Schnarfle: A Word And A Bond That Helped A Little Girl Heal

There is so much to be thankful for this holiday season, for all of us. Here, one of our readers, a father from Texas, shares the story of a year that almost took his beloved daughter, and how he used a made-up word to nurse her back to health.

This March, during Spring Break, my family took our annual ski trip to Taos, New Mexico. We rented a house with another family and hit the slopes. We are not cold weather people, as evidenced by the fact that we live in Dallas, and so we like skiing in the spring. This year the snow was particularly light, but the resort was able to churn out enough on top of Angel Fire Mountain to keep us busy. We were having a great time.

Our final day on the slopes was March 16th. As we took off on the lifts that morning, my wife and son decided to try some blue slopes while my daughter, Kelly Ann, 11, who is a little more cautious, wanted to start out on the green slopes. She and I had a few good runs down her favorite slope “La Bajada” when she started feeling confident and thought she might want to move up to a blue run. We decided to do one more green slope first. The run looked pretty open and appeared to have plenty of snow but we had been noticing the high temperatures tended melt the snow during the day and leave ice patches in some of the shadier spots. My daughter started going side to side down the hill with me 40 or so yards behind her. Suddenly she seemed to hit an icy area and she lost control.

She tried to fall down as she headed toward a clump of trees, but she ended up smashing into a post while tilting horizontally.

It seemed like it took me forever to catch up to her and clumsily kick my skis off and cradle her in my arms. She was dazed and kept asking me if she was dreaming but I kept telling her she had a real accident. A kind woman skiing nearby pulled up quickly and called ski patrol for us. What seemed like an eternity passed, but it was only 15 minutes before help arrived. I didn’t see any blood and was hoping Kelly Ann had just had a concussion. But when they cut open the right leg of her ski pants, it looked like she had a gunshot wound in her abdomen.

I started to sob. But then Kelly Ann looked up at me and asked, “Daddy, are you all right?” So I collected myself and shook it off. The lead first aid person was testing her for head trauma and gave her a “magic” word to remember: “Goldfish.” The first three times the woman asked her what the magic word was, Kelly Ann said, “please.”

As they rolled her off my lap and onto the stretcher, I was able to call my wife, Ann, who was fortunately skiing with our 9-year-old son nearby. She quickly made it over before they loaded Kelly Ann off to take her down to the first aid station. We quickly made the decision that Ann should be the one to travel with her as she knew all the medical history and because the person you want when you’re not well is your mother.

They took off down the mountain in an SUV-type ambulance and my son, Brian, and I began the chase to catch up with our women.

We had to go back up the lift to the top of the mountain and then down the reverse of the main lift to get to the bottom. The looks on people’s faces as we went down conveyed that they knew something bad had happened.
By the time we got to the bottom, the ambulance crew was already loading Kelly Ann in to take her to the local hospital. My wife informed me that our daughter was still dazed and not responding correctly to questions. After they left, I asked a few of the aid workers if they thought she would be all right. None would venture a guess.

Brian and I returned all our ski equipment before setting off to meet Ann and Kelly Ann at the hospital. On the drive over, Ann called me to say Kelly Ann had returned to full consciousness and was now answering questions clearly and correctly. Then she put Kelly Ann on. She said, “Hi Daddy, I love you.” If that doesn’t tug at a father’s heart, nothing ever will.

But things did not get better. At the hospital, Kelly Ann was still strapped down with her head in a brace. She had a dozen needles stuck in her. Brian had run to the bathroom and throw up. Kelly Ann had lost two pints of blood.

Nurses were having trouble getting her to move her right foot below the wound and a pulse was not registering from there. The doctors soon took her in for an X-ray while we waited.

A doctor entered the room and told us the X-ray revealed bad news. The medical staff kept using the word “unfortunate” as my wife and I grew to detest the sound of it. Kelly Ann’s pelvis was broken in three places and the X-ray of it looked like a dish that had shattered on a hardwood floor. We were informed that the Taos hospital did not have the resources to handle the necessary operation and that we needed to be transferred to a Level 1 trauma hospital. The nearest one was at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. That was four hours away.

The PostGame brings you the most interesting sports stories on the web.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to read them first!
Kelly Ann kept needing blood, and the decision was made to fly her to Albuquerque by helicopter. At first they informed us she would have to make that journey alone, but Ann and I insisted one of us go with her. The pilot determined my wife could make the trip but he would first have to fly off some fuel to adjust for the extra weight. This did little to help my anxiety.

After kissing my wife and daughter goodbye, Brian and I began the long six-hour journey that first took us back to the mountain to pack up our belongings and close the house down. While there, my wife called to let me know that she and Kelly Ann had arrived safely in Albuquerque and the staff there was planning for a lengthy surgery.

The drive had always been a beautiful one but needless to say I enjoyed none of it this time. When we pulled into visitor parking, I called my wife, who directed us the fifth floor pediatrics ICU wing and met us in the lobby. It was gratifying to hold her again but she had no news to share as the team of doctors would not be able to confer until the morning on how to proceed. However, they did tell us this was the worst pelvic injury they had ever seen.

I went into the ICU and saw my courageous but helpless daughter once again tied to all sorts of machines and various support mechanisms. My broken heart was lifted a little as she brightened to see me.

I can’t remember what we spoke about in those moments but my mood crashed again when Kelly Ann asked for water and I was told she could not have anything to drink before the operation. She began crying for water and neither I nor my wife could give her anything. It was agonizing.

Since I had just made the long drive, we decided Brian and I would check into the Embassy Suites down the road while Ann would stay the night with Kelly Ann. We would alternate nights at the hospital after that so that at least one of us got a decent night’s sleep. So Brian and I departed again. The hotel gave us a generous rate as we told them of our situation and that we didn’t know when we would check out. When we got up to the room, there were two beds, but Brian asked if he could sleep with me. He was handling it all seemingly well, but we didn’t know what toll the whole thing was taking on him. The next day would be the longest of our lives.


After breakfast, Brian and I went to the hospital to relieve Ann. She informed me that the doctors were still conferring on when to operate. I could see she was frustrated but had busied herself most of the night setting up a website at to help inform and update those closest to us on Kelly Ann’s situation.

I told Ann to go the hotel and get some sleep while I employed my best skill from 25 years of being a salesman to nag the hospital staff to move forward with the operation at a quicker pace. It apparently worked, as finally they came by and said they were ready to go and would begin the operation between 12 and 1. It was about 11:30 at that time.

The anesthetist came by to go over a few things and then one of the doctors spoke to me. I asked her if everything was going to be all right and she assured me, “Yes, kids are very resilient.” As they rolled my daughter into surgery, I kept my composure right up until I could go no farther. I told her one last time that I loved her before those doors closed between us. And then I lost it.

After about a half hour, my wife’s phone rang and she was summoned to speak with one of us before the surgery could begin. Ann went down to the waiting lounge right outside the operating rooms to speak with the head surgeon.

When she didn’t come right back, Brian and I went down to meet up with her. She was white as a ghost. The doctor had said, “This will be a life threatening surgery. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”
I remember the three of us sitting there, watching the clock, as the first hour passed and we heard nothing. I couldn’t concentrate on the book I had brought on the trip but instead kept glancing through the copies of US and People magazines that were on the table. Ann was continuing to use her iPad to add more friends to the website so they would know as soon as we did what the verdict was.

There was a television in the lounge and Harry Potter came on, which helped distract Brian for a good while. I got up and walked to the window to stare out. I actually tried to contemplate how I would deal with it if Kelly Ann didn’t make it, but realized that wasn’t the kind of energy I needed to be putting out. She would make it.

A second hour went by, and still nothing. Then the phone rang at the attendant’s desk. The nurse on duty asked for “Trauma Federal One.” It sounded like some sort of craft to move around the president, but my wife informed me that was Kelly Ann’s code name. I snatched the phone from the attendant’s hand to speak to the head surgical nurse.

She said Kelly Ann was doing great but there was a lot of intricate work left and she couldn’t tell us when she would be out.

It was now about 3 o’clock and a second Harry Potter movie was coming on. Apparently it was a marathon and Brian continued to watch in a daze. Ann and I called our parents and siblings with the update. Four o’clock came and went but at five another call came out to the lobby. It was the head nurse again with the same report: “She’s doing fine but they’re still working on her.” We felt like we were going to go insane but what else could I do but sit down and watch the third Harry Potter movie with my son? I don’t know the whole story with those movies but I was hoping a little Hogwart magic could make it out our way.

At about 6 o’clock I took Brian out to the bathroom and when we were coming back in I saw the head nurse leaving and taking her scrubs off. I ran over to ask if Kelly Ann was out and if I could see her. But the nurse informed me it was just a shift change.

At 7 o’clock, Brian was hungry. We hadn’t eaten lunch. So I took him down to the first floor to get a slice of pizza. I hurried because I wanted to get back upstairs to hear any news. When we got back to the lounge, Ann ran up to me in tears.

She hugged me and said the same doctor who told us she could die said it could not have gone better. Kelly Ann was going to be fine. Then Brian grabbed us both around the waist our and our horrible St. Patrick’s Day was over.

But there was plenty of unexpected difficulty still ahead.


Ann stayed with Kelly Ann overnight and I had the proud duty of bringing her a chocolate shake when I came back the next day. Of course Brian had to get one too, as there are no favorites in our family. When I arrived, Kelly Ann had just had just had chicken broth and Jell-O for breakfast. I had to clear it with her nurse, Billy, a giant man right out of the series ER. He said it was fine. She only took a few sips but it was great to spoil her.

Progress was good for the next few days, but by Sunday the 20th it was determined that she would still need another week in the hospital. School was starting back up again in Texas the next day, so we came to the decision that Brian and I would leave that Monday so he wouldn’t miss too much.

The next day was bittersweet. Kelly Ann was permitted to come out to the lobby and see her brother for the first time in five days. She couldn’t sit up all the way and it was a short visit before she tired, but they were so happy to see each other. After we gave our hugs and kisses goodbye, we were off on our two day drive home.

It wouldn’t be until Monday that I would see my wife and daughter again. We got the word Saturday that they would be flying in on Southwest to Love Field and were set up to check in at Scottish Rite Hospital.

We had been to Scottish Rite 11 years earlier. When Kelly Ann was born she had a mild case of hip dysplasia which was cured by six weeks in a sling. I don’t wish anyone to have to visit there on serious business but the place is amazing. They take such difficult cases and convert that misery into a positive energy that is an ongoing miracle in my opinion.

Kelly Ann woke up several times during her first night in the hospital due to the pain and needing to be turned. At this point she was able to either sleep on her back or her one good side and the nurse and I would rotate her every time she asked. The next day, we got great news: Kelly Ann was cleared to come home. We would have to put in a few ramps as the current prognosis was for at least another six weeks in a wheelchair. I never was so happy that I owned a ranch style home.

When I got home that night the house was crowded. Not only was my whole family there for the first time in over a month but several of Kelly Ann’s friends and their mothers as well. There were balloons and signs all welcoming our girl back and wishing her speedy health. It was a memorable sight.

After everyone went home, we started on the second most difficult part of this journey. Our daughter was home but the effects of what had happened, both physical and emotional, were still with her. Over the next six weeks, she would be bedridden most of day with occasional turns in her wheelchair and as days turned into evenings her spirits would sink and she would cry that she was “broken.”

We installed an intercom from her bedroom to both our family room and bedroom so we could attend to her when needed. It ripped at our hearts to hear her feeble voice come out of that box to ask for things such as water or to be turned on her side to relieve some pain. Ann and I were able to provide entertainment by giving voice to the many stuffed animals she had been given by friends and family as get-well presents. I can’t count how many little puppet shows we put on.

This worked off and on but every night she sank back into that dark place and would sadly voice out over the intercom for something that would bring us to her room. So one night after I had cheered her up a little I put a rule in place that from now on if she wanted us to come in she had to use a special code word. I came up with as silly a word as I could think of at the time: “schnarfle.” The first time I said, it she laughed and my hopes rose that we would get a few days of diversion out of it.

It took a couple of nights of reinforcement for Kelly Ann to use the code word. We would joke around when she would ask for something over the intercom by requesting the password. She would laugh and say “schnarfle.” Then for about another week she would remember and say schnarfle with a laugh in her voice.

Eventually the novelty wore off and “schnarfle” would come through in the sad, meek voice with which she was asking everything else a few weeks earlier. We still had two weeks to go before our next appointment and we needed perhaps one more diversion to get us through, so we had a family contest to see who could come up with the next funny word. The finalists were “Corkenshnard” from Brian, “Zeblipity” from Ann, and “Frafenheimer” from Kelly Ann. I was not allowed an entry since I had come up with “Schnarfle.”

Well, we had many a heated discussion over dinner and during car drives but nobody would give and vote for another’s word. But the process helped eat up the remaining two weeks and on that long-awaited Monday morning, the doctor checked the X-ray, examined Kelly Ann, and said, “This girl needs to be walking.” That prognosis alone lifted Kelly Ann’s spirits enough that we never had to artificially lift them again.

Every day since then, she’s been coming out into the garage as I arrive home from work to give me a big hug. She did so at first with a walker, and then without it. Her limp has gradually subsided and in late May, she walked across the stage to thundering applause as part of her class graduating from Huffman Elementary School. It is the first of many such walks we plan to watch her make.

Article originally appeared in the Post Game

Connect with Tom

Tom McKeown was recently the CEO and Co-founder of TrenData, which was acquired by isolved HCM in 2021. He currently manages the product team and business unit for their People Analytics offering.

Explore Topics