Today I am celebrating the miracle of life that my little boy has been given. However, I’m also finding that I’m finally coming to terms with mourning the loss of Gunner. It’s difficult to forgive him for what he did, but he was part of our family and I loved him. To turn our back on him for doing something that is part of animal nature just doesn’t make sense to me. My heart aches for his final outcome and I find tears welling up in my eyes when I think of him.
Where to begin with the events that have occurred these couple of days. We went from the sweet video of Rhett laughing to our biggest nightmare of Rhett crying inconsolably and in the trauma ER being treated for a viscous attack from our family dog.
Thursday evening as Ted was folding laundry, Elle laid on the master bedroom bed coloring, and Rhett scooted along the floor on his tummy, his recent milestone. Ted had just finished folding a blanket and turn his back to the baby to put it on the bed and that’s the moment Gunner chose to attack our precious defenseless little guy.
The last couple of days have been the longest and fastest days of my life. Very real, yet so unbelievable at the same time. I got a phone call at work just before 5pm. I was getting ready to leave for the day. I missed Ted’s call to my office phone, then got a call from him on my cell phone, which I declined to try to call him from my more reliable office phone. He was audibly anxious and stressed. I asked him what was going on and all he said was, “The dog bit the baby.” Not knowing the extent until I heard a slight note of panic in his voice, I asked what happened, still in shick at what I was hearing. “He’s bleeding. Daric is driving us to the ER.” That moment the reality of the situation sunk in deeply. I got into information mode to get to my sweet boy as quickly as possible. I asked what hospital they were going to and packed up my things ready to bolt out of the office.
Akex, my co-worker, offered to drive me saying that I shouldn’t be driving in the condition I was in. I’m sure the anxiety was written all over my face. We walk out of the office, got in her car, and set out for a the most agonizing 30 minute drive across town to the closest hospital to my house, Christus Santa Rosa at 151 and Westover Hills. The drive gave me time to call Ted and get a little more information. I was so focused on getting to my baby that it didn’t even cross my mind to call my family. Alex suggested I call my family and I did. All I can say is that my family and friends exhibit the utmost definition of family. They all dropped what they were doing and rushed across town to the hospital to check on our little Rhett.
En route so many different scenarios crossed my mind. When Alex finally got me to the hospital, I was nearing hysteria. I could scarcely get “My son was recently admitted,” to the admissions clerk. A woman, so calm and composed softly said, “I’ll take you back.” It frightened me that she was talking softly. During our walk back, she warned me, “Now his cuts do look bad, but he is doing okay. You will have to try to calm down a little bit because he will sense your anxiety and it will make him even more anxious, especially when it’s mommy that’s anxious.” Hearing this, I started taking deep breaths, willing myself to calm down. The woman added, “If you see him and you feel like you need to leave the room to cry, you can do that. Don’t feel bad.” This last reassuring comment firmly solidified my resolve to be strong for Rhett.
I walked into the room, I saw the “good” side of Rhett’s face and only a partial part of the bad side. Seeing only that part, I thought it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Then I asked Ted to let me see his whole face and Ted was trying to hide it from me, shaking his head no. I insisted. I wanted to see my baby. Ted let me walk around to the other side and what I saw horrified me. It was better than I thought, as bad as I thought, and worse than I thought that it would be all at the same time. I took deep breathes. Rhett cried when he saw me. I reached my hands out to him, Ted place a blanket on my shirt to prevent it from getting all bloody, and I help my baby boy against me. His body loosened and he stopped crying. His chest was heaving and he was gasping heavy breaths as he was trying to calm down from all the crying he had done. It was like he was able to relax once his mommy had him in his arms.
They wanted to sedate Rhett to do a CT scan of his head to see what kind of damage was done to Rhett’s head. I didn’t want Rhett sedated for anything he didn’t need to be sedated for and with as calm as he was with me, I didn’t feel it was necessary. They had a doctor come in to have us sign off for sedation and all the risks that come with it such as a cessation in breathing, which is one of the reasons I was against it. We all went back into the room for the CT scan, I comforted Rhett, gaping wound and all, and laid him where they asked me to. He started to fuss, but I calmly talked to him throughout the whole ordeal. I tried to explain to him all the things that were happening because I think deep down he understands most of what I say; if not through words, then through the tone of my voice. We successfully made it through the CT scan without sedation. A small victory in what was to be one of many short battles for Rhett.
The ER doctor came back and said it didn’t look good – that he saw a fracture in Rhett’s skull and that it looked like fragments were protruding inward. A radiologist looked at the scans and saw the same thing. After that diagnosis, we were told we were being transferred to University Hospital’s trauma center where they would suture his lacerations and a neurologist would make a call on his puncture wounds and fracture. Because of the fracture and the potential for neurological damage, they fitted him with a C Collar (neck brace). He did not like having it put on him at all, but I tried to make him as comfortable as possible. While we waited for the ambulance that would transport us, my sweet baby was able to get a little rest in the long fight ahead of him. He closed his eyes and relaxed for about forty minutes, exhausted, defeated almost. I was glad that he rested.
The ambulance arrived, I was not able to be by his side during our commute and not being able to be with him when he needed me the most just broke my heart. The EMTs buckled him to a full size stretcher and seeing his tiny body strapped onto the stretcher had me choking up, especially knowing that he would be in the back of the ambulance with a stranger and probably scared or wondering what was happening. I coached the EMT that would be in the back with him on the things that soothe him and Ted grabbed his lovey so that he would have something with him that was familiar. I told Rhett that I would be in the same car but he just wouldn’t be able to see me, but that David, the EMT, would take good care of him. I also told him that I would be there to see him just as soon as we got to the next hospital.
The ride to the hospital was probably one of the easier parts of the night. I made small talk with the EMT that was driving, occasionally glanced back to see how my baby was doing and prayed that everything would be okay. It was also one of the hardest moments for Ted, who followed the ambulance in the Jeep. He had been very strong for Elle and Rhett the whole time, but when he saw the EMT dangling Rhett’s lovey over his face and trying to make him happy, he said he lost it and could barely see where he was driving. It’s amazing how different our experience of the same traumatic event occurred.
We got to University Hospital, the driving EMT prepared me for what we were going to walk into, about ten people swarming the baby, asking a ton of questions, and that most of those surrounding us would be observers because it’s a teaching hospital. For as insignificant as his words seemed, it was comforting to know that everyone, even the EMTs were in this to help us and were hoping for the best for us as well. I was grateful to him for preparing me. We were rolled into the trauma triage where it was loud, busy, and bright. All the things that did not make Rhett happy. He was inconsolable because they have his laid out on a bed, poked at his existing IV to draw about 6 vials of blood. When they could not draw the blood from the IV, they removed the IV and proceeded to place a new one. Watching him scream and stiffen his little body in pain really hurt. I wished I could take his place to relieve him of all the pain and stress he was enduring. He stiffened so rigidly and screamed so hard his head was shaking and his eyes bulged. It was the most awful sight. It gave me flashbacks of watching two pediatric ER nurses trying to draw blood from Elle when she was only three months old.
Poking and prodding done, they allowed me to hold him. He was so exhausted and again, it was only one battle of many for him. Every place we went I asked if I could feed him because he last ate at 2:30. We arrived at University Hospital around 8:30 or 9 and for a little boy who usually eats every three hours, he should have already had two meals. Not to mention the fact that nursing would help decrease his stress level. Every time I held him I could tell he wanted to nurse and it broke my heart that I was not able to due to the doctor’s orders. I was very frustrated with this policy because not feeding a hungry child is child abuse in my mind. We were seen by a trauma physician, a pediatric ER physician, and a neurosurgeon before finally getting the okay to suture his gaping wounds. When I say gaping, I am in no way exaggerating. His facial wound was about 2 – 2.25 inches long and about a .25 inch deep. His face was literally ripped open on his forehead.
We were debriefed about sedation and the risks of sedation for the suturing. I completely understood the need for sedation for the stitches and did not question it one bit. There was no way I wanted Rhett to go through more pain than necessary. Watching him get cleaned up and receive the stitches was difficult as well. To hear the doctors tell me that he will cry when they inject the lidocaine near his lacerations because his body is still experiencing sensation, but his mind is completely separated from the body was hard to believe. He did cry and it sounded like a cry of pain, but I tried to convince myself that mentally he was not experiencing pain. It’s amazing how your mind can work to your advantage. In my case, willing strength when I felt weak and helpless.
Dr. Boone sutured two lacerations in about twenty minutes, I was able to hold my baby again and help him through the wearing off of the sedatives. I’ll never know exactly what he went through, but he came out of it strong as ever. After evaluation from the pediatric physician and neurosurgeon, we were moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit around midnight. Both Rhett and I got close to no sleep because he was hungry and waking up every half hour wanting to nurse. I wanted nothing more than to be able to provide him with a way to relax and feel even more comforted, but again, I was told that it would probably be around 8am that they would give the okay to nurse. Around 3am when I realized that no additional medical intervention was going to occur for the rest of the night, I used my judgement to go ahead and feed my poor starving boy. After that he was able to sleep for a couple of hours. It was 7:05am when they gave me the official go ahead on feeding him. It was a rough night for both of us, physically for Rhett and emotionally for me. I was just glad that they were alleviating his pain with Tylenol and small doses of morphine.
In the morning we were visited by many doctors and nurses again and informed that we would be downgraded from ICU to the regular pediatric ward. I was thankful that things seemed to be getting better for Rhett but then I was told that lab work was ordered, which meant drawing blood. Thankfully, the nurse who drew his blood seemed much more experienced and took the time to make it as quick and painless as possible for him. Rhett seemed to brace himself for the worst and was clearly in pain and extremely agitated, but it was over pretty quickly.
Rhett’s daycare provider came by to see him and he was pretty cranky and rightly so. I think he was still tired from all the chaos stemming all the way back to the initial incident itself. I was beyond tired. Jennifer left around 1:45pm. Rhett and I tried to get some sleep and my parents arrived about 2pm. I tried my best to stay awake for them, but my body simply refused. Rhett and I were sleeping the entire time they were there. They were gracious enough to bring Ted and me snacks and tuna sandwiches.
All that second day we were prepared to stay another night for monitoring. We heard that if all went well through the night that we may go home the following day. Ted and I were thrilled at this possibility. While Rhett and I caught up on sleep that day, Ted went back home, fed Gunner, let him out to urinate/poop, bathed, cleaned up the blood from the carpet, and packed up some things to bring back to the hospital. He came back to the hospital but only for a short amount of time. He had finally heard back from animal control and he needed to pick up Gunner from home and surrender him to animal control to be quarantined for ten days then euthanized. With the end result being euthanasia, I can’t help but feel like we failed Gunner. It breaks my heart that he will die, but at the same time I am so hurt that he would do such a thing to our little baby. I still can’t believe that it happened.
We made it through day 2 at the hospital. Visitors and transferring from PICU to pediatrics and from a shared room within pediatrics to a private room made the day go by much quicker. Also the fact that we were allowed to bathe Rhett. I was so glad for him because I’m sure that he probably felt a little better after getting cleaned off after having his own blood all over himself. Since Rhett had been allowed to eat all day, he was able to sleep much better than he had the previous night which meant that I was able to get more sleep as well once Ted and I finally stopped discussing the questions still lingering in our minds, questions that will always remain unanswered.
We woke up in the morning, were seen by a doctor that said we might go home today, but that it also could be tomorrow. We had been mentally preparing ourselves to leave that day so hearing that our stay may be extended another day was a downer, but if it meant getting Rhett the care he needed we were ready to gear ourselves up for another night. I picked up Elle after talking to her on the phone. She was at my parents and I could hear the sadness in her voice. She did not really understand why we were at the hospital and she was with my parents. I broke my heart to hear that she was sad, especially when she didn’t understand the situation. Ted and I came up with a plan for me to pick her up, take her home, bathe her, bathe myself, and come back to the hospital so we could spend the day together as a family. If we had to stay another night, I would stay with Rhett and Ted would take Elle home and they would spend the night together so she was at least in her own home with her daddy.
Luckily we were given the final okay from the neurosurgeon, Rhett’s nurse drew up the paperwork, and not even an hour went by and we were on our way out the door with both of our precious babies on board. We got home and Nana Higgs brought us a ton of groceries, saving us a couple of trips, Grandma and Coco came to see Rhett & Elle, and Jennifer brought us a ton of prepared food so we could focus on caring for our babies. We have more visitors planned for tomorrow and throughout next week. We are so thankful to everyone that came throughout our hospital stay and came to our home. It really did make a big difference in our moral to know that we had so much love an support.
My sincerest thank you goes to our neighbor Daric, who I believe was truly our Guardian Angel that day. After Ted realized what had happened to Rhett, he tried to stop the bleeding, ran out the front door with Rhett and yelled for Daric to come over not even knowing if Daric would be able to hear him. Daric came over, took direction from Ted to drive him, Rhett, and Elle to the hospital in the Jeep. Once at the hospital, Daric took Elle back to his house where he, Shelly, Chloe, and Ellie graciously opened up their home to Elle and had her over for dinner and play time to distract her from that fact that she was no longer with her family. Daric even drove the Jeep back to the hospital and rode his bicycle home so that we would have a vehicle if we needed it. I don’t know what would have happened if Daric had not been there.
Our thanks you go to Alex, for demanding that I let you drive me to the hospital when I was on the verge of hysteria, for comforting me when you felt like you did not know what to say; your actions spoke louder than words. To my sister, for dropping everything you were doing to be with me when I needed your encouragement to continue being strong for Rhett, for notifying everyone of what had occurred, for going to my house and searching for all the things Ted and I asked for for the night, for taking care of my other baby, and for being the strong big sister I’ve always looked up to. Mom and Dad, thank you for rushing to our side to bring a smile to Rhett’s face when he felt the most defeated, for nourishing us when we were at our weakest, and for always being there for us whenever we needed. To my brother, for his words of encouragement and comfort, and for trying to find alternatives for Gunner’s next move. To Zelmira, for braving San Antonio traffic and the University Hospital parking lot to be by our side when we were in the trauma triage, for bringing us groceries to last us through the week, for your generous monetary gift to help us with hospital expenses, and for your endless love and support of our family any time we ask for help. To Tom, for being a listening ear when Ted needed someone to talk to, for offering to take care of Gunner, and for constantly checking in on our family and Rhett’s well-being. To Travis, Amber, Trevor, and Chloe for bringing sunshine to Rhett’s gloomy day and showering us with your love and positive energy. For bringing dinner to our family so we could be by Rhett’s side at all times, offering to care for Elle, and for sharing your knowledge of the best doctors in town. To Spencer and Christina, for your love and empathy. To Diane for sending your love from hundred of miles away. To Jennifer and family, for visiting us in the hospital, listening to me talk through the trauma, for caring so much about our family, for the financial assistance you have extended us, for the extra time you offered to care for Elle, for the warm dinners you have prepared, the fresh cut fruit, for driving it over to our house to deliver all the food, and for crying with me when I felt the lowest. And to Fawn, for always being my emotional support through any life challenges thrown my way, for all your family’s prayers for Rhett and my family, for always being so willing to drop everything (even work) to be by my side when I need you the most, for being with me in spirit, for always wanting to be there for me in person, for taking care of Elle when we had so many visitors focusing on Rhett, and for always being there when I need a listening ear.
I am overwhelmed with all the love and support everyone has shown us and our baby boy. We are so thankful for everything and especially for all the prayers that were said. I know that this could have ended very differently, but I thank God for every hour that goes by that our babies are still with us. We love everyone so much and are so glad that we have each one of you in our lives.
Over the past year or so, Ted and I have talked about getting a dog. We visited pet stores, tested out a few puppies with Elle, and just couldn’t find the right fit. Then recently, for some reason or another, I searched Craigslist for pets and came across one titled “AKC Black Lab” and an indication that it had a picture. I clicked on it and read about Gunner and saw his picture; he was such a cute dog!
I contacted his owner, Heather, right away and we corresponded for the next four days before the family finally met Gunner. Ted and I loaded the kids into the Jeep after I arrived home from work on Friday and we all set out to meet Gunner. He was very well-behaved and good with Heather’s 5 month-old little girl. He’s a purebred, black lab, somewhat small for his breed, and 20 months old. He’s already housebroken, crate trained, and walks well on a leash. I later found out that Heather was giving him up because she is moving to North Carolina in January and moving into an apartment.
Heather dropped Gunner off at our house on Saturday. Elle loves him and enjoys running around the house with him. She also enjoys giving him treats. We are looking forward to having him in our lives and also to the kids growing up with him.