Our son, Gabriel, is a typical 4 year old who falls all the time! On Sunday, June 22nd he had what seemed like a usual slip and fall. Hours later we realized something was seriously wrong. He ended up having an epidural hematoma and almost didn’t make it to surgery on time.
The question I have been asked over and over by other concerned parents and other people who supervise children at church or school is: how did you know to take him to the hospital?
The scariest thing is that we really didn’t know. Looking back there are several things we would have done differently and warning signs we could have seen earlier. I share them here in hopes of helping other parents, ministers and teachers while also sharing Gabriel’s amazing story of recovery.
We were at our parish’s annual soccer tournament and fundraiser at the local elementary school. There are hundreds of people, men’s soccer games going almost all day for 2 days outside and in the school gym we had mass, food for sale, volleyball and this year watched the world cup game. After mass and lunch, some of the kids had found a soccer ball and Gabriel was kicking it around with them. The volleyball game started on one side of the gym and the kids kept kicking the ball around the other side. While Chris was playing volleyball and I was down at the soccer field for the final game, Gabriel fell. He came to tell us he had fallen, but we assumed it was like the other 5 times he had already tripped and fallen that day!
Hindsight: Ask More Questions! The first thing I would have done looking back is ask Gabriel more questions or find someone who saw him fall. Once he woke up after surgery he told us what had really happened. Someone had dropped their snow cone and so when Gabriel was running after the ball he slipped on the wet spot and hit his head directly on the gym floor. If we had this information at that time, maybe we would have suspected a head injury and been watching him more carefully.
Gabriel came down to watch the soccer game with us, sitting with some friends. After we passed out the trophies, we noticed he had fallen asleep. We thought he was just hot, tired, dehydrated and needed a nap.
Hindsight: Wake him up and double check. Since Gabriel acted normal after telling us he had fallen, we didn’t think about it again. It turns out that a blood vessel between the skull and the dura mater had burst and the blood pooling up was putting pressure on his brain. The lethargy that got worse as the afternoon went on is a classic sign of a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Had we tried to rouse him, maybe we would have seen that he was not acting like himself.
The event continued through the late afternoon and Gabriel continued to nap. But when he woke up he was very cranky. Still not connecting it with the head injury, we figured he had just slept too late in the day and was dehydrated and hungry. When he said he had a headache it made sense. I tried to force him to eat or drink something while we finished cleaning up. He held his head yelling at me that his head hurt. I told him he could watch a movie in the van, which was usually a treat he enjoyed. But when I put him in his car seat he fell asleep immediately.
Hindsight: The persistent headache followed by immediately falling back asleep were definitive signs that something was seriously wrong. If I had it to do over again I would have gone straight to the hospital from there to have him checked out.
Once we got home I kept trying to make Gabriel drink something and he would barely open his eyes or respond. He would take a few sips and tell me he just wanted to take a nap. Chris and I were finally convinced maybe he had really hit his head and that this was all connected to the fall. I started looking up symptoms of head injuries and decided to call the pediatrician’s office. The doctor on call said that if we didn’t witness the fall and he wasn’t acting like himself to go ahead and bring him to the Emergency Room so they could do a CT scan. 99.9% of the time it’s nothing, but at least we’d know. Thank God we listened to her! We were nearly convinced that he just needed to sleep and would feel better in the morning.
Hindsight: Gabriel’s lethargy was not like his normal tired, cranky self. He was difficult to rouse, even when he was talking or yelling he kept his eyes closed and his body was slumped over. When I finally got him to open his eyes to look at me it seemed like he was having a hard time keeping them open and focusing.
Thanks be to God I finally decided to take him to the hospital while Chris stayed home with our baby Isaac. By the time we got there Gabriel was completely unresponsive. In triage they couldn’t get him to wake up no matter how much they yelled, shook or pinched him. Within minutes they got a quick chest x-ray and brought him to get a CT scan of his head and saw the giant hematoma. The doctor rushed in to say that Gabriel was going on a ventilator immediately and would be flown for surgery as soon as possible. Within an hour he was in Evansville in surgery with a neurosurgeon and myself, Chris and Isaac and Fr. Carmelo all rushing to the hospital behind him.
We used calls, texts and Facebook to beg for prayers and God worked a miracle in our little boy. The surgeon came out around 1am to say that although it was nearly too late, he was able to stop the bleeding and Gabriel was doing well. He warned us that every head injury was different, so we would have to see how well he recovered the following days, but that he expected Gabriel would recover with few deficiencies. By 10am that morning Gabriel was breathing ahead of the ventilator so they decided to remove it. A couple hours later his voice was strong enough to talk and he told us what had happened. What a relief to see him speaking, remembering and wiggling his fingers and toes! Over the next couple of days in the hospital he became more and more alert and little by little regained his appetite and some of his strength. On Wednesday afternoon he was discharged to continue his recovery at home. He spent a lot of time resting and slowly got his energy back over the next couple weeks.
Now, nearly 4 weeks later he is almost back to his normal self! He is running around playing, swimming, and hasn’t even asked for medicine in a few days! It has been so amazing to see the way God has worked through his rapid recovery! Thanks to everyone who has supported us through this trial and has taken the time to pray! By the grace of God your prayers have made a huge difference and it seems like Gabriel is making a complete recovery in time to start Kindergarten in a few weeks. Amazing!
What helpful lessons have you learned through a trial that you can share with others? Take a moment to share in the comments below.