By Amanda Rose Adams
As he approaches twelve, he doesn’t remember these things that happened the month he turned three.
My eleven-year-old and I exchange my phone so he can type messages to me. I read them at red lights. His last message reads, “I need to spit.” I tell him to spit into the gauze over his mouth while I grab more to pack atop the bloody pile. By the time we get through the ER door, his hand and the new gauze is saturated with blood.
The security guard wants my Leatherman scissor before we can enter. I hand him my entire key chain, and he gives me a slip of paper and an apologetic smile. The receptionist takes my insurance card while my son types, “I need a drinking fountain NOW!” I ask if he needs to spit, and he nods emphatically. The receptionist points to a pile of expandable cups. I take one, extend the attached bag, and hold it for my son while he spits out so much blood that I feel lightheaded. In case the blood is not convincing enough, I play my ER fast-pass card. “He has a single-ventricle heart. He’s on blood thinners. He’s had twelve heart surgeries.”
I am not above this truthful trickery to get my son seen more quickly. But I am not worried about his heart right now. I am worried about the blood and how his teeth came through the outside of his mouth thirty minutes ago when he tripped and hit the wooden stairs in our home. I am worried that one of the messages he typed on my phone says, “My head hurts.” I am worried because there is so much blood, and even though this isn’t nearly as serious as other emergencies we’ve faced, I’m still his mom and I can’t bear to see my child bleed.
We sit, not long, and a stranger asks if my son is going to lose a tooth. I hadn’t thought of the teeth, just the blood. Teeth are a major concern for the nurse and attending PA. His neck doesn’t hurt and he hasn’t thrown up, so concussion is something we will monitor but not escalate. His teeth seem attached, and we will go to the dentist first thing in the morning for x-rays and additional treatment.
Now it is just skin, gums and the blood. My son is terrified of stitches. He doesn’t want a shot in his face. He doesn’t want a scar, even if it’s like the one Han Solo shares with Indiana Jones. He rates his pain a four of ten and cried only long enough for the shock of the fall to pass, but his fear of the needles and thread now send him into a panic. Fortunately, the “through and through” of teeth piecing skin only partially perforated the outside of his mouth. After a lengthy saline irrigation, the PA glues closed the wound beneath his lower lip.
The first nurse wants to listen to his heart before she takes her dinner break. She’s learned about kids like my son in school but has never met one. He is happy to let her listen. He even lifts his shirt and shows her his scars. I point out a constellation of twenty-one scars on his torso, all from chest tubes. Little ticks running down his sternum were made after a lethal infection and death averted through emergency surgery, weeks of hospitalization, and the last great antibiotic. When they closed his chest, for the fifth time, too little healthy skin remained to easily stretch over his breastbone. What remained was pulled so tightly that the sutures left their own tension scars where they held the wound closed. Now, as he approaches twelve, he doesn’t remember these things that happened the month he turned three.
The pharmacies are closed, so the second nurse gives my son applesauce and an antibiotic. She gives me a prescription, and sends us on our way. In the car, I tell my boy how brave he is. He tells me, now that he doesn’t need to hold bloody gauze over his closed wound, that his teacher’s daughter had to have two stitches and his friend at school had to have seven in his knee! I ask him if he realizes that he’s had more stitches than anyone I’ve ever met, but he didn’t know that. He doesn’t remember that blood, those tubes, or the three times before his memory begins that he almost died. I’m glad he doesn’t remember, but I’ll never forget.
Amanda Rose Adams is contributing blogger for Brain, Child, the author of Heart Warriors, A Family Faces Congenital Heart Disease, and her work has been featured in the New York Times Motherlode Blog, The American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Bioethics and various literary journals. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaroseadams or visit her blog at www.amandaroseadams.com.