We had just been told to pack and leave within one hour.
Do you know what an impossible feat this was?
My car sat abandoned in the church parking lot across town. We had all piled into my husband’s truck an hour before. I hadn’t wanted her to sit alone in the backseat after the trauma of getting her blood drawn.
I had a baby at home, a month shy of turning one. I couldn’t take him with us.
Nothing was packed. My car was not gassed up. There were but a few singles in my wallet.
We dropped our daughter, just diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, off at our home where Grandma was on her daily shift as nanny and began scurrying around trying to put plans in action.
We are thankful everyday that we have a support system that allowed us to leave the baby in good hands without a second thought. That I didn’t need to leave detailed explanations and directives for his care.
When my car, packed with random things that I had thrown into suitcases for me and my husband, the miniature Tinkerbell suitcase packed with our daughter’s beloved Pony and a supply of socks and underpants, a stack of DVD’s and a new player that I had my husband run in and get while I packed (I didn’t care the cost, just buy whatever they have, this is going to be a long trip), finally left the driveway it was not within the hour as directed, it was much longer.
Our world was in upheaval and it’s difficult to organize an expedition under the given circumstances. Not knowing how long we would be gone. Not returning to work though we both said we would be back after lunch. Not knowing where we would stay and not wanting to leave her side. Not knowing the gravity of the situation or what was in store for our daughter over the next few days.
At some point I talked with the nurse at the children’s hospital who would be expecting us.
“If she begins to throw up, she may have ketoacidosis. This is an emergency situation. Do not come to admitting, but go directly to the ER.”
Up until that conversation I knew that it was serious, but I had not realized that it was a life-threatening, potentially emergency situation. And we had nearly two hundred miles of striped pavement between us and the care she needed.
When the doctor matter-of-factly rendered the diagnosis in her office earlier that afternoon. I assumed that we would be crossing town and checking into the hospital where both of my children were born.
We live in a decent-sized city with a major university and two hospitals. Yet our daughter could not be seen here. There is no pediatric endocrinologist and they will not see anyone under 18. Our hospital had a brand new pediatric ward, but there was no bed for her.
It was unfathomable that we had to travel so far for her care.
We took the baby’s car seat out so that I could sit with her. I would try to keep her entertained and would continually assess her condition.
We did not really tell her what was going on. We simply said that she was sick and that we were going to take a trip to St. Louis (exciting for her as we had a mini-vacation there the year before). I did not think that several hours in a car with a worried child would be fun for anyone. I instead made the decision to downplay it.
We always keep a training potty in the car. You never know when a three-year-old will have to go right now. Two symptoms of unchecked diabetes are extreme thirst and frequent urination. She requested drink after drink in the car and we pulled over time after time to let her go potty roadside. Sometimes we lucked out with a rest area or gas station in sight.
We stopped for dinner at a Subway. When you don’t eat meat, it is difficult to get food on the run. We quickly dined, used the restroom (again), and returned to the road.
Darkness was falling as we approached the Gateway to the West. When journeying to St. Louis from Illinois, travelers must choose to go left or right, ultimately converging back on the same road. Every time I come to this fork I take a gamble on which path was the better choice. We chose to go right.
Ahead taillights appeared stagnant in the dark and we soon came to a stop behind a long line of cars. We were stuck in traffic high above the Mighty Mississippi trapped between rows of cars. St. Louis was in our sight, but we could not proceed.
And then the unthinkable happened. My daughter started complaining about her tummy. She said her dinner did not feel good to her and she wanted to spit it out.
Please don’t throw up, please don’t throw up.
I had a stash of ziplock bags in the car, just in case. I readied one.
“Mama, I don’t feel well.”
“I know, baby.” A phrase I would repeat a thousand times in the next few days. Stroking her hair I assured her, “We’re almost there.”
What was I going to do? If she began vomiting I would need to get her to an emergency room immediately. We were sandwiched between hundreds of cars in the middle of the f—ing bridge above the Mississippi River.
All I could think was that I would have to call 911 and implore them to part traffic for us.
Luckily she did not vomit and traffic began moving again.
When you cross the bridge you have several choices of which way to go. When I spoke to the nurse I asked directions. When I spoke to my sister who has been to the hospital countless times, she gave the same directions: Take I-70 to Kingshighway.
This didn’t sound right to us, but we took I-70. It seemed like a good choice because there was minimal traffic. But instantly my husband and I both knew it was not the right way. We began traveling northwest and we knew the hospital was southwest.
I became more and more tense as the miles ticked by. We eventually came upon Kingshighway. We began traveling south.
If you are from St. Louis, you know that sections of Kingshighway are a bit seedy. Normally I wouldn’t care. But with my sick three-year-old beside me, all I could imagine was that our car would break down or we would blow a tire and we wouldn’t be able to get help. No businesses were open at that late hour. All doors and windows covered in bars. And I had no idea just how far north we were from the hospital.
Traffic light after traffic light we slowly made our way to the hospital. We climbed the circles of the parking garage decorated with cheerful animals denoting the levels and found a spot up high. We carried our daughter, clutching her beloved Pony, to the elevator and across the walkway.
The woman at the admitting desk said they were beginning to wonder where we were.