independence from the emergency room

July 4, 2011. I’ll remember this Independence Day above all others. The day when our house was packed, when our cars were being shipped across country, when the final staging, last-minute “we should take that”s take over, and when I returned home to Abigail, lying on the living room floor beside our beloved nanny, a paper towel pressed to a bloodied chin, with Abigail crying in short fits, hoping to catch her breath.

Two days before our move to Florida. We wouldn’t be admitted so quickly to an ER in FL. Here in Austin, we rushed to the ER at Westlake, drove right to the front door, no wait time, no forms to fill. We were seen immediately, the only “customers.”

I’m asked what happened, what was needed. “I have a little girl in need of some stitches,” I said. “I don’t want shots,” Abigail said. I knew there would be at least one. She was weighed: 32 1/4 lbs. Height taken: I can’t remember. Blood pressure: 100/64. Chin up so we can see what we’re dealing with here.

Exposed flesh. Mealy looking. Her skin, a long ripped seam. Flesh was hanging, no, more bursting out of the slit that had been cut across her chin. “We need to get that flesh back in. It’s real important.” I want to faint. “You’re doing so good, Abby,” I whisper in her ear as she squeezes my fingers.

Phil and Lucas are in the waiting room. The light hurts her eyes, she’s covering them with her free hand, and I’m thankful then for the sensitivity of her eyes, that she doesn’t see what I see:

The doctor coming at her with a needle. A syringe of lidocaine.”Ouchie, ouchie,” she screams. “You’re hurting me. You’re really hurting me!” Her whole body is red, her ears, her arms, the whites of her eyes, everywhere. Except the blue veins in her forehead. To say I wanted to protect her, to stand in for her, to take away her pain… that’s all just words we’ve heard. What I felt was angry that it happened at all. And thankful that it hadn’t happened on my watch. That guilt is there, bursting like flesh that belongs inside, no matter what. But it’s worse when you were in charge. It can happen to anyone.

“It” being kids being kids. “We were playing Dinosaurland,” Abigail told me in the car ride to the ER.
“What’s that?”
“A pretend game.”
“Right, right, of course. And then what?”
“Then Lucas accidentally kicked me. And now my mouth really hurts.” She cries. I tell her it’s okay to be scared, but that I won’t leave her, that I’ll hold her hand the whole time. There’s nothing I can do.

On the ER table/cot/bed, she’s told to hold still, “It’s real important,” the doctor says. The nurse holds her forehead. I hold both hands. She screams the kind of scream that makes you think of tonsils. I will never forget the pain she is in. 

The wound looks horrible once the doctor has finished. I am nervous that it’s a botched job. How do I know? I can’t tell. Liquid bandage. “Does she need a plastic surgeon?” I ask.

“No, no, this glue will work.”

Not my question. I want to keep this in perspective. I try to think of Lucas and all we went through. Of the NICU, of life or death, of mental capabilities, of hearts and hernias. But they were younger, I think. It’s not the same. That didn’t count.

Of course it counted! Are you high?

But I’m in the moment, the kind of moment where no amount of perspective or sense of proportion makes you feel anything less than all you do. I’m still shaking. “Ouchie, you’re really hurting me.” The screams. I watch as the doctor breaks a wooden q-tip, then uses the wooden end of the broken stick to shove flesh back in. It’s not working. She won’t stop crying. I worry that they can’t fix it. I still worry, now, an hour later, with Abigail safe, asleep with her favorite friend “snuffy” on the sofa beneath a princess blanket.

Her front tooth is bleeding. “‘The ligament’ for lack of a better word,” the doctor said, “at the base of the tooth stretched, so the tooth is loose, but within 24 hours or so, it will snap back into place and be tight around the tooth again.” 

We’re home. Company is on the way. Phil is boiling water for corn, then says, “Maybe we shouldn’t make the corn. She can’t have the corn.” I feel heavy and shaky, like a gong. Medical instructions are read. Only the softest of foods. Don’t get the wound wet. Avoid sunlight. There is blood on her dress. I know up top that she will be fine, but inside where fear runs deeper, where guilt burrows, I feel blackness. Safekeeping, guardianship, my evolutionary and genetic makeup feel bankrupt.



  1. My heart hurts for your baby but that was beautifully written and full of love. I hope she is better soon and not in need of a plastic surgeon.

  2. I had at least two hits to the chin, both requiring stitches. She’ll get better. It’ll hurt you longer than it does her, and even when the scar fades to invisibility *you’ll* always be able to see it.

    It won’t be the last one, Steph. Don’t blame yourself.

  3. oh my goodness :(
    Abigail will look back on this memory too…mommy remember when we moved from Texas and I had to go to the hospital, and you held my hand the whole time? She knows you were there for her and that’s the memory that will be strongest.

    Sure hope tomorrow is better than today!

  4. I am thinking of you and her. I know this must be a really traumatic experience and I am sure she will bound back to full health in no time.

  5. You are a wonderful mother…please do not beat yourself up. It is the worst to see your kiddos in pain & I pray little Abigail heals quickly…

  6. Poor Abby. And poor mommy. It is so difficult to see your child in pain and not be able to take it away. Facial wounds are scary. When do you insist on a plastic surgeon and when do you accept that it will heal neatly as is? Been there, done that. Hope you are all feeling fine soon.

  7. This quote seems so appropriate: Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone

    Nothing hurts like when one of your babies hurts. I have felt over the years that I would lay down my life if I could lessen their pain.

    Ah, darlings.

  8. wow, after all that, you still had company for dinner? in a million years, i wouldn’t be able to do that.
    hope she heals quickly.
    taking my daughter for surgery consult friday for ankle tendon; dreading it.

  9. When I was 4, I was in a car accident which split my lip open and it needed to be stitched up in the ER. Although I remember the incident, I don’t remember the pain or the trauma. I hope Abigail doesn’t either. Big hugs to you and your daughter with best wishes for speedy healing.

  10. So sorry, Stephanie! My little guy (about the same age as Abigail) got hurt at swim lessons last month and I had to hold him as he got 3 stitches on his chin at the ER. I was angry at first, but then as I watched him bounce back and ask about swim lessons again.. I was grateful for their resilience. Wishing Abigail a speedy recovery!

  11. Oh I’m so very sorry this accident happened to sweet Abigail! My mama heart understands your pain as you watched her get her stitches. What a brave girl she was. And will have one big story to tell. I would (and I think you will) get a consult from a plastic surgeon just to make sure.

    Safe travels to Florida – your Austin friends – even the ones like me who lived near you but never met you – will miss your presence here! Happy adventures in your new home – we will all be reading :D

  12. Oh no! There is truly nothing worse than having to stand by and watch your child in pain. I can totally relate to wishing you could take their place. When my son was little he fell and split his head open. I had just turned my back for a minute, but it was long enough for him to climb up onto the built in counter/bookshelf in our living room and dive off. Now, several years later, he can’t see the scar on the top of his head, and he doesn’t rememeber begging me and the doctors to stop hurting him, but I’ll never forget that day.

  13. I was a tomboy and in and out of the ER through most of my childhood for stitches. Know what? Scars are cool!

  14. I’m so sorry to hear (read) this! I hope she is feeling better! That pulled my heatstrings all the way up here in NJ!

    1. Author

      That was the FIRST thing I said, before the doctor touched her. I said, “This calls for a plastic surgeon.” But he told me there was no need, then he glued her skin together with NO STITCHES, and now it’s a mess, and now she must see a plastic surgeon. I am so pissed. So so pissed. If I had it to do over again, I would NOT take a child to Westlake Emergency. I’d take a child to Dell Children’s. I am so so angry. I know the surgeon WILL be able to fix it, but it’s so upsetting to put her through this, no swimming when camp starts on Monday. This day has been a nightmare.

  15. so sorry you had to go through this. poor lil’ abigail!! hopefully this will be a story to laugh about one day. there isn’t anything funny about it, but time has a way of concealing and converting things!!

    hope your sweet lil’ girl is absolutely pain-free!!!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.