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.
“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.