On December 15th, we had an accident. My husband tripped over the gate we use to keep our dogs from coming up the stairs. He was holding our nearly three-month-old daughter. She fell, swaddled, from his height–he’s not a short man–and landed on the side of her head/face at the top of the stairs. I woke to what I can only describe as the sound of a bowling ball being dropped mid-swing. Then came the sickening scream. I ran from our bedroom to find my husband cradling our daughter on the floor. Her eye was partially open, squinting, but aside from the crying she seemed okay. She hadn’t lost consciousness. She hadn’t vomited. She hadn’t had a seizure. We immediately grabbed her diaper bag and headed to the ER. When you drop a newborn from that height, you want a professional to tell you everything’s okay.

What followed was a series of shocks for which neither of us was prepared. She needed a CT scan, they said. Of course; they needed to rule out anything serious. As we waited for the results, I reassured my husband. He was devastated, spiraling through all the what-ifs. She’s okay, I told him. She’s acting normally. At this point, she had stopped crying and, though the side of her face and head were swelling, her eye now sealed closed, she was smiling and playful. I was sure they were going to tell us everything was okay and send us home with a dose of baby Tylenol. We’d had a scare, but nothing more. Anything more serious was something that could happen to someone else but not to us.

Instead, the doctor came in and told us she had a skull fracture. She had a brain bleed. He said protocol required they call CPS for any head trauma to a minor as young as our daughter. He said she would need to be taken by ambulance to UMC Trauma for evaluation. Each piece of news came as though through water, muffled under the weight of it all.

The trauma team was waiting as the ambulance arrived and the stretcher was rolled in, their faces stark in the glare of the overhead spotlight as our daughter was removed from her car seat and gentled down onto the bed, her one good eye squinting against the light as though it were a sun. In the chaos of the day, it seemed there were a dozen people jostling around her. Still, I kept my hand tethered to her chest, an anchor that in that moment felt as important as any umbilical cord.

There was talk of a neurosurgeon needing to review the scans, the insistence I not breastfeed her until they could rule out surgery, the possibility of yet another CT scan with another dose of radiation exposure, the assurance of continued monitoring in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), a passing comment about the potential for developmental delays.

The next 24 hours held the jumble of countless wires snaking from our newborn’s chest and feet. It was measured, literally on the counter scale, in diaper output, and vials of blood filled by the hollow-eyed vampiric technicians who lacked not only empathy but the ability to find a vein and so had to prick her foot repeatedly as she screamed. For me, it was passed from the discomfort of a lone hospital chair, my husband sent home after visiting hours due to COVID restrictions, the lullaby the rolling of carts, the incessant beeping of a poorly attached oxygen monitor, and the distant chatter of nurses at their station.

I curled into the chair, staring vacantly at the peaks and valleys of the monitor, stunned. There’s a numbness that comes at the height of a great shock, as if one has been catapulted by terror into the clouds and for a while floats above it. It takes time, but eventually one must come back down to reality, gravity being both a natural phenomenon and an emotional weight.  

A few weeks have passed and so my husband and I have had time to come down, so to speak, to process the events of that day, time surrounded by friends and family, time to speak with and receive counseling from our pastors, and time to comfort one another. Here’s what we’ve learned:

Firstly, and most importantly, we have been reminded that God is sovereign. He is on His throne, wholly in control of every event that transpires. Thus, not even accidents are accidents in the hand of an omnipotent, omniscient God. Instead, we can know with certainty that He is using all things to accomplish His work in the world. As humans, we are not always (in fact, rarely) privy to the mechanics behind the events of our lives. What we do know is that God is working all things for His good purposes and for the good of those who love Him. What comfort! In all things, good and bad, He will be glorified.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28, ESV

Indeed, even the wicked acts of sinful men are not outside God’s control. Consider Joseph’s words to his brothers, the very same brothers who sold him into slavery: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20, ESV) Consider Christ’s death on the cross, an action foreordained by God yet carried out by the hands of evil men (Acts 2:23). This, the most wicked act of all history, was purposed to bring about the salvation of God’s elect people. Without it, we would all be damned (Romans 5:12-19; 6:23).

It’s fitting that my daughter, a newborn, was the one to drive this lesson home, for we are all as helpless as little babes in relation to God. Just as my daughter lay in a crib in the PICU, I’m reminded how we are all cradled in the palm of God’s hand. We rely on Him for everything; truly, our very existence is only sustained by His mercy. It’s the lesson Job learned amidst His suffering. “…Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21, ESV)

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139:13-16, NIV

Job’s response falls in line with the counseling we received from one of our pastors. After hearing of the details of the accident, he reminded us how much worse things could have been. She had fallen from a height of more than five feet. God was tremendously gracious to us not only in that her injuries had not been more serious, but in the fact that she had survived at all. Let your house be filled with gratitude, he said. It’s something I’ve been reminding myself each day since we spoke. God is to be praised in all situations, especially the difficult ones, for those are the ones that challenge our misconceived ideas of self. Remember that God doesn’t owe us anything. To believe otherwise is to make idols of ourselves, our spouses, or our children. To believe that God should be serving our desires in any way is the height of blasphemy! Any comfort or health we have is a mercy. Job lost everything and still he recognized that the giver of all things has the right to take what He will. When this happens, when God takes, we need reminding that it is good, that He is doing a work of sanctification in the lives of His people, and that His name should be praised.

Praise be to God our baby girl was released after a mere 24 hours. The trauma doctors and neurosurgeon assured us her fracture was “significant but not impressive.” Surgery wasn’t recommended at the time for anything other than cosmetic reasons, which we obviously wouldn’t consider given the risk. Still, our pediatrician, out of an abundance of caution, has warned that our daughter’s development will need to be closely monitored for the next ten years. We’re also scheduled to meet with a pediatric neurosurgeon in February to determine if further action needs to be taken as we see how the fracture heals.

We’re not out of the woods yet. In truth, we know this life to be one long trek along the dark path of this world’s fairytale forest. We have no idea the dangers that lie in wait, what traps or twists in the road are to come. We cannot anticipate what monsters may lurk in the shadows ahead. What we do know is that God is orchestrating all things, that He promises to provide for the needs of His people (Matthew 6:31-32), and that no matter what happens we serve the only, one true God of the universe. What joy! What hope! From the PICU or from the comfort of home, He is worthy to be praised!

For any dear Christian brothers and sisters who are struggling:

I would have pulled Joseph out. Out of that pit. Out of that prison. Out of that pain. And I would have cheated nations out of the one God would use to deliver them from famine.

I would have pulled David out. Out of Saul’s spear-throwing presence. Out of the caves he hid away in. Out of the pain of rejection. And I would have cheated Israel out of a God-hearted king.

I would have pulled Esther out. Out of being snatched from her only family. Out of being placed in a position she never asked for. Out of the path of a vicious, power hungry foe. And I would have cheated a people out of the woman God would use to save their very lives.

And I would have pulled Jesus off. Off of the cross. Off of the road that led to suffering and pain. Off of the path that would mean nakedness and beatings, nails and thorns. And I would have cheated the entire world out of a Savior. Out of salvation. Out of an eternity filled with no more suffering and no more pain.

And oh friend. I want to pull you out. I want to change your path. I want to stop your pain. But right now I know I would be wrong. I would be out of line. I would be cheating you and cheating the world out of so much good. Because God knows. He knows the good this pain will produce. He knows the beauty this hard will grow. He’s watching over you and keeping you even in the midst of this. And He’s promising you that you can trust Him. Even when it all feels like more than you can bear.

So instead of trying to pull you out, I’m lifting you up. I’m kneeling before the Father and I’m asking Him to give you strength. To give you hope. I’m asking Him to protect you and to move you when the time is right. I’m asking Him to help you stay prayerful and discerning. And I’m believing He’s going to use your life in powerful and beautiful ways. Ways that will leave your heart grateful and humbly thankful for this road you’ve been on.

-Kimberly Henderson of Proverbs 31 Ministries
Until next time, salutations & selah.

4 thoughts on “Lessons from the Pediatric ICU

  1. Oh my gosh, April…you told me in part what happened but reading it here in such detail is gut wrenching. I’m so sorry you and Emmanuel went through what you did, but I’m so grateful that Oswin is doing well, and that God has used this incident to strengthen your faith. As awful as the ordeal, you wrote the account so beautifully and vividly. The whole church is praying for you, Emmanuel and Oswin and are here for you guys should you ever need anything.

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  2. My heart goes out to you and your precious Oswin! She is so blessed to be in the care such faithful and devoted parents. Thank you for this beautiful witness that we are all tethered to the all-powerful hand of our infinitely loving God. May He continue to bind up your broken hearts and give you a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair! You inspire me!

    Liked by 1 person

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