Yesterday morning I was sitting at my desk, doing my normal Facebook thing. I had just been out for a 4.5 mile walk. My wife had been working out and had gone to the basement to begin her day’s work. Shayna was supposed to come down and help her, but Shayna had overslept. Ty texted her and Shayna did not respond. When Ty went to wake her she didn’t respond. When Ty opened the door, she found our beautiful, healthy, athletic, smart, respectful, funky, spunky baby girl not breathing. We refused to accept the possibility she could be dead. In fact that didn’t enter my mind. I know not breathing is pretty serious, but dead? No. She was 15. She was healthy. She had been through every cardiac test there is for a minor condition the doctor told us she would live a long, healthy athletic life with.
We called for the paramedics. It took what seemed like an hour for them to get here. Meanwhile I did CPR, just like they show on TV. I got her out of her bed. I put her on the floor (hard surface). I began breaths, I began compressions. My neighbor, a nurse came over and started to help. Breathe Shayna I screamed at the top of my lungs. I called her name over and over hoping she could hear me from, what I think I subconsciouly knew was The Gulf. When the paramedics arrived, I let them take over. Surely they could revive her. That’s what they do. And she was so young, so vital. 15 year old girls don’t die in their beds. The night before we were lying on the couch watching TV together as she stroked the bald spots on my leg that fascinated her. I had told her “Good night, I love you” through the bathroom door as she prepared for bed. Ty had gone to her door, hugged her, kissed her and done the same. She was FINE.
As the paramedics worked, I cried. I fell to my knees. I pounded the floor. I screamed.I grabbed Ty. We fell to our knees. I don’t pray in the traidtional way but I begged God to bring her back to me. I didn’t let it enter my mind that she hadn’t taken a breath for so long now, I kept expecting to hear them say “Mr. Smith- she’s OK now, but we’re going to take her to the hospital to make sure.”. No. They worked on her for what seemed like hours and finally they said “We’re going to take her to the hospital now.” I rode with the police officer in his cruiser. Ty went with her in the ambulance. “Oh God, how could you do this?” The officer asked if I wanted to pray. I told him I couldn’t. He prayed for us. Off we went. I called my Dad. His prayers would be effective. “Dad, Shayna’s not breathing. We’re on the way to the hospital, pray for us.” I screamed. I cried. He said something about the loss of a child. I reject his words “Dad, we haven’t lost a child.” No, don’t speak that and make it true.
Finally we arrived at the hospital. They took her into a room to work on her. Ty and I held each other tight. What do we do? We’ve been at the hospital many times with Shayna, but NEVER for an emergency. The poor child endured so many procedures in her short life, but for arthritis, sports injuries and a non-life threatening heart condition that had been corrected a couple of years ago. There was no indication, none that this even MIGHT happen. The hospital said they were sending the Chaplain. “Why do we need the Chaplain?” I thought. Yeah, not breathing is serious, but we’re at the hospital now. They’ll fix her. It’ll be OK. They’ll have to figure out what went wrong, we might have to stay a few days, but we will walk out of here with Shayna.
Finally the doctor came out. She started that speech. It was the same one you hear on TV. “Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Shayna was without oxygen for a long time. We worked on her and we did everything we can do.” You know if everything is all right, the first thing they do is reassure you. When they start telling what they have DONE, it’s over. I screamed. I turned my back to her. No, don’t tell me this. No. You did everything? Did you shock her? “No.” she said “Her heart had no electrical activity. Shocking her would not do anything.” The best doctors in the country had failed my little girl and now she was gone. I was in shock.
What do we do? How do we process this? How do we tell people? How will I tell Kayla, my 18 year old who is 600 miles away on vacation with our good friends and some girls she grew up with? How do I tell her over the phone, her best friend, her baby sister, suddenly died at 15, while on our watch?
My parents arrived. They live two hours away, but the moment they heard they went into parent mode. They called my brother who drove them down.
Meanwhile, good friends of Ty’s had arrived. They prayed with us. They cried with us. They were there when we got the word. They supported us. They told us of finding their son, the same way, in bed- gone. But he was an adult. This was our baby.
Now I had to tell Kayla. How do you tell someone whose best friend and sister who was healthy when she left her was no longer with us? We have an old dog- Zoe. I figured it best to just be direct. We called our friends that she was with and prepared them to help her when we broke it to her. “Kayla, I have some very bad news. We found Shayna this morning and she was not breathing. We took her to the hospital. They worked on her for over an hour, but there was nothing they could do. I’m sorry sweetie, Shayna’s dead.” Kayla just said “What?” I repeated it. “What?” I said “Shayna’s dead baby. I’m sorry.” “What?” Finally, she couldn’t reject it anymore. She screamed. In the short time span of a few minutes, I had lost one daughter and had to break the news that would change another’s life forever.
We stumbled out of the hospital with my parents and my brother. We had left the hospital from having taken Shayna many times, but through all of her trials, everything was done outpatient. From the time she left the hospital with us at three days old, we had never left her behind. That was a hard walk.
The rest of the day is a blur. Ty and I hadn’t showered since our workouts and we smelled. We got in the shower together and washed each others’ bodies. We held each other. We looked at each other. WE kept asking “Is this real? What happened? Did we do something wrong? Is this real? How do we go on? Is this real?”
We live in a very close neighborhood. We have know many of our neighbors for 18 years. Word spread quickly. People started coming by with food. “No go away. Shayna’s not gone. Stop acting like she’s gone. The hospital will call soon and say it was a mistake.” But, I knew that wasn’t true because the coroner had already picked up her body.
Our friends jumped into action to get Kayla home. One of the friends with her, a friend since first grade, would cut her vacation four days short and fly back with Kayla so she wouldn’t have to travel alone. Her flight didn’t arrive until 2 AM. Kayla likes to process things alone. She is an introvert. When I tried talking to her about what happened and how we would get through this, she said she wasn’t ready to talk yet. I called ahead to my wife to tell her “Let’s let Kayla not talk about this tonight. We’ll just talk about her trip.”
My mother spent the night with us. We were just all in shock. I didn’t want Kayla to be alone, so I asked her to sleep with us that night. She sometimes doesn’t sleep well and if she needed ANYTHING during the night, I wanted her to be close so she wouldn’t hesitate to wake me.