I can't sleep. Every time I close my eyes, I hear it over and over again...
My eyes shoot open, and I have to stop myself from tip-toeing in to check on Quarto for the umpteenth time. My heart races. I have been reading like crazy to keep my mind occupied. Eventually I'll fall asleep, but it is usually very late and filled with tossing and turning once I finally do. I am hoping that sharing it here will help me purge my fear and allow me some restful sleep (I am writing this at almost 1am).
Last Sunday afternoon, we had friends from church over for lunch. I assumed that when they called to relate some car trouble around the time that we were expecting them that this was the "disaster" that would impede our getting together. This has become a joke between our families. Honestly, every time we try to get together, something happens... all the kids get sick at once, freak ice storms whip-up overnight, emergencies with extended family pop-up. We were joking about what could possibly happen this time. Their car trouble fortunately wasn't serious and someone else from church was already there giving them a hand, so it looked like we would survive the day with only a delay, no disaster. What's the saying? Don't count your chickens before they hatch? Yup. That would be the one.
I take advantage of the family's delayed arrival to whip-up some corn bread to go with our Dzik (cold beef salad) and Salmon Quiche. They arrive just as it is coming out of the oven. The kids run off to play while the grown-ups talk and figure out what our various picky eaters will eat. I start to take out paper plates so I can begin making some PB&Js for the picky eaters when that series of sounds that now haunts me first shatters the air:
The adults all go running. I am the last to arrive because I first start heading to the playroom. That is where all the kids were playing, last I knew. I should have been at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the bedrooms. Fourteen, steep wooden steps with an empty bookshelf and hard, wooden landing at the bottom... a bookshelf and landing now covered in blood (or so it seemed... there was a lot of blood). My three-year old, Quarto, is trying to get up and is adamantly announcing, "AC pushed me!" There is blood pouring down his head. It looks like it is coming out of his ear. All I can think of is a scene early in Pet Sematary... the bicycle accident on campus. It was the first Stephen King book I ever read and his description of that image of the cyclist's cracked skull with blood and brain tissue dripping over the curb has stuck in my head since. (Oddly, it was that wonderful description that created such a vivid image in my mind that endeared me to King's writing.) I am now re-seeing that image, but now it is my toddler's head, my toddler's blood.
Somehow, I hold it together long enough to grab a towel from the bathroom and get Quarto's insurance card out of my wallet and hand them to Frodo. Frodo wraps Quarto's head in the towel, sticks the card in his pocket, and flies to the car. After returning to ask our guests to move their car, he speeds off to the ER. I call ahead to let them know they are coming then call the church to let them know we will not be there to teach our class of 2 and 3-year-olds that evening. (Strange what we think to do, isn't it?) I then collapse on the floor and sob. I'm sure I was only there for a few minutes, but it seemed like ages.
My friend, Sunshine (really, that's her name), walks me over to the sofa. It is at this point that she realizes she has no idea where her baby is. Her husband, Rye, says, "I gave him to the tall one." Sunshine and I burst-out laughing. Rye has never been to our house before and has only spoken to Frodo and I at church in small bursts. Sunshine and I are the connection here, so he has never met my children. He apparently needed to hand-off the baby so he could clean the steps and knew that Sunshine and I were not up to the task just then, so he gave the baby to the next most responsible looking person in the the house, Primo. He didn't even bother to ask her name. *grin*
I decided that I had better check on my other kids, so I went into the playroom. There, Primo had put on a movie for everyone (The Emperor's New Groove, a very up-beat choice). She had Terzo under one arm and Secondo under the other. EMC2 had her baby brother on her lap. They all looked like they were in shock but no one was completely falling apart. I, on the other hand, felt myself ready to loose it again, so I went back to the living room to isolate myself with the adults and try to decide what to do next.
Rye was still cleaning blood off the stairs. (I found out later that Primo had cleaned up the blood that had dripped on the kitchen floor because it "freaked her out" and was "too stressful to look at"... where was I?) He had AC sitting on the floor next to him, and they were talking about what happened. "But he was chasing me," AC protested. "I don't care if he was chasing you, you don't push people, especially on the stairs," Rye reprimanded him. I was finally beginning to comprehend what had happened. It seems the boys were on their way up to the kids' room to play. Quarto was "running" (which generally takes the form of rapid crawling) up the stairs after AC and AC got upset with Quarto for being so close, so when they got to the upstairs landing, AC turned and pushed Quarto. I found out from Secondo later (she had apparently seen the whole thing but was too shocked to share what she had seen until we came home from the hospital) that AC was on the landing and Quarto had his hands on the landing but his feet were a couple steps down. AC turned around and pushed Quarto and Quarto spun and began sliding down the steps on his bum. About half-way down, he had tried to stand up and ended up doing two cartwheels down the rest of the steps. He hit his forehead once on the way down then hit his head on the bookshelf at the bottom (the haunting "Thump!").
After watching Rye clean Quarto's blood from the stairs for awhile, I began to panic again. My mind was reeling. "That's a lot of blood." "Where was it coming from?" "I wonder what is going on at the hospital." Apparently, I said this last one aloud because Sunshine said very authoritatively, "I'm going to take you to the hospital. Rye can watch the kids."
I went upstairs and grabbed some cash from my nightstand. Then I went to the kids' room and grabbed a backpack, a couple of Quarto's "towels" (cloth diapers that he snuggles when he sleeps), his stuffed dog and a couple books. I felt panic rising again because I couldn't find his favorite truck book. He needed that truck book. I finally realized that any book would be better than none, so I grabbed his favorite Baby Einstein book and flew downstairs. I grabbed my wallet and coat and the next thing I remember is that we were about half-way to the hospital. Sunshine said, "Get my cell phone out of my bag and take it with you."
Suddenly, we were at the desk in the ER, and I tell the receptionist that I am looking for Quarto. I realize that I am watching her face very closely. I am looking for that tell-tale shift from cheery welcome to sympathetic gaze. I am waiting for her to tell me to wait one second, that she'd be right back. I am waiting for the doctor to arrive and say, "Are you Mrs. Frodo?" I am waiting to feel my knees buckle as I hear a woman (who I will later realize was me) scream in utter helplessness. This does not occur. The receptionist remains perky and says, "Sure, he's right over here. Follow me." I am dizzy with relief.
Sunshine and I follow the receptionist into the inner sanctum of the ER. Quarto is lying on his bed looking a little sleepy, but awake and not crying. He smiles at me when I come in. Frodo is a little surprised to see me and becomes a bit flustered because he is trying to answer the questions of the nurse taking Quarto's history while updating me at the same time. Once the nurse leaves, we all settle in while Frodo updates us as to how they've been doing. Apparently, Quarto stopped crying about two minutes into the ride to the hospital... coinciding with the passing of a big truck. This began Quarto's typical non-stop chatter about anything and everything he could see out the windows all the way to the hospital. Frodo reassured me that Quarto seemed his normal self and that the hospital staff didn't seem overly concerned about him.
Once updated, Sunshine went out to the lobby to give us some time alone and to call Rye and let him know that Quarto seemed to be alright. (I think they were more concerned than we were on some level and felt very guilty that AC could have seriously hurt Quarto. I am sure that seeing Quarto alive and well was as much of a relief to Sunshine as to me.) Quarto was very happy that I brought his favorite "towel" to snuggle. It was quickly apparent that we would be at the hospital a while (we were still waiting 20 minutes later for some Tylenol), so I went out and told Sunshine that she could go back to the house and give Rye a hand. She told me to keep her phone in case I needed it and to keep them updated. I was so relieved to not have to worry about the other kids.
Once I was back in the room with Frodo and Quarto, a nurse practitioner came by and gave Quarto his Tylenol and had Quarto stand up and walk and made sure he had no pain in his neck and extremities. He seemed fine if you looked at him from his right. A normal, happy, slightly-tired toddler. You only knew something was wrong with him when you went around to his left side with all the matted blood. Right out of a Stephen King novel. The nurse practitioner (who was very pregnant... I was worried she would go into labor any minute) checked Quarto's head. Frodo was looking over my shoulder and said, "Ugh. It looks like a mouth." Not a pretty image. The nurse practitioner cringed. She recommended neck x-rays and a CAT scan (given how far he had fallen) and also had a nurse come and apply a topical pain reliever... both to relieve Quarto's pain as well as to make sure the area was numb when we came back from the tests so she could inject him with more anesthetic and put in the stitches. We were told that if his CAT scan showed a skull fracture (she was pretty sure the neck x-ray would come back clear, but was taking it to be safe) that we would have to be transferred to a different hospital where he could be monitored. The nurse practitioner seemed a little taken-aback when, in trying to make sure we were giving informed consent, we asked if the CAT scan was necessary (she had seemed a little hesitant at first recommending it, so we weren't sure if it was really necessary). She said that if it was her child who had fallen so far on such a hard surface, she may not have the CAT scan but that she would observe him very closely. She said that we could do the same, but she was recommending it because then we would know whether or not there was a fracture and we wouldn't have any nagging questions. We asked what could be done if the CAT scan revealed a fractured skull. "Nothing," she admitted, but then reiterated that he would have to be transferred so he could be put under observation. "The presence of a fracture could mean that there are underlying problems that we can't see yet." I called Sunshine to let her know that Quarto would need x-rays and a CAT scan and that we could be awhile, and she said to call us as soon as we knew the results. If Quarto did have to be transferred, they were going to find a way to get all the kids back to their house to spend the night.
Frodo asked if I was hungry. (Remember, this all happened just as we were getting ready to eat lunch, so we hadn't eaten since breakfast... a light, easy, pre-church breakfast almost 5 hours before.) Consequently, Frodo went foraging while I grabbed a book and snuggled with Quarto on his bed. We saw no sign of a nurse while Frodo was gone. The ER was jammed with patients (there were patients on gurneys in the hall awaiting rooms), so we weren't entirely surprised. Frodo dove into his snack... sneaking a few small pieces of Pop Tart to Quarto. My hunger had vanished since Quarto picked a snuggling position that had my nose directly over the nauseating, old-blood smell on his head.
Finally, an orderly came to take Quarto for his tests, and I got a nice ride on the gurney since they thought my staying with Quarto would help keep him calm. He loved the ride down the halls... especially the "bumps" that the orderly would warn us were coming. He desperately wanted to go on the elevator, but the elevator quickly paled in the excitement of the "tunnel", aka the CAT scan machine. He loved pretending that he was a train going through a tunnel, and he remained perfectly still when told. We then waited in the hall (I was back on the gurney with Quarto while Frodo was the designated coat and backpack holder), and Quarto examined every nook and cranny. He was fascinated by the sprinklers.
"Sprinklers. They put fires out if there was a fire."
"They make fire?!"
"No they put it out by putting water on it."
"No. The fire trucks put the fire out."
"Yes, the fire trucks put the fire out, but the sprinklers are like little fire trucks."
"They put the fire out? Like fire trucks puts fire out?"
"Oh." (Pensive pause.) "What's that?" (Finding something else to spark his curiosity.)
In the x-ray room, I never even had to get off the gurney. The tech was wonderful, and covered me with a shield and moved the camera around the room to accommodate whatever position was most comfortable for Quarto while making sure she got a clear picture. While we were being wheeled back down to the ER, she stopped us to give Quarto some glow-in-the-dark x-ray stickers... which he enjoyed looking at after getting over his disappointment that she had stopped us just before we were about to go over a coveted bump.
I finally felt like eating when we returned to the ER, so Frodo dug-out the bag of pretzels he had foraged for me... again, Quarto was given a few covert "hush" bites. Frodo and I enjoyed our impromptu date as much as we could, and Quarto enjoyed having us all to himself. The novelty of the hospital began to wear off as Quarto's pain relievers began to kick-in, and he started asking to go home. We told him that we had to wait for the doctor to come back. He really wanted to watch TV, but we convinced him to look at a book instead.
When the nurse practitioner came back, she said that both the X-rays and the CAT scan had come back normal but told us that she would give us a sheet with signs to look for over the next couple days that might indicate a hidden trauma. All she needed to do was clean him, stitch him up, and get him some antibiotics and we could go home. The last time Quarto got stitches (remember last fall's freak coloring accident?), the doctor wrapped him up like a mummy in a blanket while an orderly held his head still. This time, the nurse practitioner just asked Quarto to lie on his belly and covered him with a blanket and covered his head with a sterile drape. An orderly lightly held Quarto's head still, and I rubbed Quarto's hand under the blanket. Frodo kept up normal conversation so the mood remained light. As the nurse began injecting the anesthetic, Quarto giggled! "I know it hurts," she said. "I think he's laughing," the orderly commented. "It tickles," Quarto confirmed. Under the drape, Quarto's hand began wiggling. I felt his fist and realized that he had found the syringe cap and was rubbing it with his thumb. The nurse practitioner cleaned the wound then began stitching. About half-way through, she commented on how good Quarto was being. "He's asleep," the orderly half-laughed. The nurse practitioner lifted the drape a little and sure enough, Quarto was sound asleep... still rubbing the syringe cap. The orderly released his light grip on Quarto's head and left to get another suture kit. All-in-all, Quarto received 7 stitches.
We let Quarto sleep until another orderly came in to get his weight. Because Quarto was still so sleepy, Frodo picked him up and the orderly had to take Frodo's weight with and without Quarto then use the difference to find Quarto's weight. Good thing Frodo was there to help the orderly with his math or Quarto would have ended up with a concentration of antibiotic twice as strong as necessary for his body weight! When the orderly left, I called Sunshine to let her know we would be leaving for home in about 20 minutes (I should have said 40... I was so happy to bring Quarto home, I forgot about the bureaucracy involved in checking-out). Frodo went to get the car.
After Quarto received his first dose of antibiotic (which he insisted tasted like lemonade, but both the nurse and I thought smelled distinctly like raspberries), the nurse went to get copies of Quarto's x-ray and CAT scan results (after I reminded her that we needed them), the nurse reviewed the danger signs that would necessitate us bringing Quarto back to the ER, and we waited for the billing nurse to finish her 20 minute conversation so I could take one minute to pay our co-pay, we were finally off. Quarto pointed out every truck and light and building on the way home.
As soon as we walked in the door at home, AC apologized to Quarto, Quarto apologized to AC (in a 3-year-old's mind, if someone apologizes to you, then you must apologize right back), and they ran off to play with toy trains together. AC didn't want to leave when it was time for him to go home, and Quarto was very sad to see him go. (The whole time we were at the hospital, Quarto was so afraid AC would have left before he could get home to play trains with him.)
It was nothing but God's Grace that kept Quarto's fall from resulting in a concussion, skull fracture, broken neck, or death. There is no other explanation.
Well, that's the saga. I hope this purging helps me get more restful sleep. Thanks for being my Penseive. Now I am going to check on Quarto and try to go to sleep.