People have asked this story, so I’m telling it. It’s a little graphic, it won’t hurt our feelings if you don’t read it. But people are naturally curious, so I’m sharing.
One week ago today, at 11 a.m., was the scariest moment I’ve ever experienced as a parent. As a HUMAN, really.
Our border collie, who had been with us his entire 10-year life happy as a lark, had gotten grouchy with Dorothy. There was nothing physically wrong with him… we think he was just asserting alpha over the smallest member of the family. After trying to make it work for a few months, Mack and I finally decided that he needed a new family, and I cried & cried. The way he growled at Dorothy, and only Dorothy, assured me that our house wasn’t the best place for him anymore, and he’d be fine as a ranch dog somewhere. He loves herding anything… it’s in his blood.
We were on the porch. Jack held the leash, and Aggie laid in my lap, perfectly contended, having no idea that he was about to leave us. He loved belly scratches, and I was doling out plenty of them. Dorothy and Mack came out, and Dorothy said, “Can I pet him and say goodbye?” Sweet tender-hearted girl… she knew he was leaving because he didn’t like her, but she had shed so many tears about losing him. She wanted to say goodbye.
I told her, “Of course, baby! It’ll be fine, he’ll be happy.”
She touched his shoulder, and he turned to look at her. No rumble, no bristling, just looking at her. I opened my mouth to say, “Isn’t he soft right now?” And he lunged.
A dog I’ve loved for a decade wrapped his jaws around both sides of my baby’s face, and locked down. Everything went still for what felt like an hour, but could only have been a split second. Dorothy screamed.
It’s a blur after that, but I know I was calm and barking orders. I pulled the dog off of her, took the leash from Jack, and held him tightly. I send a hysterical Jack inside to grab my phone so I could call my mom… I didn’t yet know how bad the bite was, but there was so much blood. All over her, all over the porch. Mack was moving to strangle the dog, a daddy’s instinct, even with the baby in his arms. I told him, NO. “Go inside and get a towel, put pressure on her face, then get in the car.”
I called my mom, told her what happened, and to come to our house. She was there less than 2 minutes later, and jumped in the car with us, and called the hospital to tell them we were on our way. The dog we left tied to the front porch, standing in a puddle of my girl’s blood. That’s the last time I saw him… we made a call, and he was taken away and sent to Dog Heaven, where I hope he’s happy now. I miss him all the time.
Dorothy was quiet… her face buried in Mack’s shoulder on a towel soaked in blood. We kept her awake while I drove 100 miles an hour, hazard lights flashing, trying not to have a panic attack. Mack talked to Dorothy in soothing tones, trying to keep her awake, and Mom reminded me to breathe. I hate that Jack just sitting next to them by himself crying… shell-shocked.
We pulled into the emergency bay and there was no one there but a man mopping. I just screamed HELP, and he said, “Yes ma’am, and got on his walkie-talkie while we ran Dorothy into the emergency room.
Mack and Dorothy were immediately taken back, and I filled out paperwork. That’s the dumbest thing in the world, by the way. I got her birthdate wrong… I just couldn’t think.
I ran back to the back to see them… more paperwork. She was awake, not making a sound. When the nurses asked if she was ok, she gave them a thumbs up. I marveled, and Mack tried not to cry.
After two attempts, the nurses got morphine on board with an IV, and she relaxed a little. They removed the towel, assessed the wounds, and placed gauze bandages. The on-call doctor said we’d be transferred to Cook’s in Fort Worth for more specialized care, and that the ambulance would be back to pick us up in 15 minutes.
I went outside to fill out call that day’s bride. I was crying, I was hysterical, and that amazing girl said, “Don’t worry about me. Hug that baby, we’ll figure it out.” I sent out a call to photographers I trusted, so someone could be there and pick up our slack because, at this point, I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to make it. I got three photographers I love, women I’ll never be able to repay, who immediately whipped into action and headed to the wedding venue. That was a relief unlike anything I can describe.
I headed back to Dorothy’s room, but was intercepted by another staff member. Of course…payment information. Blurry-eyed, I tried to answer questions like, “No, she doesn’t have health insurance.” I looked the tech in the face, and everything went hazy, and I hit the floor.
I remember my mom sitting in front of me, right outside Dorothy’s emergency room door, saying, “Get it together. Get it together.”I started breathing again, finished the paperwork, and went to hold her hand.
I played “Alligator Sky” by Owl City over and over on my phone and sang to her. The nurses said she was asleep. Mack started crying, and Dorothy started patting him. She tried to talk, but couldn’t, because her sweet beautiful top lip was torn completely in two, and her cheeks both had severe lacerations… one down through the muscle layer. But she was worried about her Daddy, and tried to say, “It’s ok, Daddy.”
The ambulance arrived, with room only for two. Praise Jesus for amazing EMTs, who strapped Mack to the board and let Dorothy continue riding on his chest. She wasn’t letting go of him, and I think he needed that, too. I grabbed the keys to drive, and started following the stretcher… when they went through the door and I lost sight of them, I lost it again.
I haven’t had a panic attack like that since I was a teenager, but I couldn’t breathe. I was responsible. It was my fault. My baby’s face…. it was my fault. My mom grabbed my face and sat in front of me on the hospital hallway floor… “Breathe. Breathe. Like you’re blowing up balloons.” I don’t know how long it took before I was ok again, but I got it together enough to get in the car.
We stopped at my house on the way to the hospital… I wanted Dorothy and Mack to have clothes that weren’t bloody, and for Dorothy to have her favorite stuffed animal. I was convinced my mom wasn’t driving fast enough, but we still beat the ambulance to Cook’s, and I ran so fast to the desk I think I might have knocked someone over.
After a few minutes, I was lead back to a curtained area… triage. Kids were there with viruses, broken arms, food poisoning. All of them were crying, parents were loud, babies were screaming. Dorothy’s curtained area was silent, which was somehow more scary. I walked in and Mack was soaked in blood because her bandages had soaked through onto his shirt. I handed her her stuffed animal, and she gave me a thumbs up, and I started the songs on my phone again while we silently cried and waited to see a doctor.
We saw Callie, the wound doctor, first. She was so kind & calm & experienced & gentle. Dr. Beers came next, and we felt the same. Dr. Beers teared up when we told her what happened… compassion from someone who sees worse every single day. They talked to us about our options, and after hearing everything available to us, we knew that we wanted Callie to stitch up Dorothy’s face. She deals exclusively with kids, had sewn up over 9,000, including Dr. Beer’s own two children. Everyone we talked to said that if they had a facial wound, they would pick Callie to sew it up over any plastic surgeon in the hospital. So we trusted them.
We were moved to a private room, where Dorothy’s bandages were removed, and the procedure was explained to us. At this point, I started to feel woozy again, but it made me feel guilty… like a failure. I had to be strong for her. I hadn’t had anything to eat in 16 hours (I had skipped breakfast), but I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her again. But as Callie pulled the skin back to inspect the muscle damage on the left side of my baby’s face, I collapsed.
The nurse stayed with Mack & Dorothy… Mack asked me to please go get something to eat, that he’d be with me in a minute, as soon as Dorothy was asleep for the procedure. Callie walked me to the waiting room where my family was, waiting with Chick fil A sandwiches delivered by a friend. I stared into space, answering questions, trying to eat. That sandwich was the only food I had for the next 20 hours, and I’m very grateful for it.
Mack joined me 20 minutes later, explaining that Dorothy had been given two kinds of medication to knock her out, and the procedure to stitch up her face would take about an hour. I recognized the Child Life Specialist that walked him back… Alicia. One of our brides from 2010. She said, “I’m so sorry to see you here,” and hugged us. Although her job was technically done, she took Dorothy’s stuffed animal back with her, and stayed with our daughter during the procedure so she had something familiar to hold, even in her unconscious state. That meant the world to me.
Mack changed out of his bloody clothes and ate a sandwich. Jack showed us the Build A Bear he made Dorothy in the store there at Cook’s. I answered dozens of text messages, and every time the door opened, I jumped.
Finally, after a little over an hour, we were taken back to see her.
Dorothy had a hard time coming out from the Ketamine, but knew she wanted me in bed with her, and wanted to hold her stuffed Sadness from the movie “Inside Out”. We wouldn’t be allowed to leave until she was awake enough to make eye contact with the nurse and eat a popsicle.
Baby girl hates those patriotic Bomb Pops they gave her, and refused to eat it, so we got her a Gatorade instead. After another 2 hours of cuddling, encouraging, and sipping gatorade, we were given instructions on cleaning the wounds, and sent home.
I sat in the back of the car, and Dorothy slept. I kept the sun off her face like it would kill her if it touched her, even though there was barely any light left in the sky at this point.
We got home, and Mack handed Dorothy to me on the couch, and that’s where we stayed for a few hours. I just held her… she didn’t move, she didn’t talk. When asked if she was ok, she gave a thumbs up. Eventually, we moved her to our bed at about 2 a.m., so Mack could sleep, and I just laid there watching her, unable to close my eyes for fear she would need something.
The sun rose, and she moaned. I gave her more medication, and she reached for me. We moved to the couch, where I held her all day. Her eyes hurt from swelling and impact, and she refused to open them that day. She couldn’t really talk, but we were able to eventually figure out what movies she wanted to “watch”… she just listened to them on our laps.
Sunday night I finally got a little sleep, and that made all the difference in the world, emotionally.
On Monday, Dorothy could open one eye, but not the other. We were scrubbing her stitches three times a day, which is the new worst thing I’ve ever had to do… but baby girl didn’t cry from the pain. After the first cleaning, she curled up in my lap, and said out of the less-wounded side of her mouth, “I don’t want to be brave anymore.” And I cried, and told her it was ok, and she cried too.
We played “Trouble,” and watched movies. We prayed over her that morning, and asked for prayer online, hoping that her left eye would stop hurting. That was frightening and swollen, and I was worried there was an injury that had been overlooked. We laid down for a nap all together, and she had a hard time falling asleep because it hurt so bad.
We awoke in the evening, and she opened both of her eyes to look at me. I started crying again, this time from happiness. Those eyes… I had missed them. She still couldn’t smile, could barely talk… but being able to open both of her eyes bolstered her spirits.
We changed her clothes and braided her hair, and my parents & grandparents came over to visit. Dorothy asked for her favorite dinner, and Mack cooked. She played ninjas… only for a minute, she got very tired very fast. But seeing my little girl do her high kick meant the world to me.
After dinner, she went to the bathroom, and came back to my lap. “Mom. I look terrible. I’m the ugliest girl in the world.” I managed not to cry, and we talked about it for a long time before she went to sleep again. I told her she was strong and beautiful and that the stitches wouldn’t last forever.
Tuesday morning, she woke up crying, having had dreams about people making fun of her scars. She asked us to turn the light back off, and she laid there quietly. She said, “I don’t want to look at them anymore, ok. No mirrors. I hate them. I hate this. I look awful.” And we respected her wishes and held her while she cried.
By Tuesday evening, presents started rolling in from friends & clients, and like any kid, she was elated. We talked alot about people praying for her, and she said, “I bet that’s why I can use my eyeball again!” And we agreed… yes. Prayers were making a world of difference in our lives.
On Wednesday morning I had my own doctor’s appointment in the metroplex, but didn’t want to leave her. I asked Mack to let me cancel, and he refused. We dropped her off with grandparents, and I cried… she said, “Mom, it’s ok. It’s just Grandmommy’s house. I’ll be fine.” When we picked her up, she was eating cut-up pieces of a hot dog carefully around her lip stitches, and asked if I could take a nap with her.
Four hours later, the news crew arrived.
I don’t really want to talk about that much. I’m still raw from the negative comments our news segment garnered online. We were just trying to tell our brave girl’s story, and encourage other parents to watch closely for signs of aggression in aging, beloved family pets. People are nervous around strange dogs, sure… but very forgiving of those that are family. I wish I had paid more attention to the signs, and thought our story might be a wake-up call. We were called irresponsible, animal abusers, terrible parents… even my looks were attacked. I wasn’t expecting it, and I wish we hadn’t done the news story. Wednesday was hard.
Thursday was easier. Our friend & McG Associate shooter Nikki showed up, determined to help us get a handle on the “real life” stuff we hadn’t been able to address. Dorothy was feeling well enough to cuddle with Jack and our other dog Mulligan and watch a movie. I edited images, while Mack and Nikki stained the deck and installed the fire pit that had been delivered and ignored. We did dishes & laundry when Dorothy slept. We actually got life done, and our house looked less like a hurricane, and we felt better. Late that afternoon, Dorothy’s teachers from pre-school brought three of her best friends out to visit, and our sweet girl played and laughed. She says “ouch” when she laughs… but it’s worth it, she says.
On Thursday night, we talked about stitch removal. She was scared, but excited. She went through all the gifts she’d been sent by our amazing friends & clients… and even people we’ve never met… and picked out a few things that she would like to share with other kids at Cook’s hospital. She packed a bag to take with us today, for the kids that aren’t as lucky as her… the ones that didn’t get to go home right away.
We were so proud of how Dorothy did for stitch removal. It was hard, and very painful, but she was polite, even when she cried. She even hugged the tech when we left. Precious girl has such a sweet spirit, we’re so lucky to have her.
The Child Life Specialist came to talk to her about donating her toys, and showed her all sorts of pictures of patient rooms. We even got to peek into the “Happy Room”, where they store donated gifts. Dorothy said it looks like Santa’s Workshop!!
And tomorrow is Saturday. We’ll celebrate the 4th of July with family in the morning and at lunch, and then we’ll rest before having a get-together at our house. We were skeptical about going ahead with the party, because it means Dorothy staying the night with my mom… but she wants to. The kids both need a bit of normal in their lives, and they’re so excited to see the friends that will be visiting, and see their dad’s annual fireworks show. And Mack needs that, too… Independence Day is his personal Christmas.
And so tomorrow, we’ll try to go back to normal. Our sweet girl will have scars that have to be diligently protected from infection and sun for a year. Our normal will be “new”… a little different. She’ll get used to the way her face looks now, and hopefully soon won’t be upset by her reflection in the mirror.
Hospital billing departments are starting to call, and that’s frightening. But we’ll do what we can, and we’re so grateful for the help we’ve been given. We had to get over our initial pride reaction when my precious friend Hilary started a GoFundMe page to help with our medical bills, and another friend Brittny started a t-shirt fundraiser. We didn’t expect those things, and we are overwhelmed by the support. It’s in our nature to write down every name and plan to pay it all back… but realistically, as much as we don’t like to accept help, we know that paying these bills would have financially wrecked us for a while.
Thank you all for your prayers, most of all. The nurse friends we have who have inspected Dorothy’s sutures and wounds have been amazed at her healing. The fact that her eye went from intense pain & swelling to totally fine in 3 sleeping hours… that was a miracle. The fact that the dog grabbed her face by the cheeks instead of an inch higher in her eyes, or two inches lower in her throat… that was a miracle. Seeing her smile while she opens an overwhelming number of presents… that was a miracle. Not because “stuff” is so important, but because it injected a bit of happiness, some joyful memories, into a terrifying, painful time in our lives. Those gifts and cards and colored pictures are what she’ll remember most of all, and THAT is a miracle.
I’ve always thought I was lucky to have a great support system. Both personally and professionally, we’ve never NOT felt loved and cared for. But this is next level. This is more than we ever expected, and we can never repay the amazing love you all have shown us. Please know that every single card, letter, Facebook message, and wall post has been printed and put in a scrapbook for Dorothy. We pray your encouraging words over her, for strength & healing & confidence. Every time I felt like I was losing it again, or a panic attack threatened, I could read something one of you wrote, and it got me through. You reminded me to breathe, reminded me to pray, and told me I wasn’t a failure. And whether I believed you or not, it gave me the strength to press on for another hour… another face-scrubbing… another conversation with my little girl about where beauty actually comes from.
Our prayers are selfish right now. We’re praying for no more pain. For no infection. For miraculous healing that doesn’t necessitate further plastic surgery. We’re praying that she isn’t made fun of, being a little girl who starts kindergarten with facial scarring. We’re praying that she gets used to having to wear hats all summer, and that she doesn’t mind not laying in the porch soaking up the sun with me. We’re praying her attitude stays sweet, and that she doesn’t get spoiled rotten by the attention she’s getting. We’re praying that Jack stops having nightmares, and stops blaming himself. We’re praying that we can continue to make time to talk him through it several times a day, and hug that amazing boy, and remind him that he’s just as important to us as his sister.
But we’re also praying that by being so open about what happened to Dorothy, that other people will avoid my mistake. That’s the truth of it… I made a mistake. I let my love for a dog I’ve known for a decade cloud my judgement, and I ignored that he was telling me, “I don’t like her. I don’t want to be around her.” The attack that resulted in lifelong scarring on my daughter’s face is a result of me thinking the worst that might happen is that he snipped at her hand or heel. When honestly, the worst that could have happened is that he grabbed her throat, and we’d be mourning her. Aggie was a beloved member of our family, but he was an animal, and my human babies should have come first. He should be running around a ranch right now, herding someone’s goats, and my daughter should be laughing & playing in the sprinkler. I have to live forever knowing that those things are not happening because I refused to take the warning signs seriously enough.
Parents, don’t do that. We are not advocates of animal abandonment… we love our dogs. But sometimes as they age, dogs are no longer safe around children. Watch them. Find them a more suitable home. Let them live their last years somewhere they can be happy & comfortable, and don’t risk the safety of your family. It’s not worth it. You don’t want this guilt.
Thank you again for your continued prayers & support. They have meant more to us than we can ever say. This baby girl is going to be just fine, and so are the rest of us. And we know that is in no small part because hundreds and hundreds of you flooded the universe with healing prayers and positive thoughts. Thank you.