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The Luckiest Nightmare

Boy in hospital bed with tubes and monitors, Fifty, fabulous and finally free

Loving Your Family

I have read so many articles and posts that begin with “every parent’s nightmare” and I often felt empathy and sympathy for them, but I lived my life in the happy bubble that nothing like that would ever happen to me. It made me that much more unprepared the day that I joined the nightmare club. I had just gotten home from work and was watching TV while discussing various ideas for dinner with my oldest child when the doorbell rang. I was faced with two female police officers whose faces told me they had bad news to tell me. The words “son” combined with “collapse” and being transported to the nearest trauma center via ambulance made my blood run cold. I called to my daughter to come with me and went out to my car, without shoes, intent upon getting to the hospital as quickly as possible. She followed after me (having picked up a pair of shoes on her way) and we were off. My compact car easily made the 115 mph I felt prudent to get down the freeway as fast as possible. We arrived at the ER and were greeted by more grave faces and quickly placed in the separate waiting area. What followed was the longest 24 hours I have ever lived through. My perfectly healthy 18-year-old son, who had graduated high school just 3 days earlier, had suffered a cardiac arrest event. We were in the hospital with him for 36 hours before he had been stabilized enough to have his breathing tube removed. Phrases like “brain damage” “oxygen deprivation” and “neurological assessment” were being thrown around everywhere. I had slept 30 minutes in the last day and a half and my brain was sluggish when I was first asked if I had power of attorney to make decisions on my son's behalf. My son, who arrived a 10lb 10z smiling and contented baby just 10 days before my 30th birthday, was 18 and therefore an adult.

We were fortunate that the hospital accepted me as his mother who shared the same address, and therefore allowed me to be involved in his care. I was told in no uncertain terms however, that if decisions were to be made, we would need to speak with the hospital’s legal counsel. From seven months after this event, I am constantly aware of how lucky my family is. We were lucky that the supervisor my son worked with knew CPR, we were lucky that the EMTs responded within 2 minutes and were able to shock my son’s heart back into a regular rhythm, we were lucky that our failure to plan for this “worst case scenario” hadn’t become a huge problem. My son is in the 3% of people who survive a full cardiac arrest episode – he has a high-tech defibrillator implanted in his chest so that he is safe if it should ever happen again. After a whole battery of tests and scans, none of the 26 doctors he saw were able to give us an answer as to why it had happened. We were lucky in every possible way. We were lucky that my ignorance about having an advance directive for my barely 18-year-old son didn’t make our situation a million times worse.

We are not attorneys but after my experience and what I was told by the hospital, my advice to everyone who still lives in the happy bubble where bad things don’t happen to their children is to have an advance directive done the day your child turns 18. Before they leave for college, before they graduate, before you make or buy them that big fancy birthday cake. Get it done and have it ready and hope and pray that you never need it. There are many sites that provide the basic template free of charge. The easiest one I’ve found is It takes just a few minutes and the peace of mind it provides is priceless.

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