THIS ( PRECIOUS) LIFE
ON Australia Day, my four- year- old nearly drowned in the neighbour’s pool. Dozing while our baby sleeps, I am woken by the phone. An ambulance is outside, and in the back yard the adults look stricken as my daughter coughs and wails, wrapped in a sodden beach towel.
It had taken no time at all. Two parents in the pool, three kids, my girl on an air mattress while the boys played at the other end. She had slipped her floaties off both arms, then slid off and under without a sound.
When the adults looked back she was face down and still; no breath at all when they lifted her out. Then with some mouth- to- mouth resuscitation, she came back.
And now no time to talk. The ambulance takes my girl and her mother away. I leave my boy watching television and go back to see to the baby. After an hour the call comes: she’ll stay overnight. I pack her favourite things and ask next door if our boy can stay a while longer.
‘‘ Sure,’’ they say, then ask if he has any allergies. For a moment I imagine their fear, that a peanut butter sandwich may renew the cycle of alarm, and that two near- deaths in a day may not look good.
At Melbourne’s Box Hill Hospital, I wheel my baby past people on trolleys, busy staff and anxious families. I recognise the defiant wails as we approach. In tears, her mother holds her while they attach an intravenous drip to her hand and an oxygen tube to her nose. ‘‘ I don’t want these on! I want to go home!’’ she cries.
I lift her on to my lap and hold her tight and growl in her ear that she has to have the tube in, to breathe the good air. She stops fighting. And did she fall under and couldn’t breathe and have a big scare? ‘‘ Yes,’’ she wails piteously. ‘‘ I couldn’t breathe and mummy didn’t come!’’ My poor girl, mummy got you out in time and you’ll be OK. You’ll be fine.
And now again no time to talk. My wife takes the car keys and baby and bag of wet things and goes. I lie on a trolley holding my girl, her oxygen cylinder hanging off the back as they wheel us into an ambulance. ‘‘ Now we’ll have an adventure,’’ I whisper on the freeway. ‘‘ And I’ll be with you all the time.’’
At the Royal Children’s Hospital, I sit and watch her numbers rise and fall on a screen. I give her some juice, then some food, and when she finally sits up I call home. It is four hours since the accident and we can breathe. We move into a ward with other children, all clearly in for the long haul. Finally my girl sleeps. I spend the night by her bed, listening to the machines and alarms and night staff.
In the morning we watch the death- defying feats of Tweety and Sylvester. My wife and boys arrive, and at lunch time we are free to go home. The kids slip back into weekend mode; exhausted, we veer between blessing our luck they are safe and well, and berating them for Never Doing What They are Told.
Next door the next day, the Girl Who Lived jumps in the pool, goes under and pops up laughing, strapped in her safety jacket.
Our news ripples out. Little waves of sympathy flow back with other tales of nearmisses, haunting losses. We have joined the everlasting family of parents who fear that all their precautions may one day fail.
Yes, we tell our twins it’s good to have a spare,’’ my boss quips.
Knowing this, we add to our list of risks and rules, urge our kids to be careful and finally, helplessly, hope. And we promise them they’ll be OK. They’ll be fine.
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