We were so close to making it to brunch on time. We were heading to the Boatyard to see Amy and Matt and their two kids, in from Gaithersburg. Dave was ready to go, waiting with Lexi on the couch. I was running down the stairs towards the basement, in search of newly cleaned shorts, so when I heard the familiar patter of Caroline’s feet running full-speed in the kitchen, I sped up myself, but I stopped in my tracks when I heard the thud. It was quick. Her cry was delayed. I knew as I was lifting her from the floor that this was different.
I’d heard head injuries bled, but I was not prepared. Bright red—everywhere—and Caroline wiping her tears, brushing her hair from her face, spreading bright red everywhere else. I kept thinking what a good thing it was that she was screaming at high volume. She was conscious. In retrospect, I was screaming right back at her:
“IT’S OKAY, SWEETY! LIE DOWN HERE FOR A BIT! SHHHHHHHH! LET’S SEE YOUR BOO-BOO! OH, OKAY, WHY DON’T WE GET YOU SOME ICE? THAT A GOOD IDEA?”
Even if her head didn’t hurt much, there was no possibility of calm for Caroline. Her parents were scrambling around the kitchen like pinballs, back and forth from the freezer to the phone to the front door to get the neighbor and back again, attempting composure but not fooling anyone, especially Caroline.
“BUT I DON’T WANT SOME ICE!”
“OKAY, SWEETY. WELL, I’M JUST GOING TO PUT THIS PRETTY DISHTOWEL ON YOUR HEAD AND WE’RE GOING TO GO INTO THE CAR AND GO VISIT WITH THE NICE DOCTOR! THAT SOUND GOOD?”
“BUT I DON’T WANT TO VISIT THE DOCTOR!”
On it went until our neighbor Steve magically appeared in our living room. I was stooped over Caroline, who was lying on the kitchen floor, and Dave was handing Lexi off to Steve as I tried to communicate to Dave, quietly and subtly, that I had no pants on.
“DAVE, I NEED MY PANTS!”
“DON’T WORRY ABOUT YOUR PANTS!”
“I NEED TO WEAR PANTS TO THE ER!”
Not sure what Steve saw, but pretty sure he heard the loving exchange. Dave ran upstairs to get me something to wear.
The blood was starting to thicken and ooze rather than flow. I knew in my heart that Caroline’s body was doing the work it needed to be doing, but I wanted her fixed–immediately. I held her tightly and rattled off a few Lexi-instructions as we hurried out the door. Lexi lit up with the attention then returned to the yellow duck that lights up when you tap it. She would be fine.
Here’s the thing—there’s nothing immediate about the ER. Dave parked in front and I carried Caroline to the front desk. I could not believe the paperwork. It was like tax season. Then when I thought we were going to see a doctor, we were led to a stone-faced nurse sitting at a computer. Now I was on a job interview. All the while, Caroline went from relatively calm to resumed panic because she wanted “Baby!” and StoneFace was scary and “I JUST WANT TO GO HOME, MOMMY!” Plus, Daddy had to run to the car to get my address book to call Steve and then Amy and Matt to tell them to go ahead and eat brunch without us.
We landed in a room, finally, and the Disney Channel (bless them!) had just begun a half-hour of Charlie and Lola, so we were good for a while. And once the nurse brought in a Popsicle and applied the numbing gauze to Caroline’s forehead, I sat behind Caroline, brushing my hand through the back of her hair, trying to untangle through the dried blood. We were both quiet and I was surprisingly happy. Caroline cranked her head up to watch the tv; she was dripping cherry ice onto her already stained shirt. I was breathing steadily. Dave was on his way to pick up Lexi. We were okay.
It turns out Caroline is pretty solid under pressure. I mean, if some lady doctor came in and with the help of a nurse wrapped me in a sheet like a mummy, I might complain about it. The doctor had given Dave and me the option to go away and let her “be the bad guy” and I thought just for a second about leaving the room. It sounds trite, but I learned something about myself, right then: If Caroline has to suffer, I want to be there. I know I’m not going to be around for her always. But I am now.
She yelled a lot—to go home, for her mommy, for her daddy, for baby, for her Blue Bear and her Pie (pacifier). It felt oddly comforting hearing we all made the cut. She was screaming for what she loved and we were on the short list. And we were all right there, promising home soon enough, along with any and all of the special treats she’d ever wanted and some she’d never even had before. We were ready to break all the rules, to shower her in Oreos. We even made up a song that we sang through much of the procedure, again, at high volume, and this time with no pretense of composure, “MARSHMALLOWS, CUPCAKES, PEPPERMINT PATTIES, POPSICLES, COOKIES, AND CHOCOLATE SAUCE!” Over and over and over and over again.
Finally, many hours later, we left the ER, on our way home via the grocery store. I was still in high volume, syrupy mode: “WHAT SPECIAL TREAT DO YOU THINK YOU WANT FIRST, SWEETY?”
A soft, tired little voice from the back: “An apple.”