As a parent, you’re forced to accept certain inevitable truths, one being your child will eventually hurt themselves, writes Chris Hunt. But nothing prepared him for his toddler’s first serious injury.
I remember the screaming.
I don’t remember much, but the screaming, I’ll never forget. The sound of glass shattering preceding the screams by a seemingly infinite amount of seconds is already starting to fade.
Beyond that, everything else is foggy at best.
I don’t remember if my son was still sitting on our bedroom floor when I stormed in, or if his mother had already scooped him up. I certainly don’t remember how he came to be in my arms.
But the screaming, the screaming I remember. And the blood.
Fatherhood Fears. I didn’t name this column. When I first read the tag, I actually laughed. They’re making me sound like Woody Allen on a coffee and chocolate-only diet, I joked. Truth is I’m one of the least strung people I know. Since becoming a father, I’ve been truly frightened twice.
The first was the day my son was born.
The pregnancy had been a long and painful one. My girlfriend, Angela, suffered from incredibly high blood pressure and her spinal tap had been botched, causing only half of her lower bits to be frozen. Just after delivery, she’d start to hemorrhage.
Of course I was oblivious to most of this, so when a nurse took me aside and said it would be a good time for me to hold my son, I nodded my head.
And then just stood there. Numb. She led me to a chair where I clumsily removed my shirt before my son’s naked body was placed against my chest. Then she left.
I looked at his wrinkled, gooey face and realized I wasn’t dazed. I was panicking.
Unable to speak, I tried to make eye contact with passing nurses, but not one noticed my eyes silently screaming. They were focused on Angela, who was losing dangerous amounts of blood.
I looked back to my boy. I couldn’t breathe with him squirming against my chest. The weight of his life was literally almost too much for me to bear. The entire time my mind was pregnant with one single thought: What do I do now?
Since then, life has been great. I shed those new-father jitters not long after bringing my boy home. He’s healthy, happy and well aware of how adorable he actually is. But more importantly, I feel comfortable as a father. I feel safe.
Well, I felt safe.
As a parent you’re forced to accept certain inevitable truths, one being your child will eventually, in some way, injure themselves. It’s a cruel truth that lingers in the shadows of your subconscious, leering and whispering at you as your child learns to crawl, walk and explore. Sometimes those whispers shriek.
But if you’re lucky and your child develops without serious incident, those harsh whispers wither until you forget they were even there, which can be dangerous.
Christmas was barely a few days behind us and we had spent the better part of that particular day tearing down the last of our holiday decorations. All that was left was a little vacuuming and furniture arranging and we’d have been done.
Riley had been waddling after his mother as she cleaned the bedrooms. I was in the bathroom. What happened next is uncertain.
First there was a heavy, metallic crash, followed quickly by the almost musical sound of glass slamming against the floor. And then nothing. Whispers may shriek, but silence can be deafening. It was so loud I couldn’t move. At least until Angela started screaming.
Her voice is typically soft and feminine, but when she bellowed my name that day, it was thick and guttural, like a man.
We had a huge floor lamp we’d moved into our bedroom from the living room to make space for the Christmas tree. Riley seldom went near it, and we thought it was far too heavy for him to move. We were wrong. Angela had left the room for only a second when he grabbed the lamp cord and pulled.
He’d been sitting with his back against a dresser, so either the lamp fell and struck him in the head and shattered, or the glass shade hit the dresser and shattered, raining thick, heavy pieces of glass onto my boy. Either way, the damage was done.
I don’t remember if he was on the floor in the sea of glass, or if he was in his mother’s arms when I rushed in, but I was initially relieved. As soon as I heard Angela scream, the only thought I had was, he’s lost an eye.
There was a large gash on his left cheek with blood streaming from it. It ran down his cheeks, to his neck and finally to his sleeper. His cheek and brow were peppered with angry but tiny cuts. But his eyes were fine.
In fact, I thought a quick trip to his doctor would be all we needed. They’d clean the gash, glue it and we’d be on our merry way. No stitches, no problem.
His mother passed me a towel and I started to hold it against the wound, but I wanted to see if there was any glass still lodged in his cheek.
When I took the towel away, part of his face started to come with it. It wasn’t a simple gash. Without going into too much gory detail, the wound was incredibly deep. I saw parts of my son’s face no parent should ever see.
His poor mother became drunk on fear. She kept frantically chanting “What do we do?” I looked at him, covered in his own blood, and the truth was I didn’t know. The weight I felt the day he was born had returned.
I just stood there. Numb.
Eventually I realized a bathroom towel wasn’t the best thing to hold against an open wound, so I asked Angela to get first aid supplies from the bathroom. She left the
And then she left our home. Fear does horrible things to people. She couldn’t remember which drawer the supplies where in, so she got the first aid kit from the car.
We called 911 and were told it would be better to drive to the hospital than wait for the ambulance because of the volume of blood loss. Luckily, Angela’s mother lives minutes away. She was at our home in minutes and quickly ferried us to the closest hospital.
It didn’t take us long to be seen, but after the doctor examined the wound, she just sat there for a moment deep in thought. She read the chart before coming in, but didn’t realize how bad the wound was. She actually said, more to herself than us, “What are we going to do about
Riley ended up getting five stitches, one of which was a double knot. It took three of us to hold him down while the doctor sewed his face. It was a brutal moment, but we were lucky. It could have been so much worse.
He’s perfectly fine, of course; with only a small scar where a brief but gaping crevice used to be. His mother and I, however, are still trying to recover.
The thing nobody tells you about accidents is the aftershock can be just as traumatic as the injury itself.
That night, Angela refused to sleep alone. She typically goes to bed before me, but instead she grabbed a blanket and curled up on the couch, where she quietly cried herself to sleep. For a time she refused to be alone with him, and often would cry after simply glancing at his face.
She kept every door to every room in our condo closed. Every time he fell, her face turned ashen and any loud crash or bang would reduce her to tears. One night, she came home from her mother’s with Riley. She couldn’t speak. Wordlessly, she began undressing him on our bed. She fervently examined his entire body as she tried not to cry.
He’d been holding a snow globe at his grandmother’s and it shattered in his hands. All she could think of was that bloody lamp.
As for me, my confidence sits in smoldering ruin. I quickly noticed that when he smiles, the scar blends perfectly into his laugh lines, rendering it invisible. I thought: great, he smiles all the time. We’ll never see it.
Then I realized he makes the same face when he grimaces, which is what he was probably doing when the lamp fell. He braced himself, which means he saw it coming. The first time that hit me, I cried.
Since the accident, we’ve obviously become more aware of how dangerous the world around us can be. The whispers are once again constant companions, and maybe that’s a good thing.
They serve as a vivid reminder that we as parents have to be ever vigilant, because when we make mistakes, it’s not only us who suffers for them.
Photo: Angela Jacques