I’m walking around in a fog – or worse, on the constant edge of tears. Every time I allow myself time to just stop I end up back there and I can’t tear myself away. I know that I’ve joked in the past about my PTSD state post Lily’s cardiac arrest. I know that I’ve talked about how I feel like a failure to her and to myself when I think of how I couldn’t perform CPR on her. How I landmarked her tiny chest, twice and both times placed my hands on her chest – first my two fingers because she was just a baby and then a full single hand because I knew that it was going to take more force than 2 fingers to get through her broken sternum, but then I stopped. I couldn’t push down, I panicked and just stared at my hand, willing myself to push down and I couldn’t. Since that time, I’ve started to move past that: accepted that it happened, this is the path that our lives took and there is no going back, no changing what happened. Knowing that all I can do is spend the rest of my life making that up to Lily – to make sure that I give her whatever support and chances I can to help make up for the fact that my inaction sent her life down an entirely different path than where it was going. The nightmares haven’t come in a while, I haven’t been caught up in the cycle of thoughts that I could get trapped in, I could hear a siren and not automatically think of that day.
But then this week I had to deal with something that brought me right back there. I wasn’t really involved, I was around for the aftermath and trying to just offer support to the people who were actually had to deal with it. And for the first few hours, I was good – adrenaline kicked in and not even consciously, I refused to allow those thoughts to come to the forefront. I did everything that I could do. But then I stopped. I took 5 minutes to breathe and there it was: the guilt. The guilt that breaks me. I was so proud of the people I was with – they were incredible and did everything that we’re supposed to – they acted. But that was the trigger for me: they acted and I didn’t. They did it right and I didn’t. I didn’t act and Lily is the one who has to live with those consequences. I didn’t act and now Lily has a brain injury that affects every single thing she does. And yes, she’s making gains and she’s healing from that and her brain is incredible and making these new pathways, but if I had acted would that even be necessary? Would I have been able to give her brain just enough blood and oxygen to avoid this? Would she be walking now, eating now, talking now? And so every time I stop in the past 48 hours, that’s what’s there: playing those moments over in my head, seeing those incredible paramedics running with her in their arms, hearing Jess tell me they were still doing CPR when they took her out of the ambulance, 3 days later when my co-worker had come to visit and she touched my arm: “is she having a seizure?”. Those 5 words that changed everything.
Yesterday, I sat down and saw the people who acted. I see how upset they are and how they’re trying to find some comfort from all of this madness and I want to give it to them but I can’t. Who am I to offer them comfort? They should be applauded and praised for how incredible they were and I want to tell them that. I want them to know, know with every fibre of their being, that they were amazing. I feel like a fraud sitting in a room with them because they were perfect and I am the example of what you shouldn’t do. They are struggling with something that is happening right now, but I’m stuck in the past. But comforting words mean nothing when you can’t get the images out of your head. My own thoughts, my own guilt, my own memories overtake anything that anyone else says. All I hear is my own voice telling me that I failed, mixed with the voice of an old boss, who has said to our staff a million time: “if you don’t act, you are going to have to live with that for the rest of your life.” He’s right, this feeling will never leave me. I understand the want to provide support, to be kind, to be reassuring, but my brain doesn’t accept it. And I remember people saying these comforting things to me after Lily’s cardiac arrest and I wanted to yell at them to stop talking – they had no idea what they were talking about. I hated the phrase, “you did everything you could,” because it was a lie, a kind lie, but still not the truth. And while I know that if I said that to these people, it wouldn’t be a lie, I don’t want them to feel the way that we did. So, I just keep saying, “you did good” and hope that someday they hear that.
And I know, I do know, that I have to force myself to get back on track. I need to put the past back where it belongs and focus on today. I can’t change what happened. I can only focus on how to move forward, how to help Lily move forward. But today that is hard. Today there are too many tears, too many “what if’s” and too much guilt. But tomorrow, tomorrow can be different.