It was April 8, 2015, when I was awakened in the night by my 5 year old. She had a bad dream and came into my room, and as she walked around the foot of our bed she lost her balance and fell hard against the wall. I sprang from the bed to comfort her while my husband raced for the light switch. I could tell by the look on her face that something was wrong. Terrifyingly wrong. I called 911.
My voice and body were trembling as I asked EMS to come. I hung up the phone and could already hear distant sirens from the fire station 0.7 miles away. In 7-8 minutes my bedroom was full of first responders. My daughter’s vitals were normal so they left. We learned the next day through an already-scheduled MRI that her brain was herniating due to a massive brain tumor and she would endure many surgeries and chemotherapy sessions in the years to come. At the time, however, I was helpless and terrified.
I share this story because it is important to me that you know that I want my children safe and healthy. It is also important that you know that I am a mom of a cancer kid (who subsequently went blind), so prayer and preparedness are vital in my life. Our family has an emergency plan and I have had many conversations with my children about safety. We have also been forced to have hard age-appropriate conversations with our children about cancer, disability, fear, and death.
I have come very close to losing my daughter. I have friends who have buried their children and I cannot bear the thought of being without my daughter or my sons. If it means having hard conversations, purchasing safety equipment, and attending training classes, then I am “all in” to give my kids the tools they need to stay safe and healthy.
One of those hard conversations circles around recent school shootings. It is heart breaking to talk to kids about such heinous crimes, just as I hate talking to my kids about creepy grownups who may be in public restrooms or traffickers that may kidnap them from department stores. In those scenarios I am nearby and will fight to protect them; at school they are away from me, which makes it 1,000 times scarier. It is infuriating that our schools are a target of mass murderers, but that is outside the scope of this article.
It can be very difficult to talk to children about a potential school shooting without scaring them. Psychologist Lisa Damour suggests that kids age 6 and under should be shielded from violent or extremely upsetting news coverage because they are too young to understand it. For kids ages 7 to 11, Damour recommends asking children if they have heard about an incident and if they have questions. For kids age 12 and over, she says it is important to keep the conversation going. Making them aware of basic safety concepts and first-aid skills will go a long way to keeping them safe.
With my children, we have talked about their school lock-down drills. We have had age-appropriate discussions about RUN – HIDE – FIGHT and AVOID – DENY – DEFEND, the pros and cons, and their options as students. They have ballistic plates in their backpacks, so they can use their backpacks as shields to protect their vital organs in the event of an active shooter. I have talked with my blind daughter about potential safety spots for her, and made sure that she knows how to get to them on her own in case her sighted guides flee in chaos. I have encouraged local teachers and administrators to take school safety/active shooter training courses. We have tackled the subject head-on, but there is more to learn.
My middle son is starting middle school in a few months and we decided that it was time for him to attend a formal training class. He and I recently attended a ‘Stop the Bleed’ basic class. He learned that an injured person will bleed to death in 2-6 minutes. Let me repeat that — if your child is injured on a playground, car accident, or shooting, you may lose him or her forever in 2-6 minutes.
It took only 8 minutes for EMS to get to my house from 0.7 miles away, and that would have been too late if there was life-threatening bleeding. In the case of a mass murderer, EMTs would not be able to aid victims until after police clear the scene, so even if help arrives on the scene immediately they would not get to my children in time. Death from blood loss is preventable with the right equipment and training; my children may be able to stop the bleeding until EMTs can get them to a hospital. This realization positively reinforced my decision to enroll my son in the class, and he happily accepted this basic information.
The class material was from BleedingControl.org, an initiative of the American College of Surgeons and the Hartford Consensus. The program was created using a variety of private and nonprofit partners to help prepare an individual to render aid in an act of terrorism, violence, or accident with life-threatening bleeding. The class was presented by an experienced combat medic and a trauma nurse, with support from other EMS professionals. There was a straight-forward PowerPoint presentation with handouts, followed by time for hands-on instruction of tourniquets and wound packing.
My son enjoyed the class. He said, “It was cool to learn things you could do to potentially save someone’s life one day.” He appreciated the tourniquet training to practice applying it to himself and me. He understood the different reasons to deploy a tourniquet or hemostatic gauze, and most importantly, he grasped the urgency needed. We aimed to apply it in under 12 seconds (per Caleb Causey of Lone Star Medics, one of our National Conference instructors) and my son accepted the challenge. He feels more knowledgeable of how to respond if he encounters a medical emergency. He is comfortable carrying a trauma kit in his backpack in middle school.
This is parenting in the modern age: educating our children about a variety of threats and giving them tools and skills to stay safe. Whether it is pool safety, cooking safety, stranger danger, or active shooter, parents must provide age-appropriate information. We prepare our children for different scenarios and give them tools to succeed. They know STOP – DROP – ROLL, and have fire drills and tornado drills to educate them on how to stay safe in those situations. Schools have an automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in case of heart trauma and many are now stocking trauma kits to stop life-threatening bleeding.
I pray that our kids are safe and that the skills learned are never put into action. As a precaution, however, I will provide my children reinforced backpacks and personal trauma kits. If a $69 item buys my son precious time and equips him to come home to me at the end of the day, then a trauma kit will be among his school supplies.