Monday, November 5, 2007

Call 911 or "every parent's nightmare"

My girls, as I've said before, are exceptionally "rough and tumble" tough chickies who take their knocks on the playground in stride. When they fall off their bikes they jump back up with a startled, "I'm fine! I'm fine, it didn't hurt!" as though they were convincing themselves and me in one swoop.

One evening we were playing at our favorite playground right in the middle of Soho, New York. This newly renovated park has a swimming pool, just for kids, and brand new play equipment. The girls and their friend had been swimming, sunning and playing for a few hours and were busy on the swings, twisting themselves up into whirling dervishy twirls.

Then, in one ill-timed moment, I watched as Bebe lunged toward an empty swing, just as a little boy began the backward arc of his speeding swing. In a split second the swing and her face collided and she was thrown backward several feet.

I froze for a second knowing that the impact was hard, but I watched her response before I made a single move. This is a child who never cries when she gets hurt and suddenly she was screaming a cry that I knew spelled trouble.

"Oh Jesus," I heard myself say, as I dropped my bags and ran to her. Blood was spilling from her mouth and I felt myself fighting back the wave of panic. The words of comfort I said to her were as much on my behalf as hers. She could barely catch her breath as I shouted for someone to fetch my water bottle from the bench. She continued to spit blood, and when she said she couldn't close her mouth I thought, "Okay....she has dislocated or broken her jaw."

I felt time grinding to a different, drawn-out pace as I worked through the possible scenarios. "Just breathe," I said quietly to her as I followed my own advice. I heard someone say, "Call 911!" and another mom who happened to witness the collision asked if I'd like to bring her to the hospital. There was no way I was taking that road until I was certain that Bebe's jaw was truly injured.

Finally, she caught her breath and stopped sobbing. Taking inventory, I could see that she had a few nasty bruises on her body from being thrown onto the ground; I was able to look in her mouth and see that the blood was, in fact, coming from a bite to her tongue.

There I saw the most startling hematoma I've ever had the opportunity to view: It was a giant purple welt, the size of a grape, on the side of her tongue that had apparently absorbed the colission's impact between her teeth. Tentatively, she allowed me to examine her jaw and we determined that the inability to close her mouth was simply because that blood blister was so huge it was literally in her way.

Once the crowd cleared and more water had been spat out, then drunk, Bebe went back to playing on the swings - nearly good as new. She had no further complaints and was happy to receive ice cream as a remedy and relief. Another mom who I had been chatting with said, "Wow, that was impressive. I would have been freaking out and screaming for help."

"Nah," I said. "You wouldn't do that because you realize that your child is taking her cue from you. The calmer you stay, the swifter the crisis will pass."

Panic is one of the worst things to teach a child and I should know as that was my mother's default reaction to everything from a bee sting to gaping head wound. My resultant reaction was to lose consciousness in an attempt to remove myself from the situation. From childhood onward my default coping mechanism to pain or medical stress was to faint.

As parents, we often try to undo the wrongs that were inflicted upon us. We never will achieve this goal completely - and we'll unwittingly pass along other psychic traumas, no doubt. But my personal mission was to react exactly in the opposite fashion as my high-anxiety mother.

Thankfully, purple hematomas withstanding, I think I might actually achieve this goal.

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