May 26, 2011

Thursday, Bloody Thursday

Like most parents with school-aged children, our lives are filled with many activities. Probably too many. Baseball, T-ball, martial arts, boy scouts, weekly skating, and various other activities that we consider "enriching".

Tonight was one of those nights -- a boy scout pack meeting with a big martial arts demo and the unveiling of a long-awaited brand new Pinewood Derby track. My husband is a scout leader and would be handing out awards and badges and various scouty doo-dads that are cool and build the boys' self-esteem.

We pulled into the parking lot and I noticed that the neighbor across from the building we were at had her two pit bulls out in the yard. One was on a leash, one was not. I suspected they were the two animals I'd been hearing about in that neighborhood -- the ones the police and animal control have been visiting for the last few days after reports that they were attacking people's cats.

I pointed them out to Rob and said, "I think those are the dogs that got picked up the other day."

We gathered the children up and went inside. Not long afterward, most of the boys went outside to play while they were waiting for the meeting to start.

Within minutes two parents came in and started yelling my name. They looked panicked and kept yelling to me to come right away. One ran into the bathroom and one ran back out the door. I wasn't sure which one I should follow. All I could think of was one of the dogs was attacking a cat, or worse, a child. I'm on the city council and they wanted me to come and stop a dog from eating a cat in front of a pack of boy scouts.

And then one of them turned and said, "It's Julius, he's been hurt. You have to come quick."

I began running, burst out the glass door into the open air, rounded the corner in the direction she was pointing and there I saw my husband with his hand on Julius's head. Wads of tissue soaked in blood, blood everywhere, soaked into his white karate gi, my husband's hands covered in blood, running down his arms, Julius screaming for help even though his dad was there helping him. A mother's nightmare.

A head injury is any trauma that leads to injury of the scalp, skull, or brain. The injuries can range from a minor bump on the skull to serious brain injury. -- from the U.S. Nat'l Library of Medicine
I yell, "What's happened? What happened to him?"  I hear someone say something about him being hit with a rock. It's nothing that I can understand because all I can see is the blood. How can there be so much blood from a person that size?

Rob bellows for me to get Tristan, find Tristan and get him in the car because we have to get to the hospital now. I could not see what was wrong with him, wasn't close enough. Most of his face was covered with toilet paper and blood. I didn't know what was wrong. The entire group had this horrified look on their faces. I wanted to rush to him and check him out and Rob was telling me to go -- go find Tristan.
I had to rein in my emotions and trust his judgement and handle that part of the family despite my urge to yank Julius out of his hands and take care of him myself.

A friend emerges from the side and says, "I've got Tristan, just go." Another woman ushered me and Rob and Julius toward the car, helped me get him into the car, and said, "I've got the door."

We raced toward the hospital, flashers on, calling the police to say we were on the way and please don't pull us over for driving like maniacs because we are covered in our son's blood from a head wound. Julius starts screaming, "I CAN'T SEE, I CAN'T SEE!"

I'm thinking, "Is his eye out? Is his head laid open to the bone?" All I know is he was hit in the head with a rock, but I don't know how bad, and now he says he can't see followed up with, "I'm gonna throw up."

At the hospital Rob pulled up and grabbed a wheelchair, put Julius in it and I ran to the door and thought, "They better get me in there right now or I'm gonna rip somebody's head off and bathe in their bloody spray." I had the mother's blood lust of protection and as I rounded the corner with my bloody lump of child wailing in the wheelchair the doors parted like the red sea and we were ushered to Trauma 2.

And then when I saw that the medical team had my son in their care... that's when I burst into tears.
The symptoms of a head injury can occur immediately or develop slowly over several hours or days. Even if the skull is not fractured, the brain can bang against the inside of the skull and be bruised. The head may look fine, but complications could result from bleeding or swelling inside the skull. -- from the U.S. Nat'l Library of Medicine

With a warbling voice I managed to croak out his name and my name and something about a kid throwing a rock and "I don't know anymore than that..."  Rob stayed with Julius while I got him checked in and when I came back he was still crying, shaking. His hand grasped out for mine while they held him down to clean him up.

By that time they knew how bad it was. Two wounds, one a puncture above his temple, one a gash on his forhead. They talked for a few minutes and decided that fake skin and steri-strips would do the trick and less scarring than stitches since it was at the front of his forehead. I was so relieved after seeing the wound because what I had imagined was horrific and nearly more than I could bear -- a child disfigured with a missing eye, a gash all down his face requiring 50 gazillion stitches.  I suddenly remembered one of the things he wailed on the trip to the hospital, "Why did this have to happen to ME?"

I held his hand and was able to look at him with complete calm and assurance and tell him how okay it was all going to turn out.  Somehow this day was worse than almost all the other 18 times we've been at the hospital for surgeries.  He was still crying, then screaming again when they started cleaning him up and taping him.

Rob said, "Julius, how many surgeries have you had at Children's Hospital?"

Without hesitation he said, "Eighteen..."

"You're a tough guy. When you see your head in the mirror you're gonna know it's not as bad as you think it is. There was just a lot of blood."

I looked down at his pants. Big drops of blood at the top, massive blood spray at the bottom. I squeezed his hand. His nails and hands were crusted with blood.  No wonder we all freaked out.  No wonder he was still freaked out.
Some head injuries result in prolonged or nonreversible brain damage. This can occur as a result of bleeding inside the brain or forces that damage the brain directly. -- from the U.S. Nat'l Library of Medicine
And finally after a while the medical folks were done with their jobs, most of us were calm, and I had talked Julius into going back to the pack meeting to show off his war wound.  All was mostly right with the world.  Except for the small matter of "Oh by the way, your kid could have a concussion and you have to wake him up every four hours for the next two days to make sure he can form complete sentences, his eyes aren't dilated and that they can track."

I told the nurse, "I can't even do that with him when he hasn't had a head injury."

She smiled and said, "You know your child.  You'll know."

People say that to me a lot, but I never believe them.  Why do women think that because they have this innate maternal instinct that I will also have that same instinct?  I'm not like them.

Tonight I tucked him into bed. He was droopy eyed and limp, tired and emotionally drained.  I laid my hand on his chest and said, "You had a big day today, huh?"  He nodded in response.

"Tomorrow you get to go into school and show everyone your big head wound and show off what a tough guy you are."  He smiled.

"I have an idea.  I think you should tell them that you got injured when Kenneth was casting his fishing line into the water at the fishing derby and he nearly ripped your face off."  He laughed.  That's the boy I'm used to seeing.

"Okay, wait, this is better.  For the girls you can tell them we were driving past an ATM machine and you saw a guy breaking into it with a hammer and you jumped out of the car with your mad karate skills and did a take down on him until the police got there and that's how you hurt your head. What do you think?"

He stared at me with his "mom, you're stupid" face on and said, "No, I think I'll just stick with the rock story."

I shrugged. "Yeah, the truth is pretty cool, too."