Code Blue: Momma Bear in the ER

Well, the good news, ” she said, “is that Tucker is going to have a great scar. The bad news is that he was hit in the face by the fence gate as it was closing, and we need you to come get him. S-t-i-t-c-h-e-s are a y-e-s.”

She’s the best school nurese ever. And believe me, we give her reasons to know us well.

“Yes? You said yes to the stitches?” See, I had the freedom fromspelling because Tuck was sitting next to her, not me.

“Yes. Yes, definitely.”

Say no more. I’m on my way.

I made phone calls on the way – pediatrician to tell them we’re on the way, after schoolchildcare for Tyler since there’s no way I’ll be back in an hour, and my parents for updates and SOS calls.

(What would I do without a support system? This past weekend I met a widow whose story is very similar to mine, except that she doesn’t have a support system. She doesn’t have the go-to people to call, the ones to help her fill in the gaps and create some margin and run the errands – or just remind her that it’s okay. And she’s clinically depressed. With good reason.)

I came into school with my healthy, happy, optimistic voice. It’s the one that’s meant to convince mostly myself that we are so okay and we can do this thing. If it helps anyone else, that’s a bonus. But really I just need to hear my own voice not panicking.

Sure enough: a deep and wide gash across the cheekbone.

Which prompted me to make a second call to the pediatrician: ‘So, remember when you told me that if there was any exposed flesh from the inside of the wound, then I should take him directly to the ER? Yes, I’m calling to let you know you I’m not coming to you. Thank you for your help and familiarity and short wait, though. I’ll see you the next time we have an ear infection.”

It is by far the busiest I have ever seen that ER. (And if you’ve been reading a while, then you know I’ve visited that ER under various levels of panic, anxiety, duress, and emergencies.) In all my visits, they’ve never told us in triage: “I’m sorry to tell you, but there’s a long wait in front of you.”

Tuck and I settled in for a rousing and competitive game of War, which distracted us from the woman in loud labor and the man who was shouting obscenities and asking for someone to call an ambulance, though I’m not sure where he thought the ambulance would take him.

I think it was roughly two hours before they were ready to see us, and then we had a double room with a kid who was getting stitches in his eyebrow, followed shortly by a woman who had fallen at Walgreens and broken her hip and nobody could bring her pain medication fast enough.

I always make friends with the medical staff, for just oh-so-many-reasons. They’re working stinking hard, often with people who have little patience or coherence. I’d like for our room to represent a delightful break from the routine, such that the nurses will want to visit more, hang out with us as much as possible, and get this job done. Plus, it never hurts to make friends with the one who wields power over the IV needles as well as the popsicles.

All of that to say, I’m the kind of mom you want to have in your ER.

Unless, that is, you’re going to make promises to my son that you cannot keep, and if you’re going to make your decisions based on what is true for other children, not one who is resistant to lidocaine.

Well, then. I might not be your best friend by the time the night is done.

They began with a topical anesthetic cream that was guaranteed to numb him up. “You won’t feel anything, buddy. I promise,” she said. But then she irrigated the wound, and I will tell you what, he felt something.

And let me just say this: Tucker’s hurting face looks exactly like Robb’s hurting face. The red-faced, white-knuckled fortitutde of “I haveto just do this, go go go, please don’t stop until you’re finished but get it right the first time” – that’s the face I saw on my son.

“That’s hurting him,” I said. “I’m not sure he’s numb yet.”

“No, it shouldn’t hurt.” And she went right back to flushing the wound, and he went back to the red face and white knuckles.

“But it is. Listen to me. It is hurting him.”

I know what she thought. She thought I was a helicopter mom who would like for her son’s experience in the ER to be largely about vending machines and teddy bears. She thought he was afraid and dramatic and neither of us could be trusted. What she thought couldn’t be further from the truth.

So she poked the wound with a needle. “Can you feel that, Tuck?”

“Yes. It hurts. It’s sharp poking in my face.”

She was quizzical. “Huh. Well, it shouldn’t hurt.” Except it does.

Enter eye contact from this mom. The one that says “Do not move forward with this procedure until he is numb, and don’t try to tell me he should be because the truth is he isn’t.”

So the nurse comes back and applies the topic cream again, we wait again, and they begin the procedure again, she promises him it won’t hurt again, she begins poking his open gash with a needle, only to learn that is not yet numb – Again.

“Huh. This is just puzzling,” says the pediatrician. “Well, I’ll be back with some lidocaine. We’ll give that a try.”

She came back with lidocaine and a partner. I’ve been here before and I know this scene: my child is about to be restrained. And bless you for bringing a nurse to help you, because I learned long ago that I will not hold my child still so you can hurt him. I need for him to know I’m on his team, even though we’re all on the same team with the same goal toward his wellness. But, as much as it depends on me, he will not associate the fear of being restrained with the feel of my hands on him. Nope. This body comforts his. That’s my rule. So, good call bringing back-up.

So the nurse holds Tucker while the put the needle right into his exposed tissue, and I take my post of keeping his eye contact and counting for him. He knows that when I’m done counting, this present horror is over with. And he knows he can count on me.

Meanwhile, I am feeling the familiar heat rising up my neck, the tunnel vision, all the things that mean my own consciousness is about to give up. No. No. I’m not fainting. I will not. I ask for water and I take off my sweater, and we do what is in front of us. Because that is all there ever, ever, ever is to do.

We wait again, and they begin the procedure again, she promises him it won’t hurt again, she begins poking his open gash with a needle, only to learn that is not yet numb – Again.

“Huh,” she says. “I’ve just never seen anything like this.”

Meanwhile, Tuck is ready to climb right out of that bed. She’s ruined his trust, and with good reason. He sat up, ringing his hands, leaning into me with all the courage I’ve ever seen. I’m telling you, that boy. My hero.

Then she said, “Well, should we just do the stitches? I mean, the pain meds aren’t working, and it’s just three stitches.” (It turned out to be five stitches, by the way, so add that up to the list of false truths.)

“No,” I said. I was cradling my son’s head against my chest, letting him catch his breath and cry. “No, you are not doing stitches if he’s not numb.”

I looked her squarely in the eye.

“Here’s what’s going to happen. You have one more try, so it better work. Either choose a different medication, a stronger one, or give him every last drip of this one. You get one more try. I’m going to count to five, and when I’m finished, the shot will be over with. We will start when Tucker says he’s ready. I promise you – I know this child, and he will cooperate when he’s ready and he knows teh plan.”

I looked at Tucker. “Buddy, you can do this. One more try. If this doesn’t work, I won’t ask you to trust them again.” (I didn’t know what I was going to do instead, but I was prepared to raise some holy hell. This is modern medicine, people. And these are stitches, for crying out loud. Get. It. Right.) “I will count to five, and it will be done. Let’s practice. I’ll count and you breathe.”

We practiced. And we decided he didn’t need to breathe, just blow. Inhale, exhale – that’s too much to remember. Just pretend I’m a birthday candle, lovey. And blow me out.

“You ready, kiddo? Because you can do this. I’m on your team.”

The doctor and nurse were patient. Wisely patient.

And then Tucker said he was ready, which in itself is an act of courage that makes me want to crown him King of the World.

The nurse held his head. I held his hands. The doctor started the injection. I counted to five.

And blast it all, she wasn’t finished at five. “Six… seven…” and then she was done. But then she said, “One more!” and injected again. (One MORE?!) And I counted more slowly, determined to let my son know he could trust me. When you hear five, we are done with the worst, buddy. I promise you.

I’ll tell you what: every single one of us needed recovery after that. That’s when I realized my mom had come behind me, and she was massaging my shoulders. She was the mom taking care of her baby while her baby was taking care of her baby. “You’ve got this, Trish. You’re doing great,” she whispered to me.

And, would you believe? Just as I promised them, Tuck was absolutely cooperative and still and a total trooper – once he was numb. He didn’t trust them, and I couldn’t blame him. The doctor said, “One more stitch, I think.”

And my sweet boy laughed and said, “You think? You think.”

Mental note (and a physical note in his chart from this day forward): Tuck is resistant to lidocaine. Bring out the big guns from the start, because this? Cannot happen again. Ever.

Ladies and gentlemen, he was a rockstar. And, might I say, I owned that room.

Feminine Wiles of the Girl Scouts

Here we are, swept away once again by the feminine wiles of the Girl Scouts.

Oh, sweet little business women, with the twinkle in your eyes and the cash in your box, your patched vest and your bouncing ponytail. I cannot resist you. Certainly, the men on your market will have no hope; they will have only cookies.

“You can buy four boxes,” I said to my son. “And bring back the change.”

He came back with five boxes and no change.

“Five? What happened here?”

“She told me I forgot to buy one more.”


Charlotte and Our Coming of Age

I’ve not really been honest with myself about Charlotte’s Web; it is one of my favorites in all the libraries of the world, and I wanted to share it with my children. But I just didn’t want Charlotte to die ever again.  Not on my watch.

So just before the Zuckermans and Arables took the trip to the county fair, I stopped reading aloud. I set it aside, and we started reading something else. And I silently apologized to them, knowing someday they would have to know how Charlotte’s story ends.

Tonight, we were just going to watch something short, simple, and measured to end the day. But then I saw that we could watch Charlotte’s Web, the live version with Dakota Fanning at her finest and Julia Roberts as the most demure voice over.  Suddenly, I was okay with stretching the bedtime rule.

Now as we sat, piled under one blanket, my younger son could sense an unhappy ending, straight away. “Mommy, is the spider going to die? Charlotte? You have to tell me. You’ve read the whole book. I have to know.”

I debated, and then decided that if I couldn’t be brave enough to read the truth to him, I could at least brace him for the truth to come in the next 118 minutes. “She does, buddy.”

He stiffened. “How?”

“She just dies. It’s the end of her life.”

“But who kills her?”

“Nobody’s going to kill her. But at the end, she’s going to die.”

He worried for most of the movie, checking in with me every few minutes to see if this is the scene when Charlotte will go away. It’s just that he knows what this means. He knows on a grander, greater scale.

Then he started to ask more specific, careful questions, and I realized what he really needed to know: “Will Templeton be kind later? Will Wilbur get to keep all of Charlotte’s babies? I have to know, Mommy – who will be Wilbur’s friend when Charlotte dies?”

When the moment came, when we watched Charlotte close her eyes, I confess this to you, here and now: I watched my children instead of the movie. Because if there’s a moment when books come to life, it’s when a child realizes how much he has come to love Charlotte.

Then all of Charlotte’s babies are born, and they drift away into the sky, they catch the breeze and go wherever the please, and Wilbur stands with his front two feet in the slop trough, and he says, “But, wait. Wait. There’s so much I wanted to tell you. And someone I wanted to tell you about.” And my heart felt so swollen I nearly choked.

The boys are in bed, after this coming-of-age evening that we will all three of us remember. My heart is full.

Charlotte, you are the most beautiful.

* * *

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”

~ e. b. white

(If one could choose her own epitaph.)

My Heart In the Marketplace

“What comes up, way down at the bottom, is that my heart is still broken from bringing out Writing Down the Bones.”  I gasp. I clutch at my heart. What is this you say, Natalie Goldberg? Broken hearted from producing Writing Down the Bones?

This is the book I have bought so many times over, and I’ve given these copies to many of my friends who could be writing or should be writing or I just want them to think about writing for my own selfish motive of getting to read their words.

And here, in her book Thunder and Lightning, she begins with a warning: she has never gotten over the heartbreak of writing that beloved book that sits tattered on my cover and sewn into my writing life.

“All I feel is aching. I was so innocent – I didn’t know what it meant to put my heart in the marketplace,” she says.

Well, if ever some words will stop me in my tracks, it is these from my favorite writing mentor as my book will be released in something just over 20 days.

Is my heart about to break? Do I have no idea how innocent I am, and will I only learn of my naivete when I’ve put my heart in the marketplace?

And Life Comes Back is generous in all it gives away. Some of my first critics have said, “Oh, Tricia, your vulnerability. I read with a lump in my throat, so aware of all that you were so generously giving away.” And, “I read thinking, ‘sweet girl, you’ve said so much.'” Indeed, I have said so much.

Metaphorically speaking, my heart is about to be available everywhere books are sold.

My friend Natalie Goldberg (you know how I call my favorite authors by their first name once we’ve become so deeply acquainted? I somehow always call her by her first and last. Natalie Goldberg. Always Natalie Goldberg.) continues on that same page, “And now this? Art leads to suffering? But it was true. I’d seen it again and again. I don’t know any writer who’s happy. But what else is there to do?”

I ask the same question: But what else is there to do? Live silently, quietly, and let nothing come of the truth that I know?

Not write? Ha. As if.

Many people have asked me in the last week or so, “Are you ready, Trish?” “Are you ready for your books to hit the shelves?” “Are you prepared?” “Have you done all the things you can do to get ready for the big release?”

Well, I have no idea, you scary people who think out loud.

I feel like I’m standing at the edge of the water, watching the tide roll in. “A wave is coming,” everyone says. “Are you ready? Get ready! Brace yourself!”

How do you prepare yourself for such a tidal sloshing?

Well, in my summers at the beach and my honeymoons at the ocean, I’ve learned just a little about the waves. The greatest lesson is this: if I resolve to stand still and keep my toes firmly planted in the sand, then first of all, the sand is going to erode beneath the soles of my feet in a creepy-crawly way that feels like something is eating at my foundations. And then, even as I stand where I am and fight the current, I’ll get knocked to the ground, the sand will burn its signature into my knees elbows and left shoulder, and I’ll come up sputtering and coughing salt water.

But. If I go a little deeper and let the water wash over me, if I pick up my feet and roll with the waves, if I keep in mind that this is bigger than me, then I’m in for a great and wild ride for however long the wave will roll. That’s the rush that keeps me coming back for more, wave after wave, day after day, summer after summer.

My first book is released in a matter of days. So, my heart could get broken, sure. Natalie Goldberg’s certainly did.

But here’s what I know: when the clock strikes midnight and the calendar turns to February 18, the day of the grand release, I’ll be the same girl. I’ll pack lunches and take my kids to school, if I’m lucky we will arrive just after the second bell, and I will come back home, pour a hearty amount of cream into my morning coffee, and start writing again.

God will do what he will do, and there’s no controlling the waves around me.

So I might as well kick up my feet and feel the rush.