Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Worst Moment in My Life!

I was over at MedFriendly's today and his post and someone's comment triggered a memory of my not being able to process information normally because of the extreme stress I was experiencing. I never would have thought it could've happened to me but I shut down. I would like to think that I would have snapped out of it and become productive -fortunately I didn't have to find out.
* I know this is long and so I have broken it up into 5 parts (on the same page) for anyone so inclined to read it but not wanting to endure a long post. Think of it as 5 short posts! :) I think I should put up a funny post soon after this one.

Part I - Background
I am going to describe some of my personality traits as I see them to set up for why I surprised myself in how I reacted in a potentially serious situation. I am prefacing the important part of the post with the following because I am so ashamed and embarrassed at how I crumbled and got hysterical and was useless when I was needed the most.

Well first of all I think I had to grow up early because of circumstances when I was a young girl. I have felt like I needed to parent my mother since I was 12. (She was/is a good person and didn't do horrible things ever, but she lacked good parenting skills and due to some unfortunate circumstances in her/our lives seemed unable to cope with a budding adolescent among other things and so I feel like our rolls reversed. But that is a post for another time.) I said that because I learned early on if I didn't do it- then things didn't get done. I consider myself a level headed thinker. I don't "react" to people that go over the edge themselves and always manage to stay composed and even smile regardless of what I am really feeling. I forgive easily-ever the peacemaker. I also think I am good when a crisis hits or there is an emergency of some sort. Many times in my life I have been the go to person for help or guidance. I can be strong willed, determined and principled if it is important. Some people will say things like "Why bother? It's not going to make a difference anyway." That is s-o-o-o-o not me because I really believe there is always hope and the promise of new possibilities. I am optimistic and can usually see the good even in the bad. If there is a problem and you can't go over then go under or go around...there is usually a way. Even as a teenager...I never succumbed to peer pressure. I always had the ability to reason things through. I am strong in abstract thinking and can totally step outside myself and see the larger picture. I have a very strong faith in God and do believe that no matter what is happening in life that all things will work out for good even when we don't understand at the time. I believe fear is the opposite of faith…I know it.

Now I can just hear some of the people that know me in real life that are reading this saying "and WHEN...are getting to your FLAWS? Yeah...I guess I have one or two...ahem. ;) I pretty much hide my more serious side and will usually present more animated and perky particularly if I am enjoying the people I am with. I know I come across ditzy at times (I really do have those Lucy moments) and fortunately I can laugh with the best of them. And if I am totally comfortable with someone I will share my hurts and weaknesses and even cry if I need to. There have been many times in my life where people from all walks of life have totally been there for me and given me a shoulder to lean on or helped me back up when I was down. That's what it is all about anyway...right…that we are there for each other?

I also want to add that I have always been a protective and sometimes over protective parent of our sons. (I know from experience how sometimes even the people you trust can sometimes be dangerous. (Fortunately my guardian angel took good care of me) I was always careful about who the boys were with, where they were as well as what TV shows they watched or music they listened to and kept the computer out in the open. I welcomed the kids to hang out at our house because then I knew who their friends were and what was going on. (I also think it is important for parents to build a good relationship with your child's friends and parents when possible, but I digress. I did have to work, but I did 3-11's PT so they rarely had to go to babysitters. I was there for them. I am just as protective with Devan.

Part II - Where is she?
A few years ago, when Devan had just turned 4, I brought her to church with younger son and me. We brought her downstairs to the preschool Sunday school class. They gave you pagers in case the child needed you and took all of your names down. (I think that is a great idea) We left her happily playing with the other kids.

This church is a large, thriving and growing church that is filled with people of all ages. That day, son and I were toward the front. It takes awhile for the sanctuary to empty because there are 4 aisles all leading out to the one exit into the lobby and people stop to say hello to pastor and his wife (who is also a pastor) and then head out into a very packed lobby. There are also kids coming upstairs from Sunday school and emptying out from the teenager groups on the other side of the lobby. Halfway up the aisle I stopped to talk with someone. I wasn't concerned with rushing downstairs because it is packed and you move inches at a time and then have to wait to get to the door of the classroom and she liked to play as long as she could.

When son and I went in to get her I didn't see her with the other kids. An internal mini alarm was starting to go off. I calmly asked the girl where Devan was. The girl looking somewhat puzzled said "Devan? Your with Devan? She walked out with some other people. I thought she was with them?" Just seconds from totally losing it I somehow calmly managed to say "What people?" She said "I don't know... they just came and got the kids." Now with an escalating voice" YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT PEOPLE?????" "OH MY GOD!" I said as I reeled around looking back into the hallway that still had people coming and going. I was getting a sinking, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. From this point on it was like time stopped. I don't remember ANY of the faces around me. Not even my son's face. I mean it never registered with me if he looked upset. I am sure he was! Before I even stepped into the hall I had a mental picture of sweet little Devan scared in the back of a stranger's car and being carted off somewhere for no good purpose. I looked both ways down the hallway and called for her but I felt like I couldn't see. Obviously, I could see but my emotions were so strong that I apparently was unable to process what was happening around me and it was all blurring together and I was only going through the motions and beginning to feel a disconnect. I bolted into the room across the hall to see if she had gone in there because she liked the toys in that room. She had played in there when she was at a harvest event and didn't want to leave that time. I saw the teacher and blurted out "DEVAN IS MISSING, MY LITTLE GRANDDAUGHTER IS MISSING!" She immediately came over to me and said she hadn't seen her and reassured me that they would find her. Like a fast moving zombie (it was all so surreal) I went back down the hall toward the stairs. I was simultaneously thinking "Oh my God...What am I going to tell her parents??? All these news images were rushing into my brain about missing children and the devastation! I saw the Sunday school director by the stairs and blurted out that Devan was missing. Oblivious to my history with meniscal tears I then bolted up the stairs and don't know how I did it but it must have been the adrenaline.

I darted into the lobby, quickly scanned it. To my dismay it had mostly cleared by now and the parking lot was looking pretty empty. I still couldn't really process visually but when I looked over to my right I saw the pastor, felt a momentary relief because he feels like a real go to kind of guy and I have always felt secure around him. He's just a take charge guy and gets things done. I do remember his face when I blurted out "PASTOR___, DEVAN'S MISSING...MY LITTLE BABY GRANDDAUGHTER IS MISSING!!!!" His eyes got really wide and he came right over to me. Then he or someone else asked what she looked like and what she was wearing. I managed to get that out and then began to cry hysterically...I was useless from that point! I remember turning around to look back out the lobby doors that were opened wide and now all I saw was bright light. All the people, whatever was outside blended into that light and I just couldn't see. I was totally consumed by the mental image I had of her in the backseat of a stranger's car while driving down the hill of the church parking lot onto the main road. Somewhere in the process I know I had thoughts of calling the police, get someone out to the parking lot to check all the cars that were leaving but I never actually said it to anyone and I don't know why. I guess the shock of it all.

The Sunday school teacher who had been in the other class room came over to me and said "C'mon...lets pray." I was sobbing but nodded yes. She wrapped her arms around me and held me close to her. I know she was praying but I really couldn't hear her words. The only two things I was aware of was the comfort of being in her arms as I had basically collapsed onto her while still sobbing and her voice. Not her words…just her voice. Everything seemed to stop around me as though we were outside of time-it seemed forever. As I said it was surreal.

Part III- Pizza!

But then someone shouted from out side “WE FOUND HER!” Then some other voices from in the lobby also shouted “THEY FOUND HER!” Then someone closer said in a soft normal tone said “Look here she is…she’s alright.” I turned around and the only person I saw was Devan who was looking all wide eyed and innocent. I do remember smiling and saying “Devan! Thank God you’re alright!” I hugged her close to me and started crying all over again. I looked up and saw younger son smiling as he was looking down at us. At that moment they were the only 2 people in the lobby that I was aware of. Then the young girl who had let the children out of the class came up the stairs and came right over to me to apologize. She kept repeating how sorry she was and I told her accidents can happen and that it was alright and I hugged her. Somewhere in those reunion moments I heard some people telling me that she went outside for pizza. (The youth group was selling pizza outside at the bottom of the church steps) It turns out that some people who were picking their kids up were telling them that they were going to buy them pizza that was being sold outside. Devan heard that, decided she wanted pizza too and so she followed them.

I don’t remember who found her. I don’t remember who was telling me that she went outside for pizza although I do remember some adults chuckling at that point because of the cuteness and innocence of it all. I don’t remember what the girl who was watching the class looked like even though I talked to her and even hugged her and I don’t remember the sweet woman who prayed for us and held me close. To this day…I don’t know who she was. (I am not consistent about going to church and there are a lot of people.)The only faces I remember at that time are the Sunday school director, the pastor, my son and Devan. This all transpired over 5 maybe 10 minutes at the most but it felt like an eternity.

I know I talked to her about why she should never do that again but I don’t remember at what point. After we got home I couldn’t take my eyes off of her for awhile and kept imagining what could have happened. I also thanked God she was safe. And I dreaded telling my son and daughter-in-law but they were very understanding. They also chuckled when they heard she followed them out because she wanted pizza too. I still felt awful about it. It was what it was and it was an accident. I will be forever grateful that it had a happy ending.

Part IV- Good from Bad

It could have ended so differently! At any point along the way someone could have easily taken her off the church property. If I hadn’t stopped to talk to that woman in the sanctuary it probably wouldn’t have happened. I guess it still could have if the people still got back down there before us.

Something good that came out of this is that the pastor called a meeting and they implemented better security measures. Even though there is a door into the room they built a secondary door or gating system. For the main part of the room they added a half door attached to a wall the same height that runs across to the opposite wall enclosing the kids so there is a barrier between them and the main door to the hallway. They also implemented a bracelet system so that they still record the child’s name on a list but they put the child’s name on a wrist ban they have to wear. The only person allowed to pick the child up also has to have a matching bracelet or they will not release the child. They still use the pagers too.

Part V-Afterthoughts

As for my self, it was truly the worst moment of my life. I have had other big scares like when I thought I was going to miscarry our first baby or the time I thought we lost older son in the ocean. I am pretty sure most parents have some traumatic moments where they are experiencing total fear regarding their child’s safety and welfare but what sets this apart is that it felt sinister. All I heard was that she walked out with other people and the girl didn’t know who they were. And so I immediately jumped to the worst conclusion.

I hate that I went into hysterical mode. I am used to working in an emergent environment. Granted it wasn’t in a city hospital where you have all the major traumas but rather it was a community hospital, but they still get their share of serious and stressful stuff. Plus we trained for disasters and had to take tests annually on the procedures for various codes. BTW…one of them was called a code Lindbergh which involved the protocol for finding children abducted in the hospital!

Finally, fear is the opposite of faith. I have a very strong faith in God. Yes, bad things still happen to good people whether they believe in God or not and we often don’t understand why. But where was my faith at that moment? How did I succumb to fear like that? Once when I actually thought I might have just seconds to live (lost control of a car when I was 17) I remember going up the embankment into the air, seeing the car lights on the tall grass contrasting the night sky. I resigned my self to the fact that we might die and I didn’t scream and my last thoughts were “here we go”. That was it…faced with possible death not a whimper from me. God forbid anything this serious should happen again but if it does I hope I remember what I could have done better this day and then do it.

I guess we never really know what we will do in certain situations until we are in them. I will cut my self a break with one thing and that is I know it is difficult to be emotionally involved when there is a serious situation. One night just before my shift was over… I got a call from a family member stating that my husband’s grandmother was being transported by the paramedics to the ER. So I asked the house supervisor if I could stay in the cardiac room with her when she got there. Admittedly, just a few minutes before she got there I had second thoughts because I started feeling uncomfortable about it and told her I would wait in the waiting room with family. I felt better being with the family. I am thinking that because of their training that most medical or emergency personnel would be able to override their true feelings and do whatever they need to do although not the optimum choice. I do believe that wild horses couldn’t keep me away if it was my most immediate family. Then again…

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