Lessons From Our First Ambulance Ride: Gratitude and Empathy

Lessons From Our First Ambulance Ride: Gratitude and Empathy January 19, 2017
"Breathing again in the ER" Personal Photo (All rights reserved)
“Breathing again in the ER” Personal Photo (All rights reserved)


Yesterday was not going according to plan. The kids were a little testy. Our oldest was behind on his schoolwork. No one was listening to mom; they would look right at her, nodding at her instructions, and then would proceed to ignore what she had just said. Now, this may sound like normal kid behavior, but it doesn’t happen this way very often in our home.

The oldest child had just been sent downstairs to make lunch, while Kristin and I strategized how to tackle the second half of our day, when the baby coughed a small cough, indicating that he had put something in his mouth, again. She picked him up and swept his mouth with her finger to retrieve the foreign object. Nothing. He was breathing, but they were very small breaths in and nothing out. In less than 20 seconds He began to turn blue. Something was wrong.


I quickly took him in my arms, turned him face-down and tried to dislodge whatever it was while Kristin called 911.

I’m an Eagle Scout; I know first aid. I also grew up with the stories of my own near choking death. I know it doesn’t take long without oxygen to do some serious damage. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t get my son to breathe. I prayed, I hit his back at the correct angle, I tried to clear his airways. Nothing. I was calm, but panicked. Finally, after an eternity, he cried a little. Nothing came out, so maybe he swallowed it, or maybe it was in a lung, or worse, maybe it was nothing foreign, maybe he had a reaction to something and just quit breathing.

By the time the ambulance arrived, any thoughts of routines, normalcy, or plans had long flown out the window. He had finally begun to breathe, but slowly, and he was still lethargic. We felt it best to go to the hospital and have them run tests to make sure he was ok.


Our oldest just turned 9. We’ve had nine years of parenting experience, and we’ve never experienced anything like this. In nine years we’ve only been to urgent care once and the emergency room once (for nursemaid’s elbow). This was all new territory to us. Kristin rode with the baby to the hospital. Soon, friends came to watch our other 5 kids, and I met them at the hospital.

After five hours in the E.R. multiple x-rays, and extended monitoring, they couldn’t find anything. Nothing to explain what occurred. As a parent, this is more terrifying to me than anything. If it was just bronchial spasms, and not a foreign object, what is to prevent it from happening again? Perhaps something will “come out” in the natural way and we’ll have an explanation. Otherwise it’s off to get allergy tested.


My son made it. He’s had over 24 hours of successful breathing since the incident. I sat there in the ER, staring at his pudgy little face, stroking his cheeks. Waves of gratitude washed over me. I thanked God and his guardian angel for keeping him safe and bringing us a good outcome.

But as quickly as I did, I was reminded that many parents who trust in God don’t get the same outcome. Many times a guardian angel isn’t enough to protect from the realities of the fallen world. Some babies turn blue and never get their color back. My prayers of gratitude quickly shifted to intercession.


Everything worked out for us, but it so easily could have gone another way. I spend the rest of our time at the ER praying for the families who didn’t have a good outcome. My heart grieved as I contemplated what pain they must feel. I tried to fathom what emotions I would have been feeling, and I let that imagination drive my prayers. Perhaps these were prayers for you or someone you know.

We lost two children to miscarriage, and these losses were real and painful. They come with their own unique forms of grief. But the numbness and shock that must come from the loss of an older child is something too painful to even contemplate. All I can offer is my sympathies and my prayers that you would find comfort.


If I wasn’t praying for you or someone you know, then join me in praying for those who have lost a crawler or toddler. But don’t stop there. Life is fleeting. Love your family well. Play with your kids, hug them, and let them know you love them; because you never know when they (or you) may be taken.

Browse Our Archives