How to Save a Life

I remember what trying to save a life looked like. It’s still so vivid, like when you wake from a dream and you’re so certain it was reality. Only, it’s been over a year and a half and still I wake so certain my reality is a dream.

I remember the pallor of his face as I turned him over. Grey. Porcelain. The right side a galaxy of purple, riddled with pools of blood under the skin. I remember the enormity of the weight I felt the moment his lifeless body was ripped from my arms by Justin’s frantic hands. How he screamed “NO!” in a tone that shook and cracked and wavered far too much for a two letter word.

There was the sounds of Justin’s labored breathing as he tried so hard to pump life back into Sloan’s body, hand to chest. Over, and over, and over. Nothing. Justin was sobbing, gasping for air as if subconsciously coaching any part of our baby that was left, to do the same.

The way Sloan’s usually soft arms and legs, thick and dimpled with baby fat, looked like the stiff, slightly bent limbs of a doll lying neatly and unmoving. I touched his stomach, warm. For a moment I felt myself let in hope, as if it meant things inside were working, knowing it was only from the exhausted pumping of attempted resuscitation. Still, “His stomach is warm” I said out loud to nobody in particular.

Justin was too tired, too frantic. Help took over, took turns. Pumping. Pumping. Pumping. Nothing. “You”ll break his ribs” I say to no one. “It doesn’t matter” Correcting myself. And then I feel my entire body go cold, tasting metal in my mouth as I said “He’s gone isn’t he.” Nobody answered me. But everyone knew.

I paced, screaming through sobs. Knowing. Sloan had left that tiny body hours before. There was none of him left in there. EMS arrived, ushered us away. “You don’t want to watch this.” Twenty minutes or forever passed. I’m not sure which. One of them puts his hand over ours, and says “We did everything we could.” He drops his head, softly and breaking down he said “He’s gone.” He tells us he lost his own baby the same way years ago. He understands. “Would you like to see him?”

I fall over my baby’s body. Air escaped his throat in a tiny wheeze that sounds like a coo. He’s only sleeping. “He made a noise!” Their faces fall. “It’s from the CPR.” “It happens.” “It’s normal.” They are trying not to fall apart. This is their job, they do it every day. But they cannot stifle the gravity of what they are having to witness this time. They are watching me and their composure has ceased. Inside I shout “No! None of this is normal! This isn’t normal. This doesn’t happen.” But outside only heaving, guttural sobs escape my mouth.

His body was cold. Stone. Unmoving and void of color. There was no blood pumping. No lungs filling. No nerves responding. He was gone. As my dad wraps me up in his arms, holding me while I sob into my baby’s empty body, my world is spinning out of control.

My husband is in the corner hyperventilating. Medics are tending to him while he shakes and gasps for air. I don’t know if it’s that he’s registering the reality of what’s happened, or if it’s the opposite. What he must feel like inside, the battle he must be fighting within. To perform CPR on your own child, to face its ineffectiveness. Knowing there’s nothing he could have done but teetering on the “what if” just the same.

Justin and I hold our baby for the last time. Hours pass as our tears fall on his now forever still face. I think about how I wish someone could photograph this moment- us holding his physical being in one final embrace, but instead I stifle it knowing nobody but us would understand. Under his blankets, wrapped in our arms, he is quickly becoming stiff. The stoney, rigidness of rigor mortis. The third stage of death.

And they are pillars around the room, still against the walls, watching silently. They are crying. A life that couldn’t be saved.

This is what it looked like for us.

3 thoughts on “How to Save a Life

  1. There are no words that can bring any peace or calm to your being. But I just want you to know, that I am praying that you & your husband are able to find peace. I am praying that you and your husband are able to replace these devastating memories with only love filled & happier times with that sweet baby boy. I believe that you will get to hold him again, you will be reconnected in the here after, & that he is forever your baby boy, & you, forever his mother. I pray you find peace. Xx

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  2. There isn’t a word, or even a sound that can describe what it feels like to read your words, as the months pass, and turn into years. I have read all of them. The words of a stranger, describing such agony. I can not fathom what the reality of it all must be like. I don’t want to. But I mourn with you, for you. Our babies, your Sloan, and my Sawyer, are only days apart in their birthdays, and as I watch Sawyer, I really do think of Sloan, often. His memory will live on in us. All of us. Strangers that read your words. In some distant way, we love him and miss him, too.

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  3. Thank you for sharing your story and grief with the world. Your strength is as astounding to me. I realize as you are discussing the events of Sloan’s death is re-traumatizing for you.

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