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The Day We Almost Lost Our Daughter

Photo: With my best girl, Summer 2013

Those of you who follow this blog know that I rarely post about myself, usually you are here reading about local events, a great deal, or a Guest Post from another blogger. I hope you will pardon the exception. A part of me needed to share this story with you- along with a very public thank you to those who helped us. I hope it helps even one person who reads it avoid a close call or injury. ~Charlotte

You may have heard of me…. I am the mom who ran herself over with her own minivan. Yes, you read that right. I’m not one of the those urban legends, I actually did this. It was the single scariest day of my life to date, and it has taken me three years to actually write this down.

A very hot sunny July day in 2010 I took my two little ones out for a playdate with some good friends. We had a wonderful morning splashing in a local fountain. Or rather, my almost 2 year old splashed in the fountain while I stood as far into the shade as I could visiting with a friend, while sweating profusely with my 2 month old strapped to me in the Ergo carrier. It was one of my first mornings out and about with both kids by myself and I loved it.

On the way home we stopped and I treated myself to Starbucks and gave my toddler part of a smoothie in her sippy cup. Isn’t it amazing the things we remember?

I pulled into my driveway around lunchtime and left the car running with the A/C on for the kids while I got out and cleaned some of the clutter out of my car. I thought I put it in park, I really did. After I walked back to the car I unbuckled my toddler and put her down next to me on the driveway. I reached into the car and turned the car off. And the car began to roll backwards. I was standing in the open driver door and my daughter was right next to me.

They say in situations where your child is in danger, your instincts kick in. I can certainly attest to that. I turned around and I pushed my little girl as hard as I could off to the side of the driveway, away from the car. I don’t remember deciding to do it, but I remember doing it. I remember the shock and confusion on her face as her mommy basically threw her backwards and to the ground.

Within seconds I was getting dragged down the driveway and I remember thinking if I went as limp as possible maybe the car wouldn’t hurt me as badly when it went over me. I remember it hurt when the car rolled over me, I also remember thinking it wasn’t as heavy as I expected it to be. I couldn’t move. I tried to pull myself up as two of my neighbors ran across the street. I remember my neighbor Robin asking me if I could get up, I remember trying and failing, and I remember her running over to my daughter.

I was shaking and could feel shock setting in as a lay on the driveway. Another neighbor, John, brought me my cell phone from the car and I called my friend Karen. I remember calmly saying there had been an accident and that the two of us were going to need to go to the hospital, could she come get the baby? By this time I could hear sirens in the distance, one of my neighbors had pulled my screaming 2 month old out of the car and Robin (bless you Robin, you are so often in my thoughts and I know I never thanked you enough!!!) was sitting with my daughter. I was scared, I was worried, but I thought my daughter was ok…. I thought I had pushed her out of harms way.

The paramedics were there in minutes – another thank you I know I never adequately said- and they quickly got to work on both of us. I remember there was pain, but I was so full of adrenaline I didn’t really feel it. Robin came over and spoke to the paramedic in charge. I reassured them that my daughter was fine, she was probably just scared. I understood they had to take precautions because no one saw it happen, I knew why I wasn’t holding her as I lay there on the pavement, I just wanted them to understand that she was ok. I pushed her. I pushed her out of the way.

At that point Robin looked at me and said quietly that there were tire marks on her clothes. I know it didn’t… but I felt my heart stop right in that second. I literally felt the bottom falling out of my world.

I remember the paramedics telling me that she was awake, she was crying, that those were good things. They decided to Nightengale her (medevac her out in a helicopter) and I followed in an ambulance. Karen arrived and was able to get my son before they took me away. I lay in the ambulance with tears just pouring down my cheeks. I cried not knowing if she was ok, if she was going to be ok ever. I cried for the phone call I knew my husband’s command was going to receive and the news he was going to get while he was on a ship far away. I was scared not knowing how badly I was hurt.

I remember them cutting off my clothes. For those of you who worry about what clothes you might have on in an accident…. don’t. It doesn’t matter, and they get cut off, likely never to be seen again. The ER team smiled at me as they worked and cleaned the wounds on my legs and foot, commented on how beautiful my little girl was, how long her eyelashes were…. I don’t remember if they said she was ok. I don’t think they knew at that point if she was, and I don’t know that I would have believed it if they had.

It seemed like forever….xrays, tests, and waiting. Finally they rolled me into a triage room and I saw her and I felt the tears again. She was ok. She looked a lot better than I did actually. The nurse told me they were trying to keep her still, one of her films had come back fuzzy and they needed to redo it, so she needed to stay still until they could officially clear her. She had a bruise on her leg and that was the only mark on her entire, beautiful little body. The car tire pinched her leg as it rolled by her (and over her clothes). That is how close it was. Three years later I still get a little dizzy when I think about how close we came to losing her.

I started crying all over again when the Fatality Investigator came into the room to interview me. It is standard procedure to call them when a child is involved in a roll-over incident. Most of these accidents are fatalities. He assured me that there was nothing wrong with my van, he had tested it to be sure. It must have been out of gear. It must have been that this important detail got lost in a beautiful sunny day, after a night of little sleep with a newborn, a tired mama just trying to do it all. More tears. He told me how glad he was that we were ok. More tears.

I could go on about the rest of that day and the weeks that followed. The humbling feeling of having my husband’s commanding officer (and what seemed like every family in the command), and friends, standing in my hospital room while I lay there getting stitches. The palpable relief on their faces when they saw my daughter as she struggled to climb all over the place and the nurse worked to keep her still. The moment I got to hold her hand. The moment she was medically cleared and got to climb onto my hospital stretcher to cuddle.

The support from our community was amazing. Neighbors I hardly knew, and I’m ashamed to say I no longer am in contact with, ran to help us and checked on us once we were home. Friends rushed to my side and then took shifts staying with me when my husband went back to work (they flew him home) because I couldn’t walk for weeks, and it was impossible to care for a 2 yr old and a 2 month old, even on crutches.

I have a very impressive scar on my foot that has faded with time. I have some nerve damage in my ankle/foot that I feel when I stand for any length of time. My knees aren’t as smooth as they once were. I have a compulsive need to use the emergency break and to triple check that I am in park, even when I clearly AM in park. I hold my breath every time my children walk or stand behind the car in the driveway, even though I know it is in park, turned off, with the emergency break on.

My daughter is fine, she is thriving. She doesn’t seem to remember this adventure, or that her mommy pushed her as hard as she could to the ground. For this I am thankful EVERY SINGLE moment, of every single day.

I know several people that have “Pulled a Charlotte” and had their car start rolling since my accident. Thankfully they all are ok, none of them had more than minor damage to the vehicle, or a nasty bruise to show for their experience. Mostly this happened while they were in the car, not outside the car. They all have called me and marveled at how it still happened- even though they were careful, they knew to double check the gear, because of what happened to me. I have also seen similar stories in the headlines that have ended quite differently.

I wanted to share this story with you because life-changing events happen in a heartbeat. We don’t see them coming. We rush, we drive when we are tired, or distracted, or both. When we have little ones we operate through a sleep-deprived haze. We try to do everything and be everyone. Don’t.

Take the advice that I still struggle with and have to remind myself of all the time. Slow down. Get enough sleep (when you can!). Kiss your children. Read them that extra story. Make sure you let them know how much they are loved every day. Stop and appreciate those little moments, the sticky fingers and the slobbery kisses. You never know what tomorrow holds.

And finally, to everyone who helped my family through those hours, days and weeks: Thank you, again, and again, and again!

Photo: With my best girl a few days after our accident, July 2010