As a parent, you become accustomed to the sounds of your children. With our two boys, we have quite a few sounds that frequent the halls of our home. The hysterical laughter that turns into crying because some type of play went too far. The thud followed by silence and then a sad wail that indicates someone was pushed to the ground but isn’t really hurt. The nasal whine at the unfairness of something the other child has done or something he possesses. These, and many more, are familiar to us. We know not to leap into action at hearing them. We try and let the boys settle as many of their own problems as they can before we step in. But there is one sound that is very infrequent in our lives, and yet we know as intimately as our own reflections. It is a sound that requires immediate attention.
My wife and I were sitting on the couch this weekend when we heard this particular sound. A blood curdling screech, shrill as a fire alarm, filled with fear. Something was truly wrong. I flew from the couch and dashed towards the room where our sons were playing. My oldest, the eight-year-old, came stumbling out of the room with terror etched on his face. He held his finger up to show me. It was covered in blood. My mind raced at the possibilities… his brother bit him, he fell and snapped it in half, they were playing with some kind of blade and he cut the tip off… but before I could ask what exactly had happened, my son shouted some very scary words. “He’s bleeding!”
I rushed into the room and saw what appeared to be a scene from Dexter. The blood splatter specialist and serial killer had apparently been busy in the two-year-old’s bedroom. There was crimson everywhere. I looked to my youngest and his face was pouring blood. I couldn’t tell from where at first, but it was gushing. Scooping him up into my arms, we raced to the bathroom and I found the cut. It was deep. I assumed, and was later proven right, that he had slipped and fell during their favorite game – running around like maniacs (patent pending) – and hit his head on the edge of the bed frame. Luckily, it had missed his eye, but the two-year-old had a gash that wept like waterfall. I knew stitches would be needed. Pressure was applied and arrangements were made for someone to watch the older child, who was now a mess of tears and guilt at fearing he had caused this tragic event. My wife and I reassured him that these things happen and had, in fact, happened to him twice when we lived in China.
As we made our way to the hospital, I reflected back on the experience of my older son getting stitches in Shanghai. It was horrific. After visiting two hospitals with a child heavily bleeding from his head, and being rejected by both because they didn’t take kids, I finally went to a place I knew would take him. But they didn’t. They said the pediatrician wasn’t in and so I would need to go elsewhere. I remember telling them that they better call a doctor to come do it now, or call the police to come get me. They called the doctor. When he arrived, he performed the quick operation on my son’s scalp without any local anesthetic at all. My boy’s eyes brimmed with tears and his mouth trembled with pain every single second that bastard sewed him up. So, based on that, I was worried about how things were about to go down with the youngest child. We’re not in China anymore, but Malaysia isn’t that far off, geographically or otherwise.
The nurses in the ER were very nice and helped us figure out how to register and where to go. We were put in a regular room, as the pediatric room was already in use. The nurse put some cream on the gash to numb the area, ahead of the shots he would be receiving to truly kill the feeling surrounding the cut. What a relief, right? Well, things went a bit downhill from there. The nurses then brought in a pillowcase and folded it over, then put two safety pins in it. This formed a sort of makeshift straightjacket for my two-year-old. They put his arms in and the pillowcase held them in place behind his back. It did not look comfortable. They placed a sheet on the bed with a wooden board on top. My son was placed on the board and wrapped up like a burrito with the sheet. It was a tight swaddle, highly restricting his movement. Needless to say, he wasn’t very happy with the situation. They then pulled out a roll of special tape and said, “We have to tape his head down, now. Hair sticks to this and it will hurt when we remove it.” There was no question posed to us in this regard, he just wanted us to know that shit was just going to keep getting worse. So they taped my son’s head to the board. He was now fully restrained and could only move his eyes. I’m surprised they hadn’t devised a way to make those static as well. A sheet was then placed over his head, a hole positioned over the wound. I was told that I could not touch the top of the sheet, but could touch the underside. I held it up and locked gazes with my youngest. I told him I was there, he was going to be ok, and that he was being very brave. My wife was down by the feet of the big burrito. She squeezed his feet and asked him, “Can you feel mommy holding your foot?” He sadly tried to nod and croaked a pitiful “yes” in response.
The doctor began giving him shots to further numb the area. Every time she did, which was about six times, a renewed and vigorous flow of blood poured out, filling his ear, drenching his hair, and ruining their linens. It was such an awful sight that my wife had to look away. She couldn’t bear to watch. Eventually, the doctor began to stitch him up, and he cringed and roared in disapproval at each touch. All the while, the doctor kept telling us that he could definitely not feel any pain, but that he was just scared. Well, so the fuck was I, to be honest. Six stitches later, and the two-year-old was running around the ER jumping off of all their furniture onto the ground, no cares in the world. Apparently, his grasp of cause and effect is still quite weak.
We know that having two boys will never be easy. We also know that there are probably more stitches in our future. With an older brother egging him on, our youngest is more than likely in for his fair share of injuries. Living abroad can be terrifying, rewarding, exciting, and extremely difficult during stressful events such as this. But it’s all part of the adventure, isn’t it? Had this happened back home in America, we would still have freaked out, but the whole situation would have been cleaner, more professional, and faster. Where the hell is the adventure in that? It would also have been a shitload more expensive in the States. We paid nothing. Not even a copay. So, while I would have preferred that this had never happened, these types of events just serve to broaden our experience while living internationally and teach us that there is more than one way to stitch up a kid.