Writing this part had to be done as bluntly as possible. Only plain facts and language can carry the weight of what happened.
It was February 3rd 2007. I was at work and it was a normal Saturday. Then I got a phone call on my mobile. It was from my partner but when I answered a man named Kevin spoke to me. He told me that there had been an accident and that I needed to get to the hospital to meet my family there. My initial reaction was to ask what happened. He simply repeated himself. I never got to thank him for staying as calm as he did. He would have been stood next what turned out to be a horrific car crash.
My partner had taken Amelia out for the day to ride her new bike (something I never got to see). Her mum and dad went with them. The day ended. As they pulled out of the car park they were hit on the driver’s side by another vehicle. The hit killed my partner’s dad outright. Amelia was sat in the seat behind him and she suffered severe brain damage from the impact.
Everyone was rushed to hospital where I was waiting, expecting nothing more than some whiplash and maybe some bruises. What I saw still haunts me today. An ambulance pulled up outside Accident and Emergency, where I was already waiting. As the paramedics exited they called out for paediatric care. Understandably my heart sank to my stomach. When they opened the rear doors they carried my daughter’s car seat with her lifeless body still strapped in. All I could see were her patent leather shoes bobbing about on the edge of the seat. And then she was gone in a whirlwind of doctors and nurses.
I’m not sure I’ve ever screamed as loudly as I did at that moment. It was a raw and guttural cry that shook my bones. As I looked up I could see the female paramedic break down in tears and be comforted by her partner. It was obviously very bad.
I’m not entirely sure why, maybe I was told and I just don’t remember, but they couldn’t air lift Amelia. I was told that she’d need to go into London for treatment as her injuries were beyond the staff at the hospital. The police set up a rolling road block and shut down the motorways in order for her to reach Great Ormond Street Hospital. She was there in under 30 minutes. I was still at the hospital waiting for my partner and her mum to arrive. Their injuries were relatively minor and I needed to be with Amelia. My mum and Step Dad arrived to take me to London.
Now we’re caught up. So, I’m standing at the foot of her bed in intensive care with doctors and nurses talking to me but all I could hear was a distant mumbling; as if I was submerged in water. I walked past them to my daughter and kissed her forehead, only then did everything around me become clear. I was put up on a sofa bed in the family room for the night. I don’t honestly know where my mum and dad went. I remember sleeping in my suit and waking up realising that all of this had actually happened.
I remember as I walked back onto the ward to see how Amelia was doing that I expected her to be fine. I was in a rather chirpy mood, the reality of the situation hadn’t sunk in. Only when I saw her in the light of day did I understand just how badly she was injured. She’d undergone several hours of surgery and a blood transfusion. The doctors removed half of her skull so that her brain could swell freely and begin to heal. If I’m honest my first thought was “so where’s the other bit of her skull, then?” As I’ve said, we react oddly in such situations. At first everyone was rather optimistic and we all fell into a routine of sitting by her bed watching the ICP.
I was alone in all decision making. My partner, who was pregnant, was still in hospital at home. She’d broken some bones and had severe bruising. The doctors were concerned about the baby, so she was forced to stay for longer than we expected. She spent most of those days high on morphine. Despite my mum and friends surrounding me, everything had to be decided by me. I had to put my signature to many forms that would ultimately decide the course of action to be taken. And after five days, I had to sign a form to give my consent to switch off Amelia’s life support. But I’m jumping ahead…
Lots of things happened. Many people visited and it was all as if they orbited around Amelia and me. We were the centre of this situation. I’m her dad, I’m meant to protect her from things. Nobody could drag me away from her bed, but I had to relent in the end. Rarely was I away from the ward for long. Only to eat and sleep. The latter obviously didn’t come easily. In fact neither did the former.
Over five days we watched the ICP monitor. We helped moisturise her skin and feed her. The feeding was done via a tube which connected to a syringe. Inside the syringe was a murky beige liquid. We’d have to stand by her bed holding it in the air while gravity did its job. But it was a connection to her and made us feel like we were caring and doing our bit. After all, we couldn’t do anything else. We’d play music and take turns reading stories in the hope that she could hear us. We’d talk to her and tell her jokes all while watching that bloody monitor for signs that we were getting through.
Whether we did or not, we’ll never know. Amelia died on February 8th. She developed pneumonia, the swelling on her brain wasn’t stopping and her lungs were filling with fluid. A second operation hadn’t helped and on the morning of the 8th she had a brain scan. I walked into the room alone and sat there while the specialists told me everything they needed to say. Her brain was 80% dead. She would never walk, talk, breath without a machine. She would never sing, skip or eat. And that was if she survived. There was a strong chance she would have a heart attack because of the strain on her body.
Two days prior we’d witnessed a 13 year old girl go into cardiac arrest on the ward. We watched as her family broke down and collapsed to the floor. We watched as the doctors restarted her heart and we watched as her parents crumbled. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t let Amelia go through that and even if she didn’t, I couldn’t let her live out her years in a hospital bed. She was given low odds of surviving. I asked “Should we switch off her life support?” The consultant could only reply by crying and nodding her head. Amelia died later that afternoon surrounded by her family.
My partner and her mum were brought up in an ambulance to say their goodbyes. The worst part of that was that my partner was still dosed up on morphine… she believed that she was just visiting. She believed all along that Amelia would be fine. It never sunk in until she had to say goodbye. I’m still not sure how I managed to keep things together. Amelia died about 90 seconds after her life support was removed. She was three years, three months and twenty days old.
The family filtered out of the room and I got to hold my daughter one last time.
I wish I could describe how that felt. Her life had left her body and she was lifted into my arms. I can’t explain how that felt, no matter how hard I try. I sat there for an amount of time that went too quickly and didn’t stop talking to her. She felt empty. Her skin held the warmth that was familiar to me and despite that moment being entirely harrowing, I’ll always treasure it.
When I left the room myself and said goodbye to my partner and her mum, I knew that I’d never recover…