticed that three-year-old Hillel was missing his sun hat. Quickly I ran inside the house, leaving the two children unbuckled in their car seats. As I grabbed the hat, the phone rang. Intending to tell whoever it was that I would call back, I answered it. However, it was my aunt calling long-distance. I spoke to her, trying at the same time to keep an eye on the big picture window and the car parked in front of the house.
The phone call lasted about five minutes. I ran outside to find Hillel standing next to the car. There was no Shoshana.
“Where’s Shoshana?” I demanded as I scanned the front yard, hoping to see her hiding in some corner.
Hillel’s answer stuck a chill of fear in my heart: “She’s in the swimming pool. She’s swimming over there.” His little finger pointed to our neighbor’s yard.
It couldn’t be. How could a seventeen-month-old get into the backyard? A glance at the fence showed me the answer: There was hole in the gate, and it was just the right size for Shoshana to crawl through. The opening had been there ever since we moved into our house. I’d seen it but had never given it any thought.
There were no cars in the neighbor’s driveway, so I assumed no one was home. Not wanting to wait a second to check, I scaled their fence. I did not want to believe Hillel; when a quick glance revealed no Shoshana, I was ready to search for her the next street over. After all, I thought, cars were a realistic danger, not swimming pools. For some reason, however, I took a second look. Then I saw my daughter floating in the water, head down. Her skin had a blue tinge.
I pulled Shoshana from the water and started pumping her stomach. After a few pumps, I remembered to breathe into her mouth. As I worked, pictures of all the adorable things my daughter did ran through my mind. Pump and breathe, pump and breathe. Between breaths, I screamed for help, screams that came from the depths of my soul.

The neighbors’ teenage daughter, inside her house with a friend, heard my voice. She called the paramedics, and her friend ran across the street to a neighbor who worked as a lifeguard. He brought Shoshana around seconds before the ambulance arrived.

Once Shoshana was in capable hands, it was my task to comfort a sobbing Hillel and then call my husband. When he asked how it happened, I could only cry.
“I’m on my way home,” he said, ending the conversation.
I stared at the receiver, wondering what to do next. Activity had kept me from thinking; now, I was afraid of my thoughts.
Suddenly I knew what my next step needed to be. I dialed the day school and asked to speak to the principal. “Shoshana almost drowned and the paramedics are with her now.” I fought to keep my voice steady, ignoring the horror in his sympathetic response. “She’s alive, but I have no idea if there was brain damage. Please have the children say tehillim for her.”
The principal assured me that he would and he also called his wife, my close friend. She arrived at the house simultaneously with my husband, just as the paramedics were lifting Shoshana into the ambulance. Hillel had calmed down quite a bit and agreed to go home with my friend. My husband got back into his car to drive to the hospital, but I climbed into the front of the ambulance so I could be as near my daughter as possible.
When we reached the hospital, Shoshana was wheeled straight into the emergency room. My husband and I were told to stay in the waiting area. It was a bright room full of comfortable chairs, but I could not sit down. I wandered around the room, trying to breathe normally. A trained volunteer attempted to work with me, but only when the rabbi of our community arrived could I calm down.
As he sat with us it began to rain. “The rain’s a good sign,” he said. I pondered how water could almost bring death and at the same time be such a blessing.
A nurse came towards us and said one of us could go to Shoshana. My husband sent me, sensing how badly I needed to see her.
She was all tied up with tubes and somewhere in the “twilight zone” as our pediatrician described it. He explained to me that once she was stabilized she would be sent to a bigger hospital downtown, the hospital where she had been born.
“How long will she be in for?” I asked in a quivering voice.
“As long as it takes, but we’ll try to have her home by Shabbos.”
I blinked back tears and returned to my husband. He seemed certain all would work out for the best. We were soon told that Shoshana was being transferred by ambulance and we should meet her at the larger hospital.
The next six hours were a blur: talking to medical personnel, breaking the news to our folks, answering concerned questions from other parents at the hospital, and fielding phone calls from friends. Shoshana was in the intensive-care unit, where she alternately cried and slept. We were given encouraging but noncommittal answers about brain damage.
My in-laws took Hillel for the night and we stayed at the hospital. Sleep eluded me; a little after midnight, I hesitantly walked into the ICU.
Shoshana was awake. She stared at me and moaned, “No, no.”
“It’s a good sign,” the nurses reassured me. “She recognizes you and wants you to rescue her from all the machines.”
One of the nurses helped me put Shoshana on my lap. We had to be careful of the IV and all the monitoring wires. “Do you want a drink?” I asked my daughter.
“No.” It was her answer for yes.
“Say please.” Holding my breath, I continued our ritual.
At that moment I knew that she was going to be okay. She sat with me awhile, and then the nurse helped me put Shoshana back to sleep. Returning to the waiting room I shared my elation with my husband. 
The doctor came early the next morning. Shoshana was taken off the wires and stood up. Tensely, we watched to see if her coordination had been affected. Shoshana walked straight to a filing cabinet and began to pull it open.
We were told she should stay in the hospital one more day for observation. It was a very hard twenty-four hours. Shoshana was an active toddler and the hospital was full of “no”s. Still, it was a joy to see her alive, alert, and active.
Friday morning Shoshana was released. She walked out of the hospital holding onto my hand and my husband’s. We picked up Hillel from nursery school and came home to prepare for Shabbat, a happy, healthy family once more.
Shoshana was well and would probably not remember her near tragedy, but the rest of us had been traumatized. My husband appeared to be the first to recover. Whenever he thought about the accident he concentrated on the miracle of Shoshana’s escape from death. For Hillel and me it was harder. We had seen Shoshana unconscious, thought her dead, and were haunted by the memory. Those involved with Hillel, from teachers to grandparents to friends, all handled the situation well. When he wanted to talk about the incident they listened and all his questions were answered honestly. Over and over he was told what a hero he was for telling his mother where Shoshana was so she could be saved. With the resiliency of most children he recovered from his terror.
My challenge was more difficult, though, as it was compounded by guilt. Why had I left the children alone in the car? Also, there were my questions of emunah. Why had HaShem allowed Shoshana to live while other children died? I spent most of the summer worrying over these questions, talking them over with my husband and several friends. No one gave me straight answers.  These were issues I had to work out for myself. Finally I came to the realization- one my husband had always seemed to have- that emunah does not mean believing only good things will happen; it means believing that whatever HaShem does is for the best. Once I grasped this truth, my guilt was not so overwhelming. I had made a mistake, a stupid mistake, but a human one. I would learn from it and be more careful in the future. 
Then came Rosh HaShanah. As I stood in the synagogue, reciting a prayer I had never paid much attention to before, I began to tremble. “On Rosh HaShana it is inscribed and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: How many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live, and who will die; who at his predestined time, and who before his time; who by water and who by fire…” I was struck by the power of prayer. Perhaps because of someone’s tefillah the previous year Shoshana was alive today.
Thirteen years have passed. Shoshana has changed from a mischievous toddler to a lovely young lady. At times it is hard to believe that they are the same person, but every so often the memory of the experience hits me as it did that Shabbat. I have so much to be thankful for; not only my daughter’s life, but my growth in beginning to understand emunah and tefillah.
Kiddush: blessing over wine
Tehillim: psalms
Emunah: faith
Tefillah: prayer

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