Here’s the thing: I wouldn’t have called the doctor. I wasn’t going to — I didn’t think it was that dire yet. I was all stiff upper lip… soldier on… mustn’t grumble… It was my mother who was convinced we should call the doctor, and she had to goad me a bit before I agreed. Go on, then, I said reluctantly. You make the call. And she did. She made the first call — not me.
When I told M what the doctor had said at the follow-up appointment, his face was grave. “You know, if you hadn’t taken her into ER, I don’t think she would have made it. I don’t think she would have kept breathing through the night.” And I think he’s right. With hindsight, watching how her condition progressed that night, I don’t think she would have kept breathing either if we’d stayed at home. And yet, I hadn’t wanted to make that phone call. I hadn’t wanted to make a fuss, hadn’t wanted to be a bother… I hadn’t wanted it to be anything so serious. I’d teased my mother after I’d got off the phone… (in pantomime voice): We’d never have had to go out on these roads if you hadn’t made me make that call! And again when they told me we had to stay the night… I’d be at home with a nice cup of tea… None of this would have happened if you hadn’t made me call! The joke of it was patently obvious to me — the situation was clearly a serious one and I was glad to be in the hands of experts. It was only an attempt to lighten a frightening situation …and perhaps to alleviate my own discomfort at the realisation that my judgment was so off the mark.
My mother cried when I relayed what the follow-up doctor had said — the severity of our near miss suddenly painfully real. I didn’t cry — not because I didn’t feel the same rush of emotion, but because I felt… instinctively guarded.
“Well,” she said, and laughed a little, “I do feel vindicated!”
“Vindicated?” I asked. I don’t know why I asked — I knew exactly what she meant.
“Yes, after all your saying it was my fault we had to go to ER, I do feel vindicated!” And the laugh again, the one that was meant to cast a tone of jest over true words.
I was right and you were wrong. Isn’t that what she was saying? I told you so!.. That phrase which gloats over someone-else’s mistake, the same words which we tell children it’s not nice to say… I was suddenly angry that she would feel the need — feel free — to share with me her feelings of victory, at the very moment I was feeling all the terrible gravity of what might have been. Why make a point of how right she was just as I realise how wrong — how dangerously wrong — I was? Suddenly, the conversation became stilted and I wanted off the phone.
But she is right: her vindication is well deserved. I was not going to make that call. I didn’t see the danger — the danger right before my eyes, lying right there listless in my arms. I would have just carried on as we were, watching my daughter struggle to breath as we went into the night. No one should be more diligent than me, no one a better advocate for my daughter — a louder, more biased, more demanding advocate — than me… her own mother. And I got it wrong — on the one night that she really could have died. I am actually having quite a bit of trouble with that.