Claire has been to the emergency room exactly one time, when she ate a pistachio nut and had an allergic reaction that had to be treated with epinephrine. My boys, however, have been at least a dozen times between them. They’ve received stitches and slings and warnings from doctors to never again do whatever it was they were doing. It’s a stereotype to be sure, but damn if my boys don’t go to the ER much more than my girl.
I managed to make it through six months without anyone getting hurt. But of course it was Austin who broke that streak last Friday night.
After Shawn died, this was actually something I thought a lot about. What would I do when one of my kids got hurt? Yes, I have my dad around, and that’s very helpful for medical advice, but I’m talking about the emotional part – the part where your kid is hurt and you look into the eyes of the other person who loves that child with the same intensity as you and then you make a decision together about how to help that child. I have a vivid memory from a few years ago of Austin bashing his face open one evening (why do kids always get hurt right before bedtime?) and Shawn holding him in his lap while we peered at the cut and debated what to do. I remember the worry in Shawn’s eyes, but I also remember the firmness of his hold on his oldest boy. I was concerned too, but I didn’t feel scared. Shawn made me feel confident in whatever it was we’d do next.
Eventually, we decided on the ER, and years later a tiny scar rests above his left eye. Whenever I am trying to figure out what my quietest child is thinking about, I look into those eyes and I see that scar. Sometimes, especially lately, I think about the night he got it.
Which brings me to this story.
Friday night just before bed, all of the kids in our extended family were upstairs playing games. I was chatting with my cousins and my old friend Rachel, who had dropped by. Out of the blue, a couple of them came running down screaming, “Austin is bleeding! He has to go to the ER!” Everyone looked at me. “Cross your fingers that we don’t actually have to go to the ER,” I said as I turned to go up the stairs.
Rachel got to Austin first and immediately wrapped her arms around him. Blood was everywhere and he was crying real tears of pain. His little body shook and I wrapped my arms around Rachel’s arms and we held him as he calmed down. “I don’t want to go to the ER!” he said through his sobs.
My dad came in, along with half of the rest of the family. “Do you think I need to take him to the ER?” I asked him.
“Nah,” he said, “you can just super glue it.”
God, my dad and his medical expertise. If you weren’t actively dying, why go to the ER?
Rachel saw my face. “Actually, Marjorie,” she said, “they’re just going to glue it shut at the ER. We can do that here. I’ll help you.”
Everyone looked at me. It was my call. No one else there to decide. “Okay,” I said, “let’s glue it.”
Of course, we didn’t have the right materials, so Rachel and I took off to the pharmacy to pick everything up – super glue, steri strips, Tylenol and something to wash out the cut. As we drove there and back, we talked about all of the crazy times we’d gotten hurt as kids. Now we were parents ourselves, realizing what it must have been like for our own parents. “At least it’s just a cut,” she said. “Head injuries are what I really worry about.” Rachel is a physical therapist and has seen her share of injuries, so she added, “But just in case, let’s make sure to check him out for a concussion when we get back.”
I hadn’t thought about that. He seemed fine when I examined him, but what if he was really hurt? What if staying home from the ER had been the wrong call?
When we arrived back home, I immediately asked Austin, “do you know how old you are?”
“Mom,” he said with a tilt of his head, “I’m seven. And everyone already asked me all those questions.”
Well at least someone was watching out for my kid’s brain.
Armed with a dozen towels, we set up a makeshift operating room in our Nana’s bedroom. Rachel washed the wound and then held Austin’s head as I applied the super glue. She put on the steri strips. “It’s done,” I said. And then everyone in the room cheered.
Austin sat up, a bit dazed. “We did it, baby!” I said to him. He smiled weakly. He was exhausted.
That night, I woke at 2 am from a nightmare that Austin was in the hospital. Tubes and machines surrounded him. In my dream, I knew it was Austin in the bed, but somehow the room and even the size of the body reminded me of Shawn’s hospital stay.
I sat up. What if it had been a concussion? What if he was bleeding in his brain right now? What if I should have taken him to the hospital?
I crept into his room. There he was, curled up next to his cousin, sleeping peacefully. I watched him breathe evenly.
He was okay. His eye had swollen a bit, and I inspected it.
About a millimeter from the cut I had super glued a few hours earlier, I saw the scar from his first head wound, the one I had inspected while Shawn held his 3-year-old body.
I had made it through this first injury without Shawn. Somehow, I had made a decision and it hadn’t been the wrong one.
Austin will have two scars by his left eye – one that reminds me of the bond I shared with his father. The other that reminds me of my own ability to imperfectly make it on my own.