Our Tragic Family Vacation Taught Me to Be More Grateful
I took what I thought were all the right steps. But an unexpected accident changed my family forever.
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I immediately started reassuring everyone, but for the first time as a parent, I thought: It’s not going to be okay. This is when the good times end.
And then: What if? What if he had not left his shoes outside? What if we had decided to stay in that evening?
My hands shook as I wrapped Mack’s wounds. The ambulance arrived. A doctor tried to give Mack an IV, but his veins had collapsed.
We drove 2 hours through black night under pouring rain on dirt roads to a hospital where a young African girl was wheezing. Was this really happening?
There were waves of nausea and blurry floors. Finally, the doctor said, “He’s going to be okay.”
“He is?” I asked, still unsure.
We spent the rest of our vacation in African hospitals, getting Mack sewn back together. The pain was so bad at times that he needed IVs and shots and nerve-blockers. He screamed and cried and vomited from the medicine. But after a week, we learned there would be no permanent damage, minus a few brutal scars.
When we got home, there were notes and flowers from our friends. Exhausted, I unpacked our dusty clothes and saw the bottle of anti-malaria pills. I thought of all the shots I had made the boys get, the forms I carried with us in a sturdy plastic folder—proof of our exceptional health and fortitude. That was us before, I thought, before we knew what it felt like to see our tiny, precious child hurt so badly that time stops.
I threw the pill bottle in the trash. We had shielded ourselves against deadly, crippling diseases, and yet life had thrown us a curveball that no vaccine could have blocked.
Are we better for it? Who knows? But two months later, as I write this, Mack is kicking a soccer ball against the house, shaking the walls—something I’ve told him many times not to do. And I am grateful, so grateful for it.
Main Image: Nate and Mack, the author’s sons, in the Mara with a Masai guide. Courtesy Shana Liebman