Accidents happen. Unfortunately one happened to a child of mine under the watch of an au pair whose redeeming characteristics became harder and harder to appreciate as the weeks of her time with us went by. Rima, the tourism and gastronomy student from Kyrgyzstan whose name still makes us all shudder, was a combination of a lot of negative attributes. She was difficult to communicate with and it wasn’t just because of her low level German or English language skills. After a conversation with her, we never knew if she didn’t understand, if she was offended, if she was OK and in agreement, or what she was going to do. She had a general inability to follow simple direction which resulted in irregular punctuality, disregard for dietary restrictions and preferences, and carelessness and clumsiness (she dinged and scratched our brand new, fancy refrigerator not once but twice), and she had an inability to manage her money (having showed up from Bishkek with too little money, she asked for advances nearly every month. She needed to book her travel tickets to see Rome or Paris so in her words, it was important enough to justify asking for an advance.).
We have many more stories, but we did our best to give her the benefit of the doubt: accommodating for culture shock, low language skills in both English and German, different cultural norms, different religion, different educational standards, etc. We kept trying; we did our best to clarify our wishes, concerns and requests both verbally and in writing to little avail. Despite all of her deficiencies and incompatibilities to our family, I did not terminate her contract as immediately as I wish I had. I didn’t take my own advice. I worried too much about what would happen to her: I didn’t think it would be nice if she lost money on her language class or I didn’t think she could manage finding a place to stay until her new au pair contract in Munich started. The reality is that when bringing an au pair over from so far away, you invest a lot of time, emotion, and money. You want things to work, and you are counting on the help. Things got unbearable though, as my husband and I acknowledged our constant dread of having to sit at the same dining table with her, so we finally cut ourselves a break by terminating her contract a mere two weeks before the end.
Her last two weeks crawled by and we wished that we could have ended the contract immediately, but I told my husband and myself that it was good that we were doing things by the book and we could all survive two weeks, right?
We almost didn’t survive. One of the big reasons why we didn’t fire Rima earlier was that she had had a good relationship with the kids. She got them out the door in time and they seemed to really like her. Sometimes they complained about her gruff tone, and sometimes they’d ask me later about a questionable definition to a word or strange story she might have told them which I would as quickly as I could correct, but I believed that she cared about the kids and felt a sense of responsibility for them. I was horrified to learn that I was wrong. One-of-my-kids-got-hurt-enough-to-be-hospitalized-and-she-didn’t-do-anything-about-it-wrong.
During the last weekend she was with our family, Rima babysat the kids while my husband and I were at a friend’s house in Düsseldorf for dinner. She was in the kitchen while the kids were in their room upstairs. One of my children decided to stand on an exercise ball while holding on to the top bunk of the bunk bed. Yup. She fell. She hit her head against a concrete structural beam. She cried a lot for a long time. I knew because Rima texted me on my mobile phone which was unfortunately in my handbag in the corner of the living room of my friend. She wrote to explain how the accident happened and that she had given pills, ice and water, but my daughter was still complaining of her head hurting. She then wrote to say that she thought she had a concussion since she had thrown up. She then wrote and asked if I was coming and if she should take her to the hospital. After this one hour span of text messages, she stopped writing. She let my daughter fall asleep, left her in the room by herself (letting my other daughter who usually sleeps in the same room sleep in Rima’s room instead), stopped trying to reach me and went to bed herself.
I really wished that I had looked at my mobile phone earlier that evening instead of on the drive back home at midnight. I then asked my husband if he had missed her calls as well. There wasn’t a single call from her, and his phone had been in his pocket the whole night. We were horrified, angry, and disgusted. We already knew that Rima was weird and had given up on trying to figure out the way she thought or couldn’t think, but how could she be so grossly irresponsible and not take care of an injured child’s needs?
The kids later told us that they had to beg Rima to call me. She refused and finally did but didn’t get an answer. They then begged her to call their father, and she refused. She said that she didn’t want us to worry. If you’re confused by what you read, then you read correctly. Our injured daughter asked her to call the ambulance since she had thrown up three times, was in pain and was dizzy. Our other daughter showed her the emergency phone number list in the kitchen which had on it my number, their father’s number, neighbors’ phone numbers, relative’s phone numbers, and the pediatician’s number along with 110 and 112. Rima didn’t call anyone else. Later we found out that it wasn’t Arnica globuli that she had offered but rather gray pills of her own. Knowing that these were probably adult pain relievers, I was holding my breath as I heard this part of the story. I almost burst with relief though when my daughter told me she refused to take it knowing that it wasn’t medicine meant for kids.
So many near misses, I shudder to think how really wrong this story could have gone.
Racing back on the A-52, we called the pediatrician’s office to get the correct hospital number. We spoke to the attending doctor there and explained what had happened, as far as we knew. He advised that if our child was restfully sleeping, then we should not disturb her. He then said that we should bring her to the hospital in the morning to get her examined and that she would most likely have to stay in the hospital for one to two nights for observation. We ended up only having to stay for one night, and our daughter is perfectly fine now.
So what to do in this kind of emergency? First, depending on the acuteness of the situation, you can call the emergency line for an ambulance which is 112. Functioning like 911 in the United States, it’s the emergency line throughout the European Union and in several other countries. (110 is the number for the police although 112 can also help you reach the police.) Otherwise, do as we did and call your doctor’s office. There will be a recording with a phone number to call in case you need urgent care. Second, do the preventive and don’t let Rima from Kyrgyzstan, anywhere near your kids!