Ella got five stitches on the corner of her right eye on Sunday, and I haven't had a chance to write an explanation until just now. For those of you who have been asking, this is what happened:
Our church building is a huge, beautiful Spanish style building that was once brimming over with Lutheran families in Long Beach. Decades ago.
When Justin, Ella, and I joined there were maybe two, perhaps three other families with young children in the congregation. The church sanctuary and chapel stand on the corner of a neighborhood street, with an office, school, and gymnasium/auditorium surrounding a courtyard. There's a preschool and infant daycare there now, and most of the second story has been used as storage, though the sign on the doors say "Junior High."
Now there is a good contingent of families with kids ranging in age from newborn through middle school, so some of the moms and dads have claimed three of the upstairs rooms and a kitchen as the Sunday School and Youth Rooms.We're decorating--buying furniture and fixtures, painting walls, cleaning carpets. Making it look like home.
Sunday after church, a few of us stayed to do some work. We took a lunch break and some people had to go home, but Ella and I and one other mom and her toddler son returned to work for the afternoon.
The mom went downstairs to unload supplies from her car, while I stayed upstairs with the kids. They were watching a sign language video, then Ella switched to looking at paperback books from the Sunday School book rack. I was planning what to paint on canvases to hang over the couch.
There was a horrible, loud, crashing sound. Like someone had just slammed a heavy book onto a table, or dropped a weight straight down onto the ground.
I turned to see the boy still watching his video and Ella across the room on the ground.
I'm one of those moms who says, "Nice one! Shake it off!" Lots of times I don't even go over to check things out and make sure she's OK.
This time I looked. She started to cry, I'm almost entirely certain it was immediately (which means she didn't blackout). I ran over, in my practically white, khaki A-line skirt and floral blouse, and saw my girl lying face down somehow between a child-sized large classroom table and a wire, turning paperback bookcase. I turned her over as she was trying to get up. I saw a bruise on her shoulder, which I assumed had hit the table on her way down.
Then I saw her face.
Her right eye was already swollen and black and blue. For a second there was no blood. And then it started pouring out of the outer corner of her eye. There was so much blood, so suddenly. Her lower eyelid filled with blood. Blood was coming out of the tear duct side of her eye and flowing over the bridge of her nose toward the left eye.
I was not calm. I was not hysterical, but I was not calm. I had scooped her into my arms already, so I laid her down on a table and tried to stop the bleeding with my skirt. Where was the other mom! Where was her kid? I'd seen him start walking, and I knew there was an open door and that we were upstairs. I called for him. I couldn't see him. I should look for him. I scooped Ella up. Without pressure, the blood pours forth.
"Can you see? Can you see?"
So much crying. "It's getting dark! I can't see!"
Oh my God. She says she can't see! She says it's getting dark! What am I going to do? She's losing her vision! Please God, please God, please God...
Where was there paper towel? Where was there ice? Was there another cloth I could use, so that I could carry her and put pressure on the wound at the same time? Where was I going to carry her to? Should I call 911? What was I going to do?
I screamed down to the parking lot where our cars were parked, "I need help!"
I found a pretty, new dishtowel hanging in the kitchen. Such a nice touch. It was part of a set. I grabbed it and ran back to Ella. Had I really left her on the Sunday School table? Good thing it's a big table! Good thing she's too scared to move! She's screaming so much. Screaming! Screaming! "Shush, shush, shush. It's OK. It's going to be OK. It's going to be OK."
I ask my friend if there's ice anywhere. She's got keys to the building, maybe she can get ice. No. She runs down to the coffee shop next door--carrying her son, whom I was relieved to see had not fallen down the stairs in the chaos--and returns with a bag of ice.
I took photos of her eye and texted them to Justin. All four or five at once. I called him. He answered. I NEVER call him at work. I have never in all our years called him while he's at work. I text if I have a question. Sometimes he texts back "busy" or "intubating" and I know that the life being saved is more important than what he wants for dinner or if he wants to spend his next day off with friends or just the three of us. I'm OK with that. It's true.
He answered right away. I spoke over Ella's shrieks of "It hurts! It hurts! My eye hurts!"
"Ella fell and cut her eye and it's bleeding."
He wanted more information and I didn't have any. "I don't know what happened. She just fell." All of this in a very panicked voice.
"No, her eye's not dangling out of her head. It's just bleeding. A lot.... Yes, I sent you a picture.... No, I don't think she passed out; she cried right away... Did you get the picture yet? No? Should I send it again? It says it's sending it.... OK. I'll hang up and try emailing it."
Again, I sent all of them at once. Who thinks about bandwidth when their child's eye is bleeding?
I called him back. "What should I do? Do you have the pictures yet? Where should I take her?"
At some point, my friend asks if I know where the urgent care is nearby. She probably knows--she lives in the neighborhood. But, no, I will not take my child to an unknown urgent care on a Sunday afternoon. I think we might be sort of near a good hospital in Long Beach. Maybe I should go to that ER.
Justin tells me I should bring her to his work. I wonder how I am supposed to bring my child to the ER where her daddy works 20 miles away from church. I think of another ER-doctor-friend-mom that I know who lives a few blocks from church. I tell him, "I can call her! Maybe she can come and look at it....I don't know why.... because she's near here and she's a doctor and she can tell me if she thinks I need to take her to the ER." I was still hoping maybe I was just overreacting and the ER was unnecessary.
He's gotten the photos and shown it to friends and everyone agrees I have to bring her in. My ER friend's husband doesn't answer his cell phone (I don't call her, knowing if she's at work in another ER.... yada-yada....). My friend offers to help by carrying my things down to the car. I tell Ella she has to hold the ice on her eye while we drive to Daddy's hospital.
"I want a grown up to hold the ice!"
"We don't happen to have a spare grownup sitting around, so you'll
have to do it." My friend has to pick up her other son from somewhere,
she's got the baby, we don't have two car seats... I can't even hash out
a plan to make that work. But I have this idea. "Minnie Mouse will help
you. We have that Minnie Mouse pillow on the backseat, that you use for
naps. You can hug the Minnie Mouse pillow and lean your face on the ice
to hold it on."
My friend gathers my purse and our water bottles and our church bulletin and Ella's Sunday School art project. I tell Ella she has to hold on tight to me while I carry her down the stairs. She is 40 pounds and 45 inches, and I have a back so painful that I've had an MRI and a bone scan and do physical therapy three times a week. We need not to fall down the stairs.
"OK. Now we just need to strap you in and we can go."
"But I want a grown up with me!" I've already
considered my parents, but they live at least 30 minutes from where we
are and I can't think--nor do we have time--of someone else to call.
"You have to do this. You don't have a choice. You can do this." I buckle her into her car seat, give her the twin-bed-sized Minnie Mouse pillow, and place the ice between it and her face. "Hug Minnie Mouse. Just hold her. She'll help you. We'll get there. I'm going to ask you how you're doing every couple of minutes and I need to hear you respond, so that I know you're OK."
I drive away from church, offering Ella classical music because I know she loves it and might find it soothing.
"Yeah. I don't really want to listen to classical music either. How about Indigo Girls? We need strong women music." She says she wants silence, but I tell her I need music and put the CD in anyway, since the silence is filled with whimpers and sobs.
"How are you doing back there?" I've been reaching back and putting my hand on her leg. "You OK?"
The momentary silence is broken with more tears and a "yes," but it is better than letting her fall asleep. She cannot fall asleep.
As I drive, I remember that at lunch I'd realized I'd left the important contents of my wallet at home. My drivers license, military ID, ATM and credit cards (save one that's rarely used), and insurance cards were not with me. I thought to stop at home to pick them up, but it would add at least 30 minutes to our drive. I decided that if a cop pulled me over, I'd tell them to lead me to the ER. I decided that the ER would know that we're good for our insurance--I'd been a patient there, Justin works there, it'll be fine.
I called Justin when we got off the freeway, so he'd know we were close. He said everyone knew we were coming and to just tell them who we are when we walk in.
I am flustered as I give the valet my key, unbuckle Ella, pick her up, cover her face again with the ice wrapped in a bloody towel. As I move toward the sliding glass doors, I see the grandmother and mother in a Hispanic family waiting for their car look at me with sympathy and horror, saying something kind in Spanish, and I dart past them, past security, past triage.
He said they knew we were coming! He said he'd meet us at the door! Where is he? Don't they know? I'm walking back like I know where I'm going.
I hear voices behind me, at triage, "Excuse me, ma'am?"
"I'm Justin Anderson's wife. This is my daughter. They know we're coming?" I say, sure that I sound crazy, feeling eyes on me from the waiting room, the patients in triage, the staff. Then I see through double doors: his smile, those dimples--I almost start to cry. "Oh, thank God. Look Ella! Daddy's here! It's going to be OK now, it's going to be OK. Daddy's here."
He takes her in his arms and I walk behind them, holding the ice against her face. I see our friends and his coworkers and I'm overwhelmed with grief, and fear, and relief, and knowing that I made it there, and that it would be OK, and that maybe it wasn't going to be that OK, and that we must be a sight with the screaming child, and the blood on my skirt, and the doctor/daddy and what felt like an entourage of smart, useful, kind people who led us to a room. A friend put her arm around me and asked how I was doing. I could hardly speak. I composed myself again, so that when Ella next looked up she'd see a strong, not-scared mommy with her.
There were some questions about what happened, and then questions for her that I started to answer before realizing it was a concussion exam. She followed the doctor's fingers with her eyes while I chatted with her (you remember this mommy, right? From the Frozen birthday party? Her little girl turned 3?).
Justin floated in and out to hold our hands. He had several critical patients, if there were a code blue somewhere in the hospital, he was the one who was supposed to go, but he was there. I was sure that was better than being alone at a children's hospital with her. Daddy was there. Right there.
Our friend-the-physician-assistant came in to do the stitches. (You remember this mommy, right? We saw her at Disneyland? And they were at the Frozen birthday party, too?) Justin wasn't there at the moment. We hadn't said he had to be--I said it didn't matter. I was just thinking I wanted it done and over with and I didn't want to have to wait for the perfect moment in the ER where everyone I needed available was free. I held Ella's hands and watched. A nurse held her head still. Ella had her eyes closed. They said they were using water to clean it. A syringe went in and out all over the area. Justin came back into the room. More shots of "water." Then the stitches. Blue. With a needle that looked like a fishhook. I'd look at Ella's eye and then look at the ground. Her skin tugged and pulled and pink and bruised and cut so deeply. The ground linoleum white and moving. The blanket. The flesh. Her hand. Justin's hands. Her eye.
When everyone else left the room, Justin asked me how I felt.
"I'm going to need to sit here a minute before I drive her home."