Almost ten years and we've never had to take Andriana to the emergency room... until yesterday. Ten days before her tenth birthday, our daughter ended up getting ten sutures after falling off a trampoline at a friend's house and cutting her upper thigh badly on a protruding bolt. I was home when it happened, as my wife works the reference desk on Tuesday evenings. One moment I'm sitting at home answering some work email and feeling rather satisfied about a hectic but productive morning of meetings, then all of a sudden I'm riding in the back seat of our neighbor's car to the hospital, holding my daughter's hand, reassuring her, and trying not to lose my shit when I look at the gash on her leg.
"Am I going to have to get stitches?" Andriana asks fearfully, already knowing the answer. The cut is almost six inches long and has split the skin on her thigh wide open. Fortunately my daughter's friend called for help immediately, and her father had a large clear trauma bandage on hand to stop the bleeding and protect the wound while he contacted me to tell me what had happened. I'm grateful that she is stable and not in shock, but whenever I see the blood and the exposed flesh under the plastic I feel nothing but panic. I want to look away, but I'm also afraid that Andriana will shift her leg and start bleeding again.
How deep was the cut, I wonder. Is it just the skin, or her muscle? Spring soccer had only just started. Was she going to have to sit the season out?
Rather than default to the standard parental prevarication "We'll see," I tell her the truth. "Yes, you're going to need stitches."
"Will it hurt?"
"Only when the doctor gives you a shot. After that, you won't feel a thing."
I squeeze her hand extra hard, look away for a moment, and call my wife. Maria answers the phone at the reference desk and I fill her in on what's happened. She's a good half hour away without traffic, and of course it's already rush hour here in Southwestern Connecticut, so even though her boss lets her leave immediately it'll be a while before she can join us. When we get to the hospital, our neighbor runs inside to get us a wheelchair, then asks me to write his phone number on my hand so I can call if I need a ride later. I know he feels terrible about the accident, but I'm simply glad that he's able to keep me moving forward right now.
I'm holding Andriana's shoes when we get to the emergency room, while we check her in at the triage desk, and during the process of registering her as a patient. Thank goodness it's a slow day in the ER, but sitting in a chair and filling out forms seems surreal when your daughter is also sitting there with a hole in her thigh. No, she doesn't have any allergies. Her religion is Greek Orthodox. No, she's not taking any medication right now, save for the protein formula she drinks for phenylketonuria. At this point I realize I'm still clutching her shoes because I'm fearful of putting them back on her feet at this point. She's been so composed through this whole ordeal, and I don't want to disturb that somehow.
We sit in the waiting room and wait. I tell Andriana jokes and try not to ask her if she's okay over and over again. She plays Subway Surfers on my phone until the receptionist- a kindly older man- brings her a big book of poetry, which she reads intently. I get her a blanket to keep her warm in the air-conditioned room and to cover up her leg from prying eyes, as my daughter is very self-conscious about her injury- I asked her if she wanted me to take a picture of her leg and she simply fixed me with a death stare. The waiting room is starting to fill up, and I notice that Andriana is doing her best not to be freaked out by the other patients and their various ailments.
"Can you call Mommy and ask her to bring Waddles?"
Waddles is her beloved stuffed pig that she sleeps with every night. I feel stupid for leaving the house without it in the first place, but at the time I had had just enough presence of mind to grab my wallet and my phone. I call my wife, who is still stuck in traffic, and she agrees to stop by the house and pick up Waddles on her way to the hospital. A minute or two later and they're calling us in.
Everyone is beyond nice- the nurse with the almost-impenetrable Slavic accent and the avuncular attending physician are as gentle as they can be, and they praise Andriana for being so brave as they examine the cut, numb it with lidocaine and clean it, then stitch the wound back up. She was so worried about the shot that she didn't believe me when I told her that they'd already given it to her, and aside from the curious sensation of feeling her flesh being tugged taut by the doctor's needle and thread she felt nothing. We talk while the physician works. I tell her about the times I went to the emergency room as a kid. We joke and say that she's just like Sally the ragdoll from The Nightmare Before Christmas, who stitched her leg back on after jumping out of her tower prison.
Next thing I know, the doctor is showing me his handiwork, then asking me to put pressure on the freshly-sutured wound before they wrap it up with sterile gauze. My wife shows up now. I'm glad she's here, but I'm also happy that she never saw the untreated cut, which I won't be able to clear from my mind for the rest of the evening. The neighbor also appears to check up on us, for which I'm grateful. Then another nurse comes in to give us post-treatment instructions. Keep her off her feet with her leg elevated for two days. Change the dressing once per day and give her antibiotics two times a day. Watch for bruising and signs of infection. Make an appointment with your pediatrician to take out the sutures in ten days. We thank everyone profusely, then we're wheeling Andriana back out of the hospital and taking her home.
Considering that our daughter spent every Thursday morning of the first year and a half of her life in the pediatrics wing of Mass General Hospital to attend a weekly metabolic clinic, it seems almost incredible that I can count the amount of times on one hand when we've had to call Andriana's doctor over the years. I think a remember a bad fever once, a rattling cough when she was still a baby, and a bout of pink eye from daycare- otherwise, that was about it. Whenever my wife and I discussed our daughter's health I tried not to call undue attention to her good luck, but superstition aside my wife and I both knew that for all of our early trials with Andriana's PKU, we had been extraordinarily fortunate.
And we still are. Frightful as Andriana's cut was, it will heal. I have a boss and colleagues who were more than understanding when I told them that I'd need to stay home with my daughter for a couple of days until she was back on her feet, so that my wife wouldn't have to miss hours on the desk for which she wouldn't get paid. And as for Andriana herself? I wish I'd had such equanimity when I was her age. No tears, no complaints. She's simply delighted that she'll get her stitches taken out the day before her birthday, rather than on the big day itself, and that she'll only miss a couple of weeks of soccer at most. At the end of the day, we're home again as a family, for which we are thankful.
"Daddy, why do you keep looking at me like that?"
My daughter asks me this question when she catches me staring over at her later that evening with an expression that is equal parts relief and disbelief- relief that the day's ordeal is over, and disbelief both that it happened in the first place and that it wasn't something even worse. I tell Andriana that maybe she'll understand someday, if she chooses to have children of her own. But it's more than that. As rattled as I am, I'm proud to have a daughter like her. I tell her this and she makes a face, but I know that she's proud as well. Despite all of the panic and emotional exhaustion, on Tuesday I got to catch a glimpse of the strong woman that Andriana will be, and this makes me happy.