It started out like any normal Saturday.
After feeding the boys some toast with jelly for breakfast, we went into the living room to play. My husband still slept in our bedroom next door, so we chose quiet activities to do. My oldest son, five years old, and I sat down on the couch with his new twist-up crayons and a coloring page. My youngest – only nine months old – sat on the floor at my feet with his teething ring and his toy remote control, banging them against each other.
When my oldest asked what our plans were for the day, I told him that we were going to go grocery shopping and then we would spend the rest of the day at home. He was telling me that he had a “dunk competition” out on our driveway when my youngest looked up at me with a big smile on his face.
That’s when I saw the object in his mouth. It was brown, thin, and flimsy, and I was sure that it was a little twig off of the bush in front of our house – probably carried in on one of our dogs. I quickly shoved my finger in his mouth and swiped along his cheek, where I had seen the object, but he jerked his head away from me.
I have to stop the story here to say that my youngest already has a daredevil personality. The day he started crawling, he went straight for the stairs. He regularly tries to climb tables and entertainment centers. And while all babies put things in their mouths, he probably holds a record for finding things he shouldn’t and trying to eat them. My husband has joked that there could be fifty toys on the floor with one hand grenade, and he would skip over all the toys to find the grenade and put it straight in his mouth. He finds lint or carpet fibers daily, pinching them so carefully between his thumb and pointer finger and putting them in his mouth. He once found a ladybug and cried his little eyes out when I took it away from him just before it went in his mouth. He gave us a scare once with a tiny piece of plastic wrapper off of some cleaning supplies I had opened that he had found in the bathtub; my husband had to reach his finger down his throat and pull it out with his finger. He definitely keeps us on our toes, and we can’t turn our backs on him for a second. I push the Swiffer dry mop over our hardwood floors almost daily to pick up dog hair and small objects that he may try to eat; I had just done so on Friday evening, in fact.
So when he managed to evade my attempt to get the twig from his mouth, I pulled him up onto my lap to try again. He cried as I pushed my finger in toward his cheek again, and that’s when he started coughing. I reached in his mouth a third time, but felt nothing, and he continued to cough harder until his face began to turn red and then a scary shade of purple. I flipped him over and hit his back a few times until he stopped coughing and started to cry. Sitting him in my lap, I watched him carefully as his color returned to normal and the tears continued to stream down his face. After just a moment, he began to cough again. This cough wasn’t the scary, purple-faced cough from before, but I still felt like something was not quite right.
I flew into the bedroom and woke my husband. “I think Brayson swallowed something off the floor and he started choking,” I told him, and he was out of the bed immediately. He had stopped coughing, crying loudly instead. We both watched him closely; he seemed to be breathing just fine, but he continued to cough off and on. However, my husband and both of the boys had been fighting a cold for the last three days, so his coughing had become fairly normal during that time.
Was it just his crying that triggered his cough? We debated on what we should do. Because he was still inconsolable, I decided to try to nurse him, as that’s usually the best way to calm him. He ate for less than a minute before he began to cough again. I knew something was wrong.
We discussed our options. Should we call an ambulance? Take him to the ER? Wait a bit and see how he acts? I decided to call my sister-in-law, a nurse, for advice, and she recommended we go to the ER.
By the time we got there, his crying and coughing had both calmed. The doctor who saw him said that his oxygen levels were good and when he shined a flashlight down his throat, he didn’t see anything obstructing his breathing. I described the twig that I believed he swallowed, expressed my concern with the way he turned purple and coughed when he tried to nurse, so we decided to have him X-rayed just to be sure there was nothing serious going on.
The X-ray tech unsnapped the front of his sleeper and left the back of it up over his shoulders. After taking the X-ray, he came out and said, “Does he have a safety pin in the back of his sleeper by chance?” I examined it even though I already knew the answer before I said, “No.” The X-ray tech walked away and I thought, what a strange question. We didn’t even have any safety pins in our house; it never occurred to me that my son could have swallowed one.
But a few minutes later, when we were back in our original room, the same doctor from before breezed into the room and said, “We’re sending him straight to St. Louis. He swallowed a safety pin and it’s in his lung.” And then he turned around and walked back out.
The only response I could manage was, “What?” Tears rolled down my cheeks while I sat in shock, clutching my son and absorbing his words.
A nurse in the hallway saw my bewildered expression and came in. “The pin is closed. That’s a good thing,” he offered.
His attempt to comfort me didn’t help. My hands shook uncontrollably. “I forgot my phone. My husband and oldest son are in the waiting room. I can’t even text him and tell him what’s going on,” I said.
“I’ll go get him,” he said, rushing from the room. A few minutes later, he returned with Chad and my oldest son. Then he and another nurse came in to start an IV in his chubby, sweet little arm. After tying off the top of his arm, they still couldn’t find a vein. He warned me that hitting a vein in a baby was difficult and that it may take more than one attempt, and then he, I’m pretty certain, just guessed as to where to place the needle. It was a good guess; he got it in on the first attempt.
By this time, arrangements were being made. Air Evac would come to get us, they told me. My son and I would both be strapped to the gurney and fly together. I used my husband’s phone and called my mom to come pick up my oldest son so that he wouldn’t have to go with my husband when he drove to St. Louis to meet us there; I didn’t want him to have to face the insanity that the day was sure to bring. She arrived within twenty minutes, and as soon as she came in, I asked her to call my preacher and start our church prayer chain. Chad’s parents and one of his sisters were already on their way to meet us in St. Louis, and his other sister stayed behind to ride with Chad so that he didn’t have to drive alone in the emotional state that he was in. Things seemed to be moving along.
But then Air Evac arrived. When they started to place my son on the gurney, I stopped them. “I thought I was going to be hooked to this with him.”
“Oh, no, ma’am,” the Air Evac RN said. “Company policy states that we don’t take anyone on the helicopter other than the patient. It’s a liability issue.”
I burst into tears. “What? You can’t take a nine-month-old by himself on a helicopter!” I said. “He’s not going without me! They told me that I was going with him!”
“They were mistaken,” he said calmly. “We never take a parent along with the patient.”
I can’t even describe the feeling in my stomach that I had at that moment. “You can’t take him alone!” I blubbered over and over.
Another nurse was by my side at this point. “He won’t remember this,” she said.
“That’s not the point,” I said. “I can’t put him on a helicopter up in the air all by himself, without a single familiar face! And then he’ll be in a strange hospital, with nurses and doctors doing things to him and no one around him that he knows! He’s not getting on that helicopter without me!” I started to feel dizzy at this point and had to bend over and rest my hands on my knees.
When they saw how adamant I was, they started looking into other options. As it turned out, Life Flight would allow me to travel with them, at the pilot’s discretion. “They said if the mother was calm, she could fly,” one RN told me. My tears stopped instantly and I stood up, calmer than I’d ever been in my whole life. “They’ll be here in twenty minutes.”
At that point, my husband left so that he could stop at our house and get our things and start the two and half hour drive to the hospital. My mom and oldest son remained so that they could see us off. My youngest seemed to be doing well, considering the situation; his oxygen levels remained good and he napped peacefully.
That’s when the original doctor entered the room once again. His face was stern as he looked at me and said, “If for some reason they don’t let you on that flight, you are still putting that baby on that helicopter.”
“Okay,” I agreed.
“No, I don’t think you understand the situation,” he said, pointing one finger at me. “If he cries or coughs or does something to move that safety pin even a fraction, it’ll block his airway and there won’t be a damn thing that we can do about it. Do you hear me? Not a damn thing.”
“I hear you, sir,” I said through gritted teeth, fighting the urge to cry once again and telling myself over and over to remain calm so that I could still get on that flight. I couldn’t believe how inappropriately the doctor was talking to me, but I couldn’t let it upset me; my job was to remain calm.
“This is about that baby,” he continued. “Not you or anyone else; just that baby.”
My mom interrupted him on my behalf. “It’s always been about that baby,” she said. “That’s why she wanted to be with him on that flight in the first place.”
The male RN saw the exchange taking place and rushed into the room. “Life Flight will be landing in minutes,” he said, and the doctor hurried out of the room.
I just nodded, unable to even speak as the doctor’s words swirled around in my head. What had I done, refusing to let my child on the first flight? Holding up the whole process? What if something happened; what if that safety pin moved and blocked his airway and…
The Life Flight crew came into the room. Two RNs, Michelle and Steve, and the pilot, Jim, helped him onto the little stretcher and let me help them buckle him in. Michelle calmly explained where I would be sitting and what I would be doing during the flight. Steve warned me that the flight would be a little rocky (not what someone who suffers from motion sickness wants to hear) and Jim joked that I shouldn’t worry; it would be like a fifty-minute roller coaster ride (definitely not what someone who suffers from motion sickness wants to hear). But my fear of flying and getting sick were the least of my worries at that point; I just wanted my baby taken care of. I felt so helpless.
I laid my hands on my son and began to pray, asking God to be with him and keep that safety pin from moving until the surgeon could operate. I asked Him to be with the pilot on our flight and with the nurses, that they would know what to do if anything went wrong. I asked Him to be with my son and keep him calm during the flight so that he wouldn’t cry and risk moving the safety pin.
Just before we made our way up to the roof, my mom said, “We will watch you take off. Please be sure to keep me updated.”
“I will,” I promised. “Although it might be a little while before I can call you. I don’t have my phone, my wallet, anything.” With such limited space in the helicopter, we weren’t even allowed to take the diaper bag with us.
A nurse was standing nearby and she overheard what I said. “Do you have any cash on you at all?” When I shook my head, she slipped a ten-dollar bill into my hand. I looked at it in confusion, but she closed my hand around it and said, “You may need something from the vending machine or something. Just take it. Just in case.” I tried to refuse it and give it back to her, but she insisted that I keep it.
In mere minutes, we were taking off from the roof of the hospital. The nurses weren’t kidding about the jerkiness of the flight, but not once did I feel sick or nervous; I just held my baby’s hand and kept my eyes on him. Michelle sat across from me, offering smiles and a thumbs-up whenever I looked in her direction, and Steve sat behind my son, gently stroking his hair until he lulled him to sleep. He didn’t cry one time on that flight.
When he was asleep, I closed my eyes and attempted to pray again, the words of the doctor still playing on repeat in my mind. But in my emotional state, my prayers felt broken and chaotic. They went something like this: “God, please be with this little boy. Be with the surgeon who removes this safety pin from his lung, and forgive me for not putting him on that first flight so that he could get there as soon as possible. We haven’t even celebrated his first birthday yet. There’s so much he hasn’t gotten to see or do; please don’t take him from us, God.” I tried to make my pleas focused, positive and direct, but my mind was moving in a million different directions.
Suddenly, as I sat there holding his sweet little hands with my eyes squeezed shut, I was overwhelmed by a new presence in the helicopter and I knew before I even opened my eyes that it was God. My eyes popped open immediately and the first thing I noticed was that the sun’s rays were shining in on my son, illuminating his face. And in that moment, though he didn’t move and nothing around him changed – he was still strapped on the same little stretcher, his little chest still covered in pads and wires that monitored his breathing – I had a vision of big, almost transparent hands holding him, cradling him while he slept on that gurney. A calm like I’d never experienced swept over me, and I knew without a doubt that God was holding my son and that he was going to be just fine. Tears poured down my face once again, but this time, they were tears of relief and gratitude.
I was still a little shaky when we landed at the Children’s Hospital, still emotional and anxious about the surgery, even though I knew it was going to turn out okay. But from the moment I got off that helicopter, everything fell into place. The doctor was waiting for us there and we were led straight to a room, where I found Chad’s mom, dad, and sister already inside. After a nurse came inside and got some information from us, the doctor told me that they would be starting the surgery immediately, following another X-ray. When a couple minutes went by and no one came to get him, the doctor went down to the radiology lab himself to get someone, telling us, “They’re not moving as fast as I would like them to be.” Immediately, we were taken back for another X-ray, and when the doctor came in to discuss the results, he said, “The safety pin is in his trachea. We will put him to sleep and then go down his throat with a camera and a hook and simply pull it out.” The fact that the safety pin was in his trachea and not his lung made things less complicated.
In minutes, we were being wheeled to anesthesia, where they explained the upcoming process in simple terms. I met the ENT specialist who would perform the procedure, and she greeted me with a handshake and a calming smile. She was soft-spoken but had a confident air about her, and I felt at ease from the moment I met her. I put my hands on my son and prayed protection over him one last time before I gave him a kiss and left him in their competent hands. He went left, and I went right.
My family and I were escorted to the waiting room. Before we even sat down, my husband and his sister entered from the other side of the room. He had made it just in time; we could wait together as they worked inside his tiny body.
Around ten minutes after the surgery began, the ENT specialist came out and handed me a little container that held the safety pin. She showed us the rust that was already beginning to form on it and said that they were able to get it out without any problems. She promised us that we would be able to see him soon, and after a few more minutes went by, they called Chad and me back to where he was.
His little cry was raspy and he was hungry. They allowed me to nurse him right there, warning me that he may have difficulty swallowing. But he didn’t; he nursed twice as long as he usually does, putting himself to sleep but waking up to grab me every time I tried to pull away from him.
They moved us into another room, where they told us that they would be monitoring his eating patterns and diapers. He was awake by that point, and other than the fact that he was a little fussy and clingy to me, he was his normal self. I was under the impression that we would have to be there a little while longer, but after they came in to check on him, they decided he was well enough to release us. Soon, we were on our way home. When we stopped to eat something, he sat on my lap and ate tiny bites of green beans, chicken and dumplings, macaroni and cheese, and fried apples without any problem.
When I stood up the next morning and thanked my church family for their prayers, telling them a little bit about our experience, he sat on my mom’s lap and flapped his little arms, making noise and grinning with no idea that he had given us the biggest scare any of us had ever experienced. He was still a little fussy and clingy that day, but by Monday, he was back to his normal, happy, playful self.
When I mopped my living room floor on Monday morning, in the exact spot where he had been sitting that horrifying day, I found a little twig. I know without a shadow of a doubt that it was the same twig I saw in his mouth. Luckily, he didn’t swallow it along with the safety pin. But if I hadn’t seen that twig in his mouth, I may have decided his coughing was merely from his cold, the phlegm being the choking agent. We may not have taken him to the ER, and even if the safety pin didn’t move to cut off his airway, it would have rusted further in there until it caused an infection. So many IFs, so many things that could have gone wrong. But they didn’t.
I have to share my experience that day, because without my faith in God, I don’t know where my son would be right now. My son had so many people united in prayer for him that day, and God heard all of those prayers – our family, our church, churches of family members, people on Facebook who responded to my sister-in-law’s request for prayers for him. People who don’t even know my son but who know God and know what He can do. People who know that when believers come together in prayer, THINGS HAPPEN.
He was with my son that day, and He was with me, too. He allowed me to feel His presence in that helicopter, allowed me to see that vision so that I knew that His hands were protecting my son the whole time. I saw Him in so many places that day – He was in the nurses who tried to calm me and help me however they could, in the nurse who put that IV in my screaming son on the first try even when he couldn’t find a vein, in the nurse who insisted I take money in case I needed something, in the Life Flight nurses who were so gentle and loving with my son, in the doctor who dropped everything to go down to radiology and make things move quickly, in the ENT specialist whose smile and confidence put us all at ease. He was even in the doctor whose bedside manner I didn’t approve of, who cared enough about getting my son the quickest possible help to intervene in my fears of sending him alone. He was in each person who took a moment out of their day to say a prayer for our son and send us a text or message of encouragement.
I’ve been a Christian since I was eight years old. My walk with God hasn’t been perfect through the years, but even when I wavered, He never did. He never left me or gave up on me. And because of what happened on Saturday, my faith in Him has reached a whole new level.
Miracles still happen today, and He is behind them. My son is living proof of that.