March is Brain Injury Awareness Month and although there are many injury awareness causes that are near and dear to my heart, none are quite as personal as brain injury awareness. I am hoping I can use our story, though not one about car seats, to help keep other kids safe and to keep families from going through what we went through.
When my oldest son Elijah was 10 months old, my husband had a conference out of town and Elijah and I tagged along to get out of our house for a bit. Elijah was crawling at that point, but not yet walking and while our hotel room was generally cleanish, whenever he crawled on the ground he came back to us with dirty hands and feet. I was a first-time parent and perhaps a bit above overly-anxious, and so to keep him from getting dirty or sick, a lot of our time was spent on the bed.
On the last day of the trip, Elijah and I had a few hours to kill before my husband returned from his last meeting. I don’t remember how it started, but we were playing a sort of game where Eli would throw his pacifier off the bed and then I’d grab it and give it back to him. I was never away from his side even for a moment and while in hindsight this wasn’t a great idea, in the moment, it really didn’t ping my danger radar.
And then just like all the times before, he threw his pacifier over the edge of the bed, but as I bent down to get it, he followed and crawled head first off the bed. The bed was about 3 feet tall and the flooring was exceptionally hard (we were on the ground floor). When I picked him up, I knew something was wrong. He couldn’t or wouldn’t hold his head up. He was barely conscious and obviously not okay.
We went by ambulance to the hospital where he got neck x-rays, which were blessedly clear. I’ll spare some of the details but we were released from that hospital and told that he was fine. Spoiler alert: he wasn’t fine.
As the day progressed, Elijah just was not himself and then began vomiting profusely. He had thrown up at the earlier emergency room, but he was one of those babies who threw up a lot and the doctor dismissed it as being upset. The second hospital we went to pulled us back immediately, did a stat CT scan and it showed a bleed around my baby’s brain. A traumatic brain injury.
We spent the next several days in the hospital, monitoring Elijah, managing his pain and nausea and watching for seizures (of which he had two, but thankfully he never had another). It was scary and stressful beyond words.
For months we watched and waited to see what the long term ramifications might be. His neurosurgeon said there was no way to know if he might have deficits as he grew, which seemed to prolong the nightmare indefinitely.
It will be 6 years later this month since this happened and Elijah is happy and healthy and thriving. He has had some fine motor deficits that may or may not be related to his injury, but you would never in a million years know that he once had a ring of blood around half his brain. We got lucky and we know it. (We also got great medical care at the second hospital and we are forever grateful for it.)
So this March, I’d like to take a second to implore you not to put babies on high surfaces. I can’t tell you how many threads I’ve read on parenting websites about babies falling off beds and how “it happens to everyone” and, well, it just doesn’t have to. Babies do not belong on elevated surfaces. Elijah was inches away from me when he fell and if we’d been on the floor instead of on the bed, it never would’ve happened.
Babies belong on the floor, for their development, and for their safety. Please don’t leave them on beds or changing tables or any elevated surfaces. There’s no convenience that is worth the risk to your child.