"This is the necklace I was wearing the first time I saw you, Ella," I explain as I latch a gold necklace around my soon-to-be kindergartener's neck. My mom put it on me when I was delivering you. Now, I'm passing it on to you as you head off to your first full day of school. She proudly displays the necklace over her white button-down uniform and bounces down the stairs for breakfast.
Today is one of those monumental days I think all moms look forward to, yet somehow dread at the same time. Today I will send my baby girl to kindergarten. She poses in front of the door for a quick 'first-day' picture and off we go. I feel the tears begin to stream down my face as we cross Union Hills Drive, still four miles from her school. I put my sunglasses on to hide my face. Glancing in the rearview mirror, I am thankful for the sight: her thumb stuck softly in her mouth, a reminder to me of how young she is still.
We arrive at her school. As we pull into the 'drop-off zone,' I explain how I am just going to let her off here so she'll get used to the routine. I inform her I will park the car and come take pictures on the playground prior to school starting. She jumps out- no kiss, no goodbye, no second glance. "That's fine, I'll see her in two seconds," I say aloud to myself as I glance up to see other moms crowding around the jungle gym.
Camera hanging off my neck, I prance from my car toward the playground. CRASH! THUD! POW! Right in front of the drop off zone, a three car accident has unfolded before my eyes. Ella's preschool teacher, Mrs. Lewis, looks at me and declares, "Go, Cara. You're the nurse."
Oh No! Don't these people get it? I am a Labor & Delivery Nurse. From what I can see at a distance, there is not one person with a dilating cervix. However, many eyes are upon me. I see two people involved in the accident standing next to their cars. Whew!
"You can handle this, Cara. Pull it together. Dry up the tears. Kindly offer your nursing services and then dismiss yourself."
I walk up to find the third victim slumped over the steering wheel unconscious, airbag deployed. I feel my heart race. I can do this. Airway, Breathing, Circulation....ABC's! Have I really been a nurse for ten years? I go to the car, open the door reluctantly for what is about to unfold. I see she has a name tag bearing the logo of a local hospital. She, too, is a nurse. Oh my goodness, I have to do this for her. I would want the same for myself.
"Stephanie," I say loudly in her ear, reading her name tag. She opens her eyes. Oh good- she must have an airway, must be breathing, and have good circulation if she is responding. "My name is Cara. I am a nurse and I will be here with you until an ambulance arrives." Tears stream down her face. She goes on to tell me about the tremendous pain in her neck, back, jaw, and shoulder. If there is anything I remember from nursing school, it is: do NOT move a patient out of the car with possible head and neck injuries. Whew! All I have to do is stay with her until help arrives. I find myself asking her questions, assessing her injuries, reassuring her, touching her face, and wiping her tears. When she drifts off, I speak firmly for her to stay with me. Then, it happens:
"Will you pray for me?" she mumbles. OH NO! One other thing I suddenly remember from nursing school: when the patient says they are going to die, they are usually right. Does this mean she is dying? Where's my oxygen, code cart, fellow nurses, and doctor's orders? This is not my idea of ideal healthcare! But, all she is asking for is a prayer. I bow my head, shut my eyes, and BOOM, it hits me! I can't pray! I'm a hot mess right now!!! I'm sending my daughter off to kindergarten! I keep my head up, eyes open, and mutter something about angels surrounding us and Jesus taking the pain away and then pray silently "don't let her die" with a quick "Amen." Surprisingly, I made it through the prayer without crying!
The paramedics arrive. You wouldn't believe what flows out of my mouth! "This is Stephanie, a 35-year-old restrained driver, hit head-on approximately 7 minutes ago. She is having head, neck, back, shoulder, and jaw pain. Loss of consciousness times 30 seconds. Alert and oriented x3. Pupils are reactive. Bilateral grips and moving all extremities. No significant past medical history, but does have an allergy to morphine. She works at this local hospital and wishes to be taken there..." The information just keeps flowing.
Unbelievable. For the first time in ten years, I gave a report that had nothing to do with a dilating cervix or an unborn/newborn child and... I did it well. The paramedics were listening intently and patted me as I stepped away. Amazing!!! I gladly turned her over into their care and let them do their job. They reassured me that Stephanie was just fine. Grateful, I ran as fast as I could back to the playground, picking up my camera off the park bench.
I arrived in time to watch Ella's class walk into the building. I missed it! No pictures with friends, no hanging on the monkey bars, no last-minute shirt tuck-ins, no kiss goodbye. Ella was off to school! I stood in the playground sobbing! I mean bawling! I gave it a minute and laughed through my tears at the other moms (and dads) crying too. However, wild horses couldn't have kept me from entering that building.
I boldly walk in and press my nose against her class window. There she is! Our eyes meet, we smile, and then, almost as if rehearsed, she picks up our golden necklace from her chest and kisses the charm! She knew it. I knew it. From here on out, we may be separated every weekday by school or some unforeseen circumstance, but that umbilical cord is still well attached! She'll always be my Baby Girl!
Stephanie was treated and released later that day. And, at 2:45 pm when I picked up Ella, I asked, "Do you think you are going to like kindergarten?" Her response was this:
"I already LOVE it, Mom!"
**Originally published in The RN Journal of Nursing.