I am a creature of habit. I suppose most of us are. I work best when I know exactly where I am going and what I’m doing simply because I have done it a hundred times before.
On the morning of Wednesday, June 10th I made a very simple adjustment to our schedule – rather than drop Michael off at daycare and take Michelle to work I chose to reverse it. Michelle had been running late to work so we headed towards Irving first. On the way home I took a couple of phone calls while Michael slept in the back seat. I got to thinking about the other stuff, the admittedly ‘not so important’ stuff – but it seemed important at the time. It was that break in routine that nearly cost me our son. I pulled in the driveway at 9:30, went in to plan out my work and have my breakfast and an hour and fifteen minutes later horrifyingly remembered that we hadn’t stopped by the babysitter’s home. When I got to Michael he was very labored in his breathing. His pretty blue eyes had turned gray and were rolling back in his head. He was absolutely drenched in sweat. I snatched him out of the van, screaming my fool head off and rushed into the house. We jumped in a cold shower, as cold as I could think to make it, in all our clothes. (I spent the rest of that day in wet clothes) My older sons worked together to contact Michelle and call 911 – those two young men are my heroes. There were a couple of points where Michael started to leave us. Verbal encouragement and CPR kept him hanging on until EMS arrived on the scene – more heroes.
When we arrived at the hospital Michael’s temperature was 104, that was after being in a cold shower and the efforts of the EMTs on the ride in, we don’t know how high it got in the car but the temperature outside was 80. He was intubated, put into a medical coma and paralyzed so that he wouldn’t fight the tubes allowing his body to rest. They had cooling pads on him to help bring his temperature down and for the next 2 days it seemed to want to fight to stay over 100. Yet miraculously his organs did not shut down, his heart stayed strong “doing just what it was supposed to do”, his EKG showed regular brain activity for someone who was in a coma and on Saturday morning the decision was made to wake him up. It took 12 hours but finally he started to grab and pull at the intubation tube. The doctors, respiratory techs and nurses all came in and had him extubated rather quickly. He was disoriented and angry but breathing on his own. By the next morning he was rolling over trying to move and get comfortable. We started OT and PT that very day and continued for 5 more weeks 6 times a day.
Michael suffered 6 strokes as a result of being the in hot car. Just an hour and 15 minutes was all it took to damage his cerebrum, cerebellum and hippocampus; affecting his motor skills, behavior and memory. Despite that his doctors said they saw no reason a full recovery wasn’t possible. I thank them for that encouragement it made it easier to get up each morning and keep going.
I know you’re asking “Eric, how the hell can you forget your child?” – I still ask myself that very question. I don’t have an answer. I wish I did – I still wake up in the middle of the night scared to death I’ve left him somewhere, frantically retracing the day’s steps – it’s not until I go into his room and see him sleeping that I am able to breathe.
I intentionally kept quiet about the accident – I wasn’t afraid of the consequences. I told the police that day that if I needed to spend the next 40 years in a prison cell, then so be it – who the hell forgets their kid like that? I kept quiet because I’ve watched how people with no vested interest in a situation take it upon themselves to cast social judgement on an event. I didn’t want people’s anger and hatred for me to keep them from praying for my precious little boy. He ended up on over 700 prayer lists across the country, and he needed every one. I didn’t need the anger and the venom that would have been directed at me wrecking Michelle’s life, too. We needed time and peace and quiet and unadulterated prayer to focus on Michael’s healing as well as our own.
We have stayed positive through the whole process, and that has made all the difference. All praise goes to God. I can’t say that enough. The odds of a child surviving a hot car incident are extremely low. It is a very rare occurrence that one makes it through alive – especially in Texas. It is even rarer to have a survivor with no measurable or permanent damage. God truly has had his hands on this child. At a recent doctor’s appointment I was bemoaning the fact that there are not a lot of people I can speak to who can with any degree of assurance say “This is what you can expect next…” I think Michelle and I were both floored when the Dr. said “Don’t you get it? Michael is the baseline.”
Nothing like this could have ever happened to me — until it did. If you take anything from our story – always triple check the back seat – because whether you believe it or not it could happen to you, too.