Tommy’s clothes were covered in blood when I saw him. He’d been playing football with the big kids and had finally gotten the ball. Excited by this thrilling turn of events, he took off…and collided with the iron fence. The cut on his head was deep.
He needed to go to the ER.
Chris volunteered to go, but the health insurance for Tommy comes from me. As we’ve already discovered, just because the kids and I think of Chris as a parent doesn’t mean he legally has those advantages at this point. I needed to take Tommy. Chris would stay behind with the big kids, both of whom were pretty worried about the risk we’d face at the hospital. We reassured them that this was No. Big. Deal.
They didn’t seem to believe me.
To be fair, their fear is justified. Just three years ago, I said the same thing to them as I left for the ER. “This is no big deal, kids! Your dad just has a tummy ache and needs to get some good medicine to make it go away. That’s why people go to the hospital. He’ll be home in a few hours!”
No wonder they don’t believe me.
We left quickly, and Chris tried to reassure Claire and Austin that really, things were going to be okay. The ER wasn’t busy, and a 6-year-old with his head wrapped like a mummy gets pretty quick attention. Within a few minutes, we were brought back to a room.
I took a quick breath in when I realized where we were headed. It was the same room where Shawn had gone the day he was admitted to the hospital. Room 9.
I mean, what are the chances? The room looked exactly the same as it had three years prior. Even the chair was in the same place.
I sat down gingerly after helping Tommy get situated on the bed. He looked so small, and I answered the doctors’s questions as Tommy played with the remote control for the TV. “We’ll have to shave his head, and then either staple or glue it up,” the doctor said. Tommy seemed unfazed, and so we just watched the TV on the wall while they worked on him.
I tried not to think about that day three years ago.
But how could I not? That was the room where Shawn was finally broken by the pain, the room where I pleaded with the doctors for more morphine, the room where I tried to explain that he was really into CrossFit and had been in the military and never complained so please just give him the extra morphine.
It was just outside that room where I fell to the floor as it all started to hit me. A year after that terrible day in the hospital, I wrote this (in the blog post “One Year Later“):
There was a nurse who sat with me, that I remember. I can’t really recall what she looked like, but I remember what it felt to have her arms wrapped around me as I sat on the floor of the emergency room, unable to stand.
“I know what this means,” I kept saying over and over. “My husband has spots on his liver. I know what this means.”
She didn’t try and tell me my fears were misplaced. She knew what it meant too.
As I sat there with Tommy, I thought, “is that nurse of Shawn’s still here? Does she remember that day?”
Of course, I don’t remember who she was at all, because I wasn’t really focused on her. So there’s little chance she remembers me either. But that moment still kept replaying in my head, over and over, like a broken video clip.
Eventually, Tommy was ready to go, and we were both happy that he didn’t have a concussion. Before we could leave, however, we had to talk to the social worker. She kept asking about any previous head injuries, and about the people who lived in our house, and whether I’d ever brought any of my other children to the ER.
“Oh, we had to come a few times with his older brother,” I said breezily, trying to act like a model mother. “They like to do things like play football and every once in a while someone needs to get stitched up.” I actually smiled as I said it, and she smiled back.
Internally, I thought, “you cannot even imagine what it was like for me three years ago, in this same room. I wasn’t bouncing my baby on my lap and laughing about the antics of little boys. I was losing my whole world. It was right here that I knew that it was real – even if I didn’t have the diagnosis yet, I knew it. I couldn’t do anything but choke back the bile in my throat that day, and let out heaving sobs once I knew that Shawn was sleeping. Right there – right where you are standing – that was where my world came crashing down.”
But I knew that telling her all of that might make me seem unstable, and I worried about why she was asking me all of these questions, even though she was saying them with a smile on her face.
Tommy started crying. He was exhausted and hungry. “I just want to go home!” he said through his sobs.
“I know, baby,” I said, pulling him closer. “Me too.”