June 11, 1993, I was a wide-eyed naive teenager. I had completed my first year in college. I had just returned home for summer break and had resumed my summer employment, where I worked as a nanny for two wonderful young children. I loved life, and I felt invincible.
Seventeen years ago today, I was changed forever. This anniversary doesn't need to be circled on my calendar to be remembered. I don't set out to remember the anniversary. Every year it seems to sneak up on me and take me by surprise. I was driving home from my Mom's house yesterday when WHAMMO! I realized that tomorrow was June 11. Another year had passed.
Although I was hired only to watch Wesley and Alyson, neighborhood children often congregated at the house. The family had a pool and all of the friends loved to swim and play. I was a responsible babysitter and the neighborhood parents felt comfortable having their children under my supervision.
June 11 1993 was hot. The pool was open and, in addition to my two young charges, the two neighbor girls were swimming with us. Amanda was six and Rachel, her younger sister, was almost four. The radio was playing, the kids were splashing and jumping. Summer had arrived, and I knew it was going to be a good one!
Amanda and Rachel's mom came to visit while we were swimming. She made Rice Krispie treats for everybody. The details I remember from the day are vivid; I know that Billy Joel was playing on the radio and that the Rice Krispie treats were exceptionally thick.
I was chatting with the mom when she noticed Rachel climb out of the pool and lie down by the water. The little girl was just patting the top of the water and, to be honest, I didn't think much of it. The Mom was alarmed, and approached her daughter.
Everything happened so quickly from that point, but in my mind it still moves in a slow motion. I was told to call 911 for help. I ran into the kitchen where I picked up the receiver and dialed. I heard the operator answer, and I gave the address and requested help. I then heard the operator remark that it was a crank call, and the line was disconnected.
By the time I reset the line to dial again, the Mom had carried Rachel into the house. The little girl, still dripping wet, was placed onto the kitchen table. The Mom kept screaming, "Peggy. save my daughter. Don't let my little girl die. Please, Peggy, Please. Don't let her die." These words continue to haunt my dreams.
I took off her yellow life preserver and checked her vitals. There was no heart beat. I went on auto-pilot, shutting my brain off to the frantic screaming that was surrounding me. I started CPR.
At this point Rachel's playmates came into the house. I looked up and, between rescue breathes, screamed for them to leave. Little Alyson tried to talk, but I screamed at her to leave, and to get a neighbor to call for help. The kids went running away.
To this day I remain grateful that I had the sense to send the children away. I kept my wits about me and knew that they shouldn't see their friend receive CPR. Children are vulnerable and I hope that I spared them from the trauma of the incident.
CPR was continued until paramedics arrived. I am told it was only a few minutes, but it felt like an eternity. Rachel's little lips were blue, and her skin was cold. When I close my eyes I can still see her little Beauty and the Beast swimsuit against the blue and white checked tablecloth.
After she was taken away I phoned my employer. My mom came over to sit with me. I remember thinking that Rachel had to be okay. I couldn't fathom her not being okay. I did everything right, so I knew in my heart that she would be alright. Rachel, I knew in my very soul, was going to be just fine.
I found out that night that Rachel died. I felt like I had been knocked out. The pain was so strong that I didn't think I'd be able to breathe. How could she die? It just didn't seem possible.
I have experienced other losses in my life since this event, but nothing compares to the anguish I felt when Rachel died. This tragedy taught me that, although you can do everything right, sometimes bad stuff still happens. Until I heard that Rachel had passed away, I believed that if you prayed hard enough and wished long enough, the outcome would be good. It seems naive, but I suppose that I was.
The following weeks were a blur. The press learned of the disconnected call to 911 and an investigation was launched. I was interviewed by the television news, various newspapers and the state police. I have a scrapbook filled with articles written about the incident.
Some reporters doubted that I was disconnected, while some articles even insinuated that a call was never placed. I knew the truth, and my employer supported me. She helped me stand up for what I knew to be the truth. Eventually the 911 system was changed and a call back procedure was instituted. I find some solace that perhaps a tragedy has been avoided because I spoke out about what occurred.
As it turns out, nothing could have saved little Rachel. I learned later that evening that she had a heart defect and had already survived open heart surgery. Her little heart just gave out. Although she appeared to be a healthy and strong little girl, she was a very sick child.
This anniversary used to hit me hard. I used to try to hide from the date, busying myself with chores and activities. Despite my efforts, I was never able to forget.
With time and maturity, I now view the anniversary in a new light. Intellectually, I no longer feel guilt about Rachel dying. Emotionally, I think I will always fight the "what if" questions. I am always going to wish that I had done more, that I could have saved her. I have healed from the event, but I have been changed.
I no longer dwell on the anniversary, but I would be remiss if I didn't admit that it still hurts. I rarely talk about Rachel and what happened that afternoon. My mom and my friend Tammy are perhaps the only two people who realize how deeply I have been affected by the death. This blog is my first detailed account of that tragic day. Until today, I always felt safer keeping the memories bottled up and out of sight. It has been seventeen years, but I now feel comfortable enough to talk about the incident.
I was changed when Rachel died. I experienced the fragility of life, and how quickly everything can change. I learned that it is important to stand up for the truth even when you are faced with naysayers. I learned that some pain leaves scars that continue to ache from time to time.
Robby is the same age that Rachel was when she died. Rachel was a wonderfully sweet little girl. She loved to swim, play tag and eat sour patch candy. She would giggle when she gave hugs, and had a mischievous air. She would be 21 this year.
Today will be a difficult day. I am going to give Robby some extra hugs and kisses today. We're going to play outside with his sprinkler and play tag. I've decided that, in memory of Rachel, I'm going to make Rice Krispie treats with Robby. After all, they were her favorite.