May 28, 2008

The Day My Heart Broke into a Million Pieces

I was 28. My first child was 1 year and 2 months. I was a stay at home mom who had an occasional teaching job. I taught a couple basic skills classes at night at the community college.

Seth and I were on the living room floor. I was reading something for one of my classes and he was toddling around playing. I put a pen down at my side, he picked it up. I knew he had it and was about to take it from him when he took one step and slipped on a magazine. He fell forward with the pen in his mouth and began screaming and bleeding everywhere. I jumped to my feet and held him belly-down across my arms so he wouldn't choke, allowing the blood to pour out onto the new light aqua carpet.

My dad happened to be en route to my house at that moment. Seth's car seat was in his car and he was coming to drop it off. I watched out the window for his car to turn the corner and ran outside with Seth in my arms. We jumped in the car and I told him to drive us to the hospital. I had no idea what damage was done, but I knew it was serious.

I'll never forget sitting in the large white examining room holding poor Seth in my arms. The nurses and doctors milled around looking concerned and mildly upset. There was shame on their faces when they looked at me. One asked me if I wanted to see his mouth and I nodded. The entire roof of his mouth had been torn down and it looked horrible, beyond possible. I felt faint. My dad stood back against the wall and looked into my eyes, clearly sad for both Seth and me. One nurse stood in front of me with her arms folded in disgust. "You know," she began, "you can't let him play with anything long or pointy or pencils, no sticks..." I wanted to die. Yes, I knew that. How, in one moment's passing, did I suddenly have MORON stamped across my forehead? This was an accident. I was a careful mother. I'd been accused of loving my son too much - more than once! This wasn't supposed to happen to him. Or me.

The doctors asked when he'd last eaten. He had snacked on some pretzels not long before we left. They didn't want to give him anesthesia with food in his stomach. One nurse told me with a persecuting tone that he might have to spend the night and wait. No. Every bone in my body was screaming NO. I didn't want him to "go under," I didn't want him to sleep in the hospital. I knew this wasn't a "children's hospital" per say, and I had a sudden, extreme (and probably irrational) fear of "too much anesthesia" and him never waking up. The thought - I brought my kid in for stitches and he died from the anesthesia - kept running through my head. I was in shock. The nurses hated me. I would have sworn they seemed to be actually taking sport in scaring me and scorning me. And then they despised me for refusing to allow them to put him under. Boy, were they disgusted. I've never felt so shunned and shamed. I was confused, upset and no one was on my side. Stan hadn't arrived yet, my dad was silent and ashen, Seth needed fixing and I needed us to be home rocking in the chair away from the horribleness of it all.

An oral surgeon arrived. They put Seth in a straight jacket. I wanted him to be able to see my face, but all the doctors and nurses surrounded the table, blocking me. They held him down and he screamed. The 8 or 9 stitches took about 8 minutes. I sat outside in the hall and cried. They brought him out and put him in my arms. I asked the doctor if he could still nurse, figuring it'd be the one way he could eat that wouldn't hurt his mouth. He looked down at me sitting in the chair and exclaimed, "He's STILL nursing?!" Where was I??? It was as if the world conspired to hold me in distain that day. Everything that I thought was wise and right was construed by others as absolutely wrong and ridiculous. I felt like a neglectful mother who was completely clueless and damn lucky at that moment to even retain custody of her child.

Stan came running in. He was all flustered. He had little idea of what had happened, only that his beloved boy was hurt. He signed the papers, got the instructions and asked the lady at the desk if there was anything else he needed to do or know. She replied, "Yeah. Don't let your kid run around with pens anymore." The entire experience was disturbing, unlike any I've ever had since...and there have been many trips to the ER for many more stitches and broken bones and bruises and such. The stars were not in good harmony for us that day in that hospital. I was so relieved to get us out of it.

Later that night I sat in the cushioned rocking chair holding Seth, rocking him to sleep. He'd never been a thumb-sucker, he liked his two middle fingers but he never sucked them again after that day. As he snuggled in to sleep, his little hand lifted instinctively to his mouth and he paused, realizing that he couldn't suck them. I leaned my head back against the chair and closed my eyes. As we rocked there in the dark, I felt his hand touch my chin and two wee fingers found their way to my lips...somebody had to suck them.

I felt physically ill for one solid week. His mouth healed perfectly and quickly and he ate normally the very next day. The surgeon did a great job. Three months later, watching television late at night, I heard a statistic that brought tears to my eyes and left me frozen in my seat: thirty-three percent of all mouth puncture wounds end in death when the object pierces the soft palate and enters the brain. So, that's why they were so angry with me.

One year later to the month, Seth was bumped by one of those double-seater swings at his friend's house. It was clear that he would need stitches in his lip. I was filled with dread and did not want to take him to the hospital again, but my sister urged me to go. I told the attending nurse that we'd been there a year ago. "Yes, I know." "You do?" I asked curiously. "Yeah," she said, "you don't forget something like that." My stomach turned.

Through the years a dentist or doctor has asked me, after seeing Seth's scar, if he was born with a cleft palate. My stomach still turns and I think, No. I was a bad mother.


CRAIG & DIANE said...

I wish I could hug you and look you straight into your eyes and tell you that you are NOT a bad mother. They call them accidents for a reason. Sure you wish they hadn't happened, but sometimes, regardless of our best intentions, they do. You are human, and thank you for sharing your story and pain with us, your readers, who will not judge you as you were so many years ago.

rosemary said...

Oh, Jennie....every mom has one of those stories.....mine involves a BB gun and an his later years that eye injury ruined his chance to become a police fault, totally even tho i wasn't there when he was shot.

Mom said...

I am crying with you as I read this. Accidents are so scary and leave us feeling so guilty. You are a good mom. I am grateful with you that everything healed up so well.

Paul said...

You are a masterful writer.