Breath of Life

“The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

Over the course of the past year or two I have had many occasions to remark on the graciousness of God and His many gifts to us. From time to time I have reminded myself that each breath is a gift from God and that without His grace I would not continue to exist. It is one thing to say or think, but quite another to experience.

With five children around the house, Kathy and I are no strangers to illness and injury. Sometimes it seems that every time we place the smaller kids in a church Nursery or expose them in any public venue, they come home sick. This Sunday, when four of the children woke up in varying degrees of sickliness, I stayed home and Kathy attended church with her friend Julee and family.


Our two-year-old, Sarah, has suffered with a cold for almost a week, and began the day with a squeaky voice and a croupy cough. Most parents will recognize the strange-sounding bark-like cough that is caused by inflammation of the throat passages near the vocal cords … it is a distinctive and worrisome noise.

We kept Sarah under observation throughout the day … she was cheerful and active and seemed to improve as the day progressed … we put her to bed around 8:45 pm, expecting to see her no sooner than 8 am the next morning.

In spite of Kathy’s repeated warnings and admonitions, I stayed up and played a computer game until midnight. She cleverly napped on the couch and was in bed by 10 pm … uncharacteristically early for such a night person as my beloved wife. About 12:30 (just as I had fallen asleep) Rachel woke us up, saying “There’s something wrong with Sarah.”

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I found Sarah standing in her temporary crib, alternately crying and gasping for breath. I carried her to our room, where Kathy held her while I rooted around for our nebulizer and albuterol (medication administered in cool mist form to open up bronchial passages) that we have on-hand to treat David’s occasional wheeziness.

We gave her the albuterol and calmed her down enough to put her back to bed, each labored breath marked by a loud raspy wheeze. I pulled her crib into our room and we all went back to sleep. About 2:30 she woke up again, gasping for each breath as if she were drowning. By this time we were pretty worried. We didn’t dare treat her with the albuterol again … it wasn’t prescribed for her and it didn’t seem to help much anyway. Kathy told me to take Sarah outside for a few minutes while she ran the shower to create some steam. Then she held our toddler on her lap just outside the shower stall while I frantically searched the yellow pages for an urgent care or emergency room facility.

We moved to this new house in Lakewood only a week ago, and we didn’t know where any hospitals or urgent care places are. Although the local phone company had promised service by 5 pm on the previous Friday, they had failed to deliver on this promise, and we had no dial tone. I’m still pretty upset about that … phone companies ought to be required to maintain dial tone between tenants of rental houses and apartments so that people could at least dial 911 for emergency assistance.

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Anyway, I ended up driving to the nearby 24-hour grocery store and asking one of the cashiers for the location of a nearby hospital. He gave me directions and I rushed home. Sarah was still not getting any better, and we felt it was time to get her some medical attention. I plopped her in her car seat and rushed off through the rain-covered streets, praying that the clerk’s directions were accurate.

After what seemed an eternity, but was probably less than 12 minutes, I found the hospital and (after one wrong turn) parked in the emergency room lot. Sarah’s breathing had become more and more labored as we drove, and she began to choke and vomit as I tried to unbuckle her from the seat, no longer breathing at all. I threw her face-down over my arm and pounded her little back with my palm as I ran for the emergency room door.

The place was empty except for a receptionist, who rose halfway out of her chair as I rushed in, perhaps fearing for her own safety.

“She’s not breathing … I need help NOW!” I yelled.

Her look of alarm at my charging arrival changed to a focus of concern for Sarah. Her eyes narrowed in critical appraisal, and she said to me, “She IS getting some air.”

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Sure enough, the vomiting and choking had stopped, and she was actually breathing, in a gasping sort of way. The receptionist led me quickly back to a cubicle and several nurses cleared Sarah’s airway and sat her up on a hospital bed. They gave her a shot of some kind of steroid that was intended to reduce the inflammation, and began with a breathing treatment of some kind. They attached a monitor to her toe that measures the saturation level of oxygen in her blood … the nurses seemed relieved to see that the percentages were in the high 90′s, perhaps indicating that she was getting the air that she needed, even if it was less than was comfortable.

She looked so tiny on that big hospital bed, surrounded by hospital technicians and medical machines. Her face was pale and tear-streaked, and her little lips were purple. I thought to myself, “This is one little girl that we CANNOT do without.”

Thanks be to God for preserving my daughter’s life! I shudder when I consider all the factors that could have conspired to delay my arrival at the emergency room, or the possibilities that could have prevented us from knowing about her plight in the first place.

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After continuing with several breathing treatments, the emergency room doctor recommended that Sarah be transferred via ambulance to a children’s hospital in downtown Tacoma. They put in an IV, which was painful to watch, and difficult to explain to my little Muffin. By this time Sarah had developed a deep distrust of all medical persons, and would answer only a tearful “No!” to all questions posed by people in lab coats, no matter what they said. I rushed home to get a change of clothes for Sarah and to inform Kathy of Sarah’s condition and destination while they waited for medical transport … then I rode with Sarah to the children’s hospital in the back of the ambulance.

Ultimately we were transferred to a room upstairs in the hospital after another breathing treatment or two and a long wait in the emergency room of the children’s hospital. The expressed intention was to keep Sarah under observation overnight. Kathy had the dubious privilege of sitting at home beside a disconnected phone wondering what was going on with Sarah and how I would communicate.

Happily, she began to show substantial improvement later in the day and we were eventually released just before dinner. We managed (with no little difficulty) to persuade Sarah to imbibe her anti-inflammatory steroid (this time in capsule form, ground up in applesauce) and put her to bed. Kathy slept with her in one of the other bedrooms so that I could catch up with my rest and go to work the next day. In the morning, Kathy brought Sarah into our room and I spent ten or fifteen minutes just lying next to her, watching my little girl sleep. It is a tremendous privilege to be a parent, but it does not come without the occasional moment of terror.

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Sarah is back to her normal self now, and will probably retain no recollection of this experience, but I think it is something I will remember for the rest of my days. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose a child, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to find out.

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