We’re Sorry We Dropped You On Your Head
I refuse to let go of your hand as the EMTs wheel your stretcher down the hallway, so I’m dodging empty hospital beds and machines and drip bag poles at an alarming rate. I feel people staring at you: wondering what happened; thinking how small your 2-year old body looks in all of that plastic garb.
I vow that the next time I see a parent in this situation, I will squeeze her arm in silent, unquestionable encouragement as they roll past. I think these things while dodging and holding hands and trying not to think, all the while keeping you updated on what’s coming next.
“Mommy?” You try to see me from the stretcher but the neck brace won’t let you turn.
“We’re going through a door now,” I say as we round a corner.
Soon we’ve settled into a room. And by settle, I mean you are moved from the stretcher onto a hard, flat bed, still unable to move due to the full body braceage, while we hover a portable TV over your head. Ice Age. At this point you could care less.
After we give doctors the full story — “one, two, three, Swing!” gone sour with you slipping from our hands and plummeting face-first into a concrete floor, then having a seizure — they determine that you’re at high enough risk for brain damage to take x-rays and do a CAT scan. And then the three of us are left alone to await testing.
I imagine numbers racing through Dad’s physics brain as he calculates the odds of something serious being wrong, of nothing being wrong, of bleeding, of swelling. I’d rather not think about that, and so my writer brain is busy Noticing Things.
I notice that Dad’s face is marshmallow white beneath red blotches, and that the balls of sweat on his forehead shine under the bright hospital lights. I notice the neck brace you’re wearing has a small hole in the front for a breathing tube, perhaps — and remind myself that it could be worse. I am also busy not noticing the emergency bags, tubes and vital sign machines that cover the wall next to us.
When you lie on an x-ray bed where they’ll determine whether you have a broken neck, what I notice is that you are crying silently. The wetness make a one-inch beeline into your hairline. I pray that Dad hasn’t seen this, because while he could handle the fighting screams you belted out at the EMTs as you pushed their relentless arms away, this quiet acceptance would be too much.
The technicians are too busy setting the shots and reading machines to notice, so I’m the only one who’s just glimpsed the brave, determined girl you’ll become. It’s now three hours pasts your bedtime, and although you’re only two years old and scared and have a whopper of a headache, you are crying silently because the woman has asked you to be still and not move. “Tilt your head back,” she instructs. And you do.
Once the camera is taken away, you start to cry for real. “Eee,” you say, over and over, still stuck in your straight jacket and wriggling from side to side. They’ve put the neck brace back on — no results yet.
“I know, it’s been a tough night,” croons the technician.
But I know the reason you’re crying, and it’s not because you’ve had a tough night. In these hours I’ve come to know you so much better than that. The reason you’re crying is because we’ve just started potty training, and despite everything that’s happened, you still think you need to use the toilet instead of your diaper. At last, they allow the gear to come off, but only for a bathroom run.
You pee on the toilet in a neck brace. Imagine!
I resist the urge to take a picture — a reminder of what an awesome girl you are. I resist because we still don’t have results, and, well, taking pictures just doesn’t feel right yet.
The nurse is standing outside the door, ready to whisk you out of my arms and back into medical gear, but we take a moment and stand together in front of the mirror, just like we do at home. You bring your hand up to the neck brace, poke it lightly with your index finger: ah, so that’s what’s been causing all this grief.
Back in our private room, I think about how things can change so drastically in the shortest time. Suddenly my writing and (lack of) dancing and complete mom exhaustion are no longer important. I could care less, in fact.
I tell you that tomorrow, if you’re up for it, we’ll go to the park, to the toy store, to go get some vanilla ice cream with whipped cream and m&m’s, too. I wonder how long this priority shift will last, and already feel guilty about the day I lose this intense devotion to you.
I imagine you sitting in a dorm room 16 years from now, sharing wacky childhood stories with your new friends. “My parents really did drop me on my head,” you’ll say, and everyone will laugh, and they’ll probably tease you about how that explained a lot. And then you’ll show them the prized picture I’ve just decided to take, and say, “No really. I was in a neck brace and everything. They thought I might have brain bleeding.”
I’m taking this picture because I know you’ll be okay: there’s a plan for someone as special as you. You are only two and there’s so much good a smart, caring, brave person like you is going to do in the years ahead.
And the doctor comes in with the results. And I find out that I’m right.