Today I was witness to a horrible event:
Selling Auto parts is usually a healthy dose of troubleshooting, guessing, and simple looking things up. Day to day, there isn't a whole lot of excitement. Actually, most days when the stocking work is done, and the customers are sparse, we tend to watch the traffic. So like many other days, we were watching the traffic, waiting for the next customer to call or drive up, when we notice a man driving a large red truck reverse from the intersection and squeal his tires across our parking lot. The woman who was in front of him had apparently taken too long at the intersection trying to turn left, and he was fed up. "What a jerk" we agreed, and eyes were briefly turned to his vehicle and hers to see what would happen. She then pulls an immediate right instead and also enters our parking lot... a bit odd, but maybe she'd just remembered that she needed washer fluid or something.
A moment later, a frantic scream of "HELP ME! SOMEONE! SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME!" from our parking lot, even through the closed door we can hear it perfectly. I exchange puzzled looks with Shane, the assistant manager working with me, and head out the door to investigate.
I was two seconds out the door, and what I saw... time seemed to stop. Standing next to her car, crying and screaming is a young woman in her mid twenties, holding the non-responsive body of an infant in her arms. I immediately told Shane to call 911, that there was a baby here that was not breathing. He dials the phone, and I rush back outside with one thought repeating in my head. "Please don't let it be dead, please don't let it be dead... please, please don't let it be dead."
I locked eyes with her and in a moment that I will never forget, witnessed the worst moment in that poor woman's life. Her greatest fear had jumped into reality. Her look was of frantic fury and desperation, combined with a horrified energy, and a helplessness which like a spark, jumped right to me, knocking the bottom out of my stomach. And she pleaded with me, baby in her arms, to help her, to do something.
It was a realization of every parent's worst fear, playing out a hundred times worse than anyone could have possibly imagined; something you wish no one should ever have to go through. Just the thought of which will jolt you out of your sleep in a cold sweat... and here it was before me.
There's a wide variety of crying, but NOTHING compares to the sheer heart-rending sound of a mother crying over her child. It is a different sound all together, because it's a sound that doesn't communicate information, but pure primal emotion. It jolts the heart, floods the system with adrenaline, and puts you right to the very edge; capable of anything. I never fully understood the stories of mothers lifting cars off their children until I heard that sound.
The 911 disbatcher is giving Shane instructions, and I'm trying to relay these to her, but we tell her to bring the baby inside. I go over to help her and I see that blood is foaming out of the child's mouth and nose. It's tiny face is covered in it, and so is the mom's arm and hands. She starts to bring her child inside, but doesn't want to leave her three year old son who is in the back seat.
I help the little guy get out of his car seat, and try to tell him that everything is going to be alright and to stick close to his mom. The infant is on the counter now, where grimy mechanics routinely plop down power-steering pumps and broken starters, it's delicate presence there, rendering all the commerce meaningless.
What happens next I will swear happened in the span of what seemed like less than a minute. The mom say's it's a little girl. Shane on the phone with 911 and confirmed that she has a heartbeat. We turn her on her side, and still with the blood bubbling out of her mouth and nose, the very fragile baby is able to draw a quick convulsing breath. She is breathing. The mom hyperventilates. I try to dab the blood away with a paper towel, but more keeps coming.
"Just take a deep breath... everything is going to be fine, the ambulance is on it's way."
I touch the baby's hand, which is not even as big as my thumb. It's cold and unresponsive.
"I heard a gurgling it sounded like she had spit-up. I reached back to clean her up, saw that it was blood..."
And as she's saying this I don't remember watching her say these words, because everyone's eyes are locked on that little baby girl, waiting for that next labored breath.
Sometime during this, before any emergency response vehicles arrive, a customer walks in. Some sort of strange auto-pilot engages. I find myself saying: "We'll be right with you sir." The customer surveys the scene and nod's horrified. Absolutely ridiculous in retrospect.
Two more labored breaths go by.
The police arrive. They are there maybe ten seconds when an Ambulance blazes into the parking lot, followed by a firetruck and two more squad cars.
An EMT practically sprints in, immediately picks up the baby, and whisks it into the Ambulance as the police frantically yell, "Which hospital!"
I manage to snap this picture before the ambulance burns rubber down the street. The police help the woman lock her car, which is still running. They take her and the little boy in the squad car and follow the ambulance. Suddenly everything is over. Clocks start running again.
"Do we have any disinfectant?"
"There's some in the bathroom..."
I clean up the blood from my counter as the store sits in a stunned silence.
I remember selling people parts for the rest of the day, but that happened like I was watching a movie on mute. In the background. I zoned out and my thoughts kept straying to that little baby on my counter, bloody, gasping for breath. I'm going to remember that image forever. I remember the color of the one-sie she had on, pink and blue flowers with lime green trim.
The police came back later. "She was alive, but it wasn't looking good" they said, and refused to elaborate. They asked us some questions. We learned that the child was only three weeks old. They took down my information, in case they needed to hear what I'd seen. As they're asking questions the crime lab rolls up to take pictures.
It occurred to me later that this sort of evidence gathering is standard, in case it was a situation of child abuse. I didn't even want to contemplate that thought, but they continued to ask the questions. My shift ended. I went home.
The more I thought about it, the more I couldn't understand what had happened. Babies don't just start bleeding for no reason, it made no sense. Why did this happen? Was she ok? I hoped she was.
I was out of milk.
Later, standing in the grocery store staring at the wall of milk, the time traveler in me imagined all the things that that three week old girl could have grown up to be. The life she could have had, which may have been drastically cut short. The birthdays, the graduations, the late night study sessions and messy mornings making Christmas cookies... all violently ripped out of time, never to exist. Suddenly and for no reason a happy healthy baby girl was taken away from her parents, after only three weeks of being alive. A completely helpless, innocent life... The injustice of the whole thing suddenly fell on my shoulders, and I cried. There in the milk aisle in front of a perfect strangers I just started crying.
And as I retell it now, I feel that same crushing sadness wash over me. It will be a long time before I will be over this. At the time of writing this, I don't know if that little girl is alive. I will try to find out. I hope she lives. I hope she lives a full happy and productive life... and learns to play the cello, and dance, and have chocolate cake... and never ever take her life for granted. I hope so much that she's ok...
I'm sorry if this is more personal than what I normally put on here, but I needed to get this out. I needed to tell this story, perhaps in the hopes of somehow dealing with it...
UPDATE: Her father stopped back to get the car, and told my boss that the doctors believe a blood clot had burst near her heart. She's still alive, but in intensive care.
UPDATE: As of Mother's Day morning she is still alive. Her name is Isabelle.
UPDATE: As of Tuesday the 14th, she stable at Children's and looks like she may recover.