When a scare reminds you what matters most

It could have been worse. It could have ended differently. Still, I can’t seem to stop my head from playing the what-if game. I laid awake much of Labor Day night watching Little Miss Sleep, making sure her chest was rising and falling.

 We still aren’t sure what happened. Little Miss and my dad saw a snake in his yard Labor Day afternoon. It was small, Dad could tell it wasn’t a venomous snake (little tip here: there are 22 species of snakes in our state, and only three are venomous), so he showed her how to pick it up and let her. Somehow the snake managed to bite her, but she didn’t drop it. Instead, it bit her again in the finger, and then she dropped it. She was calm about it all, but Dad told her to go wash her hands. She announced she’d been bit when she came in and I didn’t see anything but a blur as she ran past me and went into the bathroom. I was alarmed but assumed the snake was a Garter snake because those are the most common in our area.

What happened next was a blur of chaos. Little Miss came out of the bathroom, I think because I didn’t see her. Next thing I remember my mom said, “Oh!” and then my daughter crumpled to the kitchen floor by the table. Mom said Little Miss had smacked her chin off the table before she crumpled. My mind immediately went to her reacting to the snake bite.

My husband picked her up and held her. I cried, “Call an ambulance!” because I thought she’d been knocked out.

My mom and dad said I should calm down, that she’d hit her head, “let us look at her first, it wasn’t a venomous snake,” but then in the next second she slumped backward, almost out of my husband’s arms and it was him screaming to call the ambulance instead of me.  He told me later her eyes were closed, and she wasn’t responding to him and he’d never felt so helpless.

It was like a crazy nightmare I couldn’t get out of. I literally thought, “this is happening. I’m going to lose my daughter. Tragedy has finally come to our family this time.” She was limp in his arms, and he was running outside. Then she woke for a moment, crying, and said, “I feel weird.”

A call to 911 brought an ambulance in about ten minutes but it felt like a lifetime to us. She was talking but out of it. Lethargic, saying how tired she was. Her finger where the snake bit her had a small spot but it wasn’t swollen. She said it didn’t really hurt.

Her eyes didn’t look right the entire time and the 911 dispatcher told me not to let her stand on her own and to keep the hand that had been bit below heart level.

When the EMTs arrived they examined her, checked her heart rate and oxygen and they were good, but she still didn’t look right and none of us were sure if she’d started to pass out before she hit the table or if the hit on the table had knocked her out. There were no marks on her head, but a small scratch showed up there yesterday.

She was trembling on the gurney so the one EMT suggested we sit her on the bank in front of my parents’ house next to her brother and see if that would help her calm down. I sat next to her but she couldn’t hold herself upright and her head kept rolling a bit. Her eyes looked weird, and she kept saying she was tired. Less than five minutes of sitting there the EMT came out of the ambulance where he was filling out paperwork with my husband and said, “I think we need to take her. Her eyes don’t look right, and I would feel better if we took her.”

I immediately agreed and realized that the entire time I thought he was just sitting in the ambulance helping my husband and the other responder fill out paperwork, he was actually watching Little Miss and using his training to tell she wasn’t fine at all, no matter what she’d tried to tell them earlier.

Little Miss cried because she didn’t want to go. She said he wanted her brother to go with her and I offered to go but my husband held her tight and said he was going in the ambulance with her. I think he was afraid to let her go after the way she’d passed out in his arms earlier.

They quickly took off and my mom told my dad to drive me. Dad was worried about finishing the hamburgers we were grilling and also trying to keep me calm so he was moving a little slow for my liking. I finally left without him, my mind racing through all the scenarios of what could be wrong with Little Miss. I think my brain was moving too fast for me to even cry or flip out.

It’s odd. I didn’t feel the overwhelming panic I often do over simple things. This was a “big thing” where I should have been totally cracking up, complete with the trembling hands and weak knees and light head. Instead, I just kept praying, asking the Holy Spirit to take over, and trying to think of anything but what might be happening at the hospital.

“Look, three maroon vehicles in a row, how strange.”

“Look, this man in front of me refuses to move off the road even while I honk my horn at him to indicate that I am obviously in the middle of an emergency.”

“Do water trucks always drive this slow?”

Once in the ER exam room, seeing my daughter sitting up, crying, but much more alert than she had been only a half an hour earlier, I felt calmer, yet still wanted to scoop her up and run as far away as possible from the building and wake up from this nightmare we were all having.

We never did find evidence the snake even broke the skin. Neither did the doctor. Tests were done to see if she had any signs of venom in her and they came back negative. The hospital kept her for several hours to see if there were any changes and then we finally were able to take her home.

My dad looked up the snake and we are all certain it was a milk snake, which is a harmless snake that doesn’t even have fangs. That probably means she either had a lot of adrenaline going in her making her pass out or that the blackout came after she hit the table, not before. We aren’t sure, even though she says she started to feel funny and began to blackout before she hit the table.

One funny story from the day was when the EMT said to me, “Do you have the snake?”

We said we didn’t, and he looked relieved. “Oh, thank God. I hate snakes and I was so afraid I’d have to see it.”

Wondering if you will hold your child in your arms alive again puts a lot in perspective. Things that once mattered really don’t anymore. Things that seemed important no longer are.

It is similar to how I approached life after my aunt passed away at the very end of 2017. I weeded out what didn’t matter and focused on what did. I won’t be online as much, that’s for sure. There is a lot of life to enjoy beyond a screen and digital device and I plan to enjoy it with her, my son, and my husband.

You might be wondering if I watched Little Miss all night that night while she slept. I absolutely did and didn’t let her out of my sight most of the next day. I probably won’t be letting her out of my sight for a long time. I can’t seem to stop worrying that something else will happen to her, that if I don’t watch her all the time she could fall or pass out again. It’s illogical, I know, but I can’t seem to shake the feelings or thoughts.

I see her crumpling to the floor and falling backward out of my husband’s arms over and over again in my mind. I seem to have slight PTSD from it all (though I do not mean to trivialize true cases of PTSD from war or abusive situations).

You might also wonder if my daughter, the snake-loving almost 7-year-old still likes snakes. Last night she told me, “I love snakes. Being bit by one is not going to stop me. I’m still going to search out every snake ever.”

She has agreed, however, to only look at them, not pick them up.