July 30, 2007

My First Braining


Frankly, I always thought it would be the bookshelves. There's a 9-foot niche in one of our living room walls, a perfect spot for some low, sleek, floating shelves to hold artbooks with a display shelf on top. So just a few weeks before the kid was born, I had a friend with a fabrication shop custom-cut a sheet of 10-foot birch ply into thirds, which I suspended on the standard Elfa bracket system from The Container Store. The shelves wrap around the edges of the columns exactly as I'd imagined, like they're floating; they really look nice.

And stupid. Unbelievably stupid, in the special kind of expectant dad-cluelessness that's untempered by any thought for what's in store. I mean, what kind of dope would suspend a hundred heavy, expensive, visually irresistable, untouchable books a foot off the floor, on a cantilevered shelf, with square-edged wings protruding into space, which happen to be spaced exactly at forehead height for crawlers and flat-out running toddlers? [They're pictured above next to the other woefully ill-advised child hazard, a sculpture made of 180 pounds of choke-optimized candy. It has since been removed.]

Three-plus years of vigilance and needless anxiety later, I'm sure the subconscious groundwork has been laid for the kid's lifetime of bookshelf-related neuroses. But no matter how well-conditioned she seems to be about Daddy's Books and The Shelves, every time she goes streaking from her room, through the hall, around The Column into living room, on her way to tag up at the front door in the foyer, I wait for her to slip and totally brain herself on one of those corners. "This shelf-corner-shaped divot in my forehead?" she'll reply to the college interviewer, "well, when I was little, my dad really liked plywood..."

But it turned out to be the door. Or more precisely, a little bracket nailed to the molding, a few inches above the baseboard, which tacks down the co-ax cable as it comes into the apartment. The kid was on the fourth or fifth lap of her Running Dance, showing off to a friend who'd come over for supper last night. He and I were still sitting at the table after dessert, and neither of us could stifle our initial, reflexive laughs when it looked like the kid had just run, Tom & Jerry-style, straight into the door. My wife was closest, and when she went over to comfort the kid, she goes, "Greg, I've got blood here." Sure enough, when she picked her up and turned her around, the kid looked like Carrie at the prom, blood streaming down her little face.

Paper towels. The woefully inadequate sterile pads from the artful Restoration Hardware first aid kid we'd gotten for Christmas one year. One of the muslin dishtowels we'd just taken out of the laundry. Ice cubes in a Ziploc bag. While the kid was crying on my wife's lap, and our friend called his ICU nurse wife for suggestions, the triage was fairly calm and gradually got more effective. One glimpse at the deep, red gash, though, was all it took to know this was the night the kid would be getting her first stitches.

I got the kid's favorite blanket, a Pull-Up, and a change of clothes, and stuffed them in my wife's bag, and put the soup in the fridge [the Barefoot Contessa corn chowder recipe makes enough for an army, btw. Even halved, it barely fit in our biggest pot.] then our friend helped them to the street while I brought the car around. [Note: at the hospital, we ended up putting a diaper on over the kid's underpants because the Pull-Up was too unwieldy. And we didn't need them in the end, but if you're bringing an extra shirt for a headwound patient, go for the button-up kind; all I was thinking was "what's expendable?" and so I grabbed a t-shirt with bows on that has been at the top of my purge list since it came in the house.]

The drive to the hospital was short and familiar--it's where she was born, and where we go for checkups--and while the kid was only sobbing a bit now and the bleeding had mostly stopped, and my wife was saying, "I guess it's a miracle it's taken this long," I couldn't help thinking of Ian Holm in the The Sweet Hereafter, having to keep his infant daughter's pulse down in the car so the venom wouldn't spread from the spiderbite.

[Wow, three TV or movie references already, and I'm only on the way to the hospital. Let's pick up the pace.]

We got to the ER a little after eight. It was slow [resident: "it's probably because of the rain"] we were triaged and coldpacked instantly, and the wife and the kid were in before I came back from parking the car. For people who don't like waiting, a toddler with a bleeding headwound is the must-have accessory. [Apparently, she was screaming, "Get me out of here!" at the top of her little lungs on the way in. The attendants were later very impressed by the articulateness of her bloodcurdling objections.]

The kid fell asleep in my wife's, then my, arms. She slept through the assessment and the topical numbing. She only woke up with the local anesthetic. The towel over her eyes to help with irrigation freaked her out, so she went into the restraining blanket. ["Get this burrito off of me!"] My wife held her and we talked to her the whole time, to little avail. We tried to distract her with stories. A recent favorite/obsession, Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," worked for a while as the specialist was doing the internal stitches ["I can't see! Get this tent off my face!"], but it quickly became tricky because, hello, it's a depressing, freaky-scary story. ["Put down those scissors! Don't cut me!" "I'm in charge!" "Stop fanning me with that thing!"]

You want to be calm and strong for your kid. It kills you to see them so scared, suffering, frustrated, mad. [In a debrief this morning, she told us she was really angry the doctors had wrapped her in that blanket; it was so sweaty, and she couldn't move.] You know it's for the best, but it's excruciating. At the same time, I felt bad for the nurses and the doctors, the objects and targets of the kid's rage. So I worked a Pharma joke into the kid's story. Seemingly relieved, muttered laughter. Then it was over.

Stitches in [six on top, three absorbable layers underneath, it was quite a braining], surgeon disappeared, the kid was totally chill. An attendant asked us to move so they could put a critical patient in our room. We were home by 10:45. All told, it involved less time or pain than sitting through a Harry Potter movie. And if the surgeon's as good as he was claimed to be, and we're careful about the sunscreen, there's no life re-oriented around a deeply meaningful forehead scar, either.


Glad to hear the kid's okay.

I hope you removed all the doors in your apartment.

[just the front door, but I'll be damned if she thinks we're getting rid of cable. -ed.]

Yes, glad to hear she's OK, Greg.

As our daughter starts to walk and is getting around the house more, that's something we're pretty nervous about. We have probably one of the most child-unfriendly houses in the world, with lots of sculptures, plants, pottery, a jagged flagstone fireplace wall, a free-standing, vertical shelf system for our heavy art books, and other assorted sharp edges and walls of glass. So I think the kid's going to be subject to a "no running in the house rule", as well as certain no-go zones at least until she's about 30.

Not to worry Greg... as a Pediatric ER nurse, I've heard a lot from toddlers in various stages of injury/illness... as long as she's not the 3 yr-old screaming "don't touch me, you putahs!", you're golden (this happened to me 2 months ago and after 10 yrs of nursing... it actually left me momentarily agape). I'm glad to hear she was OK and didn't need to be "put down" for sutures. BTW - has she started climbing the bookcases yet? or her dresser? or YOUR dresser? any potential for toppling TVs? Oh.. I'm rambling... too many memories!

['putas'. that's classic. in fact, she kept saying 'dang,' which kind of shocked me. until my wife fessed up that she said that frequently while cooking. I was relieved she didn't pick up anything from me. -ed.]

Little Mary Sunshine has the O family brand - she the 2nd generation to get the exact same scar on the eyelid her Daddy-O (and both his siblings) are sporting, from the exact same Danish Modern coffee table. Eng has a dent in her head from the brick hearth, but Chang had the thing your princess did - lots of blood and stitches on the forehead. Lucky our Ped is pals with the plastic surgeon (just 10 blocks from our house) who fixed her up good. His best face-lifting advice? Once the scar is slightly healed, start rubbing it several times a day with lotion or salve - it's not the lotion, but the rubbing that helps the scar heal and lay flat.

Glad you pitched the candy. Maybe some Josef Beuys blubber would help the kid bounce around those bookshelves. Just a thought.

i laughed i cried. well told. we had a similarly stupidly placed bookshelf, which i just kept moving to different rooms before finally putting it in storage. now we are in a weird sublet in auckland and she keeps running into the glass doors. i can't remember how many panes had cracks in them when we got here, so i don't know if she is cracking them or expanding the cracks. no blood yet, though.

[see, I'm sure it's wrong on some level, and not just as a pun, but the idea of kids running into glass doors cracks me up. maybe there's something to be said for those dumb falldown helmets after all. -ed.]

This brings back so many memories...I was four when in the middle of my ballarina routine when I slammed my head into the corner of the piano bench. I remember ever single thing about that trip to the doctor, the bloody washcloth mom held to my head in the car, anesthesia that didn't work, fear of being papoosed, lying and saying the anesthesia worked for fear of being stuck with that needle again...it was lovely.

Glad your daughter is OK...I'm waiting for the day when we take our daughter in for a similar thing. I think it's a rite of passage for being a parent. Can't avoid it, so at least it's happened and it's over and she's fine.

Ouch. I too am glad to hear she's okay, although I was staring at that photo for a couple minutes before I started in on the story, trying to figure out what could possibly have produced such a large pile of brains.

If it makes you feel any better, we also have some plywood shelves, only on ours we also have big stainless threaded rod posts, oh, and the middle shelf (head height to a falling kid) is 1/4" tempered glass, with sharp edges. Ironically, I totally busted my ass on it a few weeks ago after tripping in the dark. And our girl has yet to shed a drop of blood.

Ugh, I'm so glad she's okay. We have a very similar bookshelf in our den. At the moment it has a kotatsu crammed against it so the girl can't get to close, but yeah, I can see where it's a prime noggin hazard.

I've always wondered about your candy pile sculpture. Very nice!

We had foam piping on the coffee table from climbing time on--until we got ready to move when Banana was just about a year old. Took it off thinking there wouldn't be a problem, and it would just be a day before it was in storage.

All it took was one quick lap around the house. The divot lost it's prominence over the past four years, but you can still see it when she's upset.

I feel your pain and anxiety. Glad your girl's okay.

Glad to hear that she's OK!

Sorry to hear about your little one recent accident. I hope she is okay. It's tough to watch your little one scared and crying even though you know you are doing the right thing.

As an ER Doc I can say a few things. First of all, no need to apologize. Believe me, we've been called every name in the book and then some.
Secondly all three year olds yell in an enraged fury. Mainly it's mixed of "get me outa here!" and whatever "bad" word they know. "poopy head" is very popular but once in a while they'll rip off a F bomb. ( the look on the parents face is priceless)
Yes, sunscreen is key. Use as soon as the sutures are removed and continue for 6 months.(an obsessive plastic surgeon will even make a patient use sunscreen under their clothes)
You can also use aloe and/or a product specifically made for scarring. Target makes a good knockoff of Mederma.

Good luck.

ack, terrifying. really glad she is ok.

Hey: just read this now after reading the update. An injured and indignant kid is the worst! I would add that a kid who's having trouble breathing is also a must-have for those who hate the ER wait (we've only gone to the ER for asthma attacks, knock wood). I'm glad to hear everything's OK.

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