Extreme Turbulence

As the small plane bounced and shook, I watched my daughter, small and still, laying on the gurney in front of me, connected to machines and monitors.  My head hurt and my stomach was in knots.  With all that happened, that feeling in the pit of my stomach wasn’t motion sickness.  I was worried for my daughter’s life.

Just 6 days earlier we had embarked on a cross-country family road trip driving our oldest to college for her sophomore year. Our trip would be epic, a last hurrah for family memories before the opening of a new life chapter.  We had plans to hike at the Arches National Park, explore old town Sante Fe, and find out if aliens really do exist in Roswell, New Mexico.  Our last two days would cumulate at Hyatt Lost Pines in Austin, with time relaxing on the lazy river, hiking at the nearby preserve, girl time at the spa and s’mores by the fire under a Texas night sky.

special needs travel road trip

Little did we know how quickly our plans would change.

Two days into our trip my youngest, Veronica, started wheezing a bit.  She has occasional asthma, there had been wild fires in the area, so we thought she was reacting to that.  A few puffs of her inhaler seemed to do the trick.  The day turned toward evening when a sudden road closure created a lengthy detour through the middle of nowhere.  We finally arrived in Moab, Utah around midnight, Veronica’s wheezing was becoming less responsive to the inhaler.  I was anxious to get her into bed and on her bipap machine for the night to help support her breathing.

I was sleeping next to Veronica when she suddenly groaned and pulled off her bipap mask. Immediately her machine alarmed, screaming that her oxygen levels had dropped dangerously low.  My husband turned on the light as I scooped my girl up.  She was limp and the light revealed a blue tinge to her skin.  We got oxygen on her, but she was not responding.  My oldest daughter called 911 and my husband and I frantically worked on reviving Veronica.  I never allow myself to go beyond the moment, the future will write itself, but I was really becoming afraid that we were losing her.

The medics came and she started to respond to the oxygen.  I felt like I could breathe again, too.

She was loaded up into the ambulance, I jumped in the front and we sped toward the nearest hospital.  Tests revealed that she had pneumonia.

Veronica was born with multiple challenges that remain undiagnosed, but for everything she deals with, she’s really healthy, not even having a flu or cold for several years.  But because of her challenges and little reserves, an illness can send her sideways quickly.  Her pulmonologist calls it “thin ice disease.”  Several of her doctors told me that the abuse and resulting stress she suffered at school last year was enough to compromise her health and cause this illness.

Although she was stable, she now had a fever and was a very sick little girl.  Too sick to transfer to another hospital, the doctor and nurses at Moab Regional Hospital did their best to help Veronica recover.

My bed in Veronica’s room.

17 years of caring for a special needs child has led to family routines for hospital stays.

We never leave Veronica alone in the hospital, my husband and I take 24 hour shifts, and whoever is at home tries to make things as normal as possible.  True to these routines, once Veronica was stable I encouraged my husband to continue on the trip so our oldest could get to college.  I would stay with Veronica and, I reasoned, by the time he returned she would probably be well enough to travel.  I was really sad to miss out on moving my oldest into her first apartment and that epic family trip that we had planned, but concern for Veronica’s health overrode every emotion.

special needs travel

After several days it seemed like she was making progress.

The fever had broken, she was more alert and starting to eat again.  But things were not as they seemed.  I’ll never forget the look on the doctor’s face when he entered our room that morning.  He looked scared.  Veronica’s blood work showed that her lungs were not getting rid of the carbon dioxide, and she was at toxic levels.  She would need to be life flighted to Salt Lake City Primary Children’s Hospital right away.  The room became a blur of activity.  Veronica was intubated and prepped for the flight as I quickly packed up our things.  As we left, nurses looked at me with sad smiles, I tried not to think about the gravity of the situation.

Standing on the hot tarmac, Veronica was loaded onto the plane and the medic prepped me for the flight.

There would be extreme turbulence, was I sure I could handle that in a small plane?  “Yah, no problem,” I said, only half listening.  There was no way I was leaving my daughter for even a minute.

He was right, the turbulence of crossing through heat thermals over high mountains in a small plane was pretty extreme, but I didn’t really notice much.  All I could do was watch my girl and pray that God would rescue her.

1 Comment

  • I praise you as an exceptional and compassionate mom. In the middle of all this drama you and your family try to lead a normal life. I am familiar with the turbulence of mountain flying thermals in a small plane. Flew from Santa Fe to Albuquerque once. I is not for the faint of heart, but you were not going to let V.R. fly solo.

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