Last year in October, I was a passenger in a car accident. My sister was driving. I sat in the passenger seat and three of our four kids were in the back. We were stopped to make a left turn to pick up really really shitty food requested by my father. A man in a large truck speeding and simultaneously trying to go around us, slammed into the back of our car. I was 29 weeks pregnant. I spent the rest of the day and all night in the hospital being monitored. Lucy's heart rate dropped a few times, but stabilized. I spent that night away from Beatrice and Sam. It was the first time I didn't sleep in the same house with her. But I listened to Lucy's heartbeat all night. Like horse's racing, I was so terrified and comforted to have this time just with her. It was the first time in either of my pregnancies that the mortality of my children occurred to me. I cried off and on all night between whispering to her about the world, and telling her all the fairy tales I could remember.
From the pure adrenaline of car accident and morphing into Mother Bear, I didn't really recognize until I got home the next day that my collarbone hurt more than say a lot. I mean, it was broken. There wasn't much I could do. I saw an orthopedist who wouldn't x-ray the injury, which would have been more damaging to my pregnancy than just treating it as broken.
That car accident has haunted me since it happened. Firstly, it kicked off an incredibly difficult time in our lives. The collarbone, sitting on my ass, gaining weight, finding help to care for Bea, leading into Sam's father's death, and then three weeks later, Lucy's death. But mostly, it haunts me because I will always have that doubt. What would our life had been like if we hadn't made that left turn? What would have happened if some speeding jerk would have just been following the rules?
I will always live with that doubt. I try to accept the diagnosis that there is no reason for Lucy's death, but I find it nearly impossible. It doesn't jive with my scientific sense of the world. The effect of the accident was clear on the autopsy. Though the pathologists say it was not enough trauma to kill Lucy, we will never know the ways in which it contributed to her death or her suffering. That has remained my point in this case. I think of that Ray Bradbury story, The Sound of Thunder, can we really measure the effect of one butterfly on the world? I can't help but think that a man speeding at speeds no faster than 40mph and ramming into us at a dead stop has something to do with Lucy's death. I doubt this cadre of doctors, lawyers and insurance people that say the car accident was beside the point. How could it be? And so I doubt their intentions. I doubt their conclusions.
How much is that worth? I ask the insurance lady.
How much is doubt worth? How much is waking up everyday wondering what would have happened if your client would have just been following the rules worth?
After Lucy died, I received an email from a Facebook friend from high school. We had only recently friended each other. He is a high risk OB, and we played on the chess team together. He said he was available to answer any questions I had about Lucy's death. I sent him some theories about her death. And all of his answers were the same:
You just have to accept that there are no answers.
Doctors will never quantify the what ifs.
Doctors will never write a report with doubt in the margins.
They may whisper it to you, but they will never write it.
I cannot tell you the ways in which a car accident would have contributed to her death, because those weeks of her time in utero after the accident were unmeasured.
Doctors always go by facts and measurements.
And I want to scream that not having an answer for my daughter's death seems so medieval. What of Occum's Razor? What if the only difference between this pregnancy and Beatrice's pregnancy is a car accident? What of the most logical explanation being the one we go with?
This week I received an insulting settlement check from the insurance company. For 15 months, message after message was left. Lawyers were hired and fired. I faxed autopsy reports, told my story to random insurance people in different offices. I saw doctors. I emailed specialists for more information. I probed through details about my daughter that no one should read--the weight of her heart, and the percentage of her placenta functioning. As my friend said, no pathologist or doctor would speculate on the ways in which a car accident could have adversely affected my daughter in utero, or contributed to her death. I simply don't have the money to pay enough specialists to do that. For over a year, I have had this case hanging over our child's death. No one will say the car accident had any conclusive pathological evidence to contribute to Lucy's death, and yet it is the only thing different between the one pregnancy and the other. The doctors have said that the 8% placental infarction was not enough to cause her death, but what about contribute? What if it was the one extra push that caused her to lose nutrients? Why won't anyone agree that my doubt is founded?
When they finally offered me a settlement, I couldn't even believe they were talking about my case. They offered me $4,000 for the death of my baby, and not one penny of that was in the stress, doubt, death of my child column. They paid for someone to clean my house. They paid for my collarbone broken. They paid for my hospital stay and my husband missing work. But they didn't pay for any suffering of my Lucy. They didn't pay for insomnia They didn't pay for terror. And yet, settling isn't about money for me. I just want it done with, and so the check came with both relief and anger. I want the last of Lucy's unresolved death to be resolved, even if it is not at all representative of what I think this kind of gnawing doubt is worth. Even if it is unjust.
None of this has been fucking fair.
Not her death. Not the car accident. Not the insurance companies. Not the grief. Not the losses. Not the absence of my daughter in this house. It is just money. Money that won't bring her back. Money that when broken down shows the tangible things we lost.
How much does doubt cost?
How much does grief cost?
How much does fear cost?
How much does stress cost?
How much does unbearable sadness cost?
How much does living with these questions for the rest of your life cost?
Almost everyday I see a woman in a Black Jetta speed down my street. It is a purely residential street, lots of kids and old people. Two small children strapped into car seats in the back. But she somehow manages to reach horrifying speeds (for our street) from one stop sign to the next. She sometimes blows right through the subsequent stop sign. And when I would see her from my front porch window, I had the urge to run, a la Garp, and catch her and tell her, "Somebody, speeding at 35 MPH, may have killed my daughter." A little dramatic, yes, but maybe, just maybe, if I stared in her eyes and explained to her, "You don't want to calculate the price of doubt every day."