Little Foot is at that exciting age where he can lift up on to couches and tables and scoot along the edges as he circles making his first few steps. They’re going to happen any day now, I just know it. His little eyes focus on the ground as his wobbly feet quickly lift and fall like an unsure chasse under slightly bowed legs in an infant interpretive dance of exploration and evolution. As a parent, this is first and foremost, thrilling – but also quite frightening because you realize that every single thing in your house is now a potential danger. To baby-proof an entire house would be to live in a giant bubble – nothing less.
It’s hovering around midnight and King Ranch and I are considering whether or not we should take Little Foot to the children’s emergency room downtown.
Earlier in the day, he took his first face-plant on the edge of our TV stand that sounded like bones cracking on concrete. I scrambled to scoop him up when this thunderous thud rang out through the house and cradled his head against my shoulder as he wailed uncontrollably. King Ranch came around the corner to question the commotion and his face turned pale.
“He’s bleeding!” King Ranch said.
I pulled Little Foot from my shoulder to find blood everywhere. He’d bashed his mouth and something from behind his teeth was bleeding profusely although neither of us could tell what.
A dagger through my chest – I’d never seen Little Foot’s blood before.
We’re considering this trip downtown because we can’t decide if he has a concussion or not. There are so many signs to look for according to WebMD and Babycenter.com, but neither King Ranch nor I can confirm that Little Foot’s behavior is indeed a concussion, or just the result of an infant having a really tough day.
I say let’s go.
Being out at the ranch, it takes us about 40 minutes to get to the nearest children’s emergency room. I’ve opened the gate to our driveway, and both Bunny and Tee are standing near the fence by the road. I can’t see their faces in the shadows, but I can tell that both sets of their ears are straight up. I think they’re confused.
King Ranch drives as I sit in the back seat holding Little Foot’s hand. His head is resting on the shoulder strap of his car seat and I can hear the gurgle of fluid in the back of his throat with each breath. Every few minutes, he gags on it, opens his eyes, and then falls back asleep.
The moon is amber, heavy, and massive tonight. A cloudless night up here would usually give way to a blanket of stars that are all shapes, sizes, and glitter amounts. As you would watch the space between the stars, more would seem to appear – some faint, some blue, and some reddish. King Ranch and I have played the game of ‘Who can Spot the Most Satellites’ on more than one occasion. He usually wins.
In tonight’s low-hanging and radiating moon, however, the stars are reduced to the best star-gazing we would get when we used to live in the city: part of the Big Dipper, Orion’s Belt, and what I think is the North Star or Mars, I’m not sure. King Ranch can tell you to which constellation each star belongs. He can also tell you about quasars, worm holes, and multiple theories about the universe which is going to blow Little Foot’s mind one day.
Little Foot snorts, takes a struggling inhale, and returns to snoring. His upper lip and the base of his nose are swollen like he’s holding the tiniest marble beneath his philtrum.
“Everything is okay,” King Ranch says from the front seat, breaking the silence.
“I hope so,” I say, placing my palm over Little Foot’s belly to make sure I can feel its rise and fall. I look back up at the moon through the window in hopes that it gives me some sign that indeed, everything is okay.
Our GPS tells us that we have arrived at our destination and as anticipated, it is confusing as hell. Why is every major hospital such a maze and always under construction? Parking is always reserved. Entrances are always the other way. Driveways are always for authorized vehicles only.
We enter some garage where the slanted parking spaces are too small for even compact vehicles and the ceilings are low with fluorescent, buzzing lights. We pass a pile of chunky, orange puke next to a black Suburban that is taking up two parking spots before finding a cramped, little space next to a wall in which our car barely fits.
King Ranch pulls a sleeping Little Foot out of the car and we’re just short of a run as we make our way towards the entrance of the ER. The sliding glass doors open with a burst of chilly and Lysol-smelling air and beneath more bright lights, it looks as if someone has poked an anthill with a stick. Kids, parents, nurses, and beeping, portable machines are scrambling absolutely everywhere. I see face masks, pajama pants, and bandages while the walls echo with crying, coughing, and pissed-off parents.
We end up at a desk under a sign that says “Check-In” and we give a tired woman behind coke-bottle glasses Little Foot’s information. As we’re doing this, a young, chipper, male nurse with spikey hair wearing brown scrubs and what appears to be several hemp-woven bracelets looks at a now awake Little Foot and asks, “What’s wrong, lil’ buddy?”
I tell him the whole story of his sliding along tables, the bone-cracking fall, bleeding mouth, glottal-fluid-choking, and what we think is drowsiness and I stutter on some tears before saying, “I don’t know if it’s a concussion because he’s got a lot of fluid dripping from his nose and -”
“Follow Samantha,” Brown scrubs interrupts, pointing at a short, stalky nurse wearing green and black, “she’ll take you to triage.” Suddenly we’re being shuffled down a hallway lined with various machines and desks with nurses on phones.
At the end of that hallway, we’re passed to yet another young nurse – this time a red-head with a notable amount of black eye-liner on her bottom eye lids – who asks, “What happened, little guy?”
She leads us into a room behind a translucent curtain that doesn’t quite close. I repeat the whole story again. As I’m telling her all of this, she’s making funny faces at Little Foot who is smiling back at her behind his swollen lip. He’s smiling!
“Mhm, mhm,” she says and jots some things onto some sort of an iPad when, without making eye contact with either of us, she slides the curtain open, motions for us to follow, and walks down another hallway to a door that says ‘Waiting Room.’ She opens it and tells us to, “Wait here because there are no beds available at this time. But someone will be with you soon.”
King Ranch and I step in and the door slams behind us with a loud bang and click.
The children’s ER waiting room at 1:00 in the morning is a hellish place. Suffering kids of all ages with teary eyes, raspy coughs, running snot, and cartoon-printed jammies are either sprawled out on the side-to-side purple benches, or are up and slowly wandering around with their stuffed animals. Adults with dark circles beneath their eyes are filling out paper work, resting their heads in their hands, or half-way watching the big screen TV that has been stuck on the intro menu of some Minion’s movie for God knows how long.
Every so often, a nurse will appear, call a name, and one or two parents with usually one or two children will stand as if they’ve been sitting for hours: they unfold from their seats, joints cracking, and shuffle towards whichever colorful nurse called for them.
King Ranch and I look at one another, panicked, and carefully sit down on the bench closest to the door underneath a flickering light. I’m clutching Little Foot tightly. We can’t see the germs floating around – but we know they’re there. Every cough, every sneeze, and every throat hack – they’re there.
We sit in this sesspool of germs for close to an hour trying not to move before King Ranch has had enough.
“I’m going to go ask how long the wait is,” he says as he stands up.
Little Foot has become squirmy and is trying to chew on the back of the bench behind me. I stand up and start to pace. In front of us, a young boy, appearing to still be in his school uniform of a white collared shirt and khaki pants, picks his nose and wipes his finger onto his seat.
King Ranch comes back around the corner with a defeated grin on his face.
“What?” I ask.
“Well, the guy told me that the person who has been here the longest has been here for nine hours. So…” he laughs, “could be anywhere between now and nine hours.”
“Nine hours?!” I say.
Little Foot starts chattering, “Bap, bap, bap,” and is tapping my shoulder with his closed fist.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” I say.
“You sure?” says King Ranch, reaching for Little Foot. “We came all this way.”
“Yes,” I say, picking up Little Foot’s diaper bag. “Look, he’s chatting and smiling. I think he’s okay for now.”
King Ranch nods and we make our way back to the sliding glass doors, careful not to touch a thing.
As we reenter the parking garage that we still aren’t sure is the right one for the ER, I point out the orange puke to King Ranch who says, “Honey, no, that’s a pile of spaghetti.”
“Huh?” I ask, squinting and adjusting my glasses.
“It’s spaghetti. Someone dumped it there,” King Ranch says, sort of chuckling.
“Well good lord,” I say. It sure is spaghetti.
I sit in the passenger seat as we venture back home. King Ranch puts on ‘The Best of Neil Young’ and we hold hands over the parking break.
“Well that was successful,” he says.
The moon is much higher now and a normal, off-white. We chat about how depressing that ER was and how surprised and upset we were that they didn’t put the sick kids in one room and the injured kids in another. They require this separation at the pediatrician’s office, so I assumed the ER would be the same.
The roads are quite dark as we get closer to home, so King Ranch turns on the car’s high-beams. Every so often, some long-winged bug will flutter in a panic across our path. We pull up outside of our ranch and as I hop out to open the gate, Bunny and Tee are still standing by the fence with their ears straight up.
“It’s okay, donks,” I say to them. “Everything is okay.”
Tee snorts and lowers his head to chew on some grass while Bunny lifts her head over the fence, no doubt, for a nose rub.
The following morning, I take Little Foot to his regular pediatrician as soon as they open and the doctor is sure that he’s going to be okay. “He’s just a little banged up, so keep an eye on him for a couple days.”
King Ranch and I have been kicked in the pants by parenthood through this whole ordeal. As both of Little Foot’s grandmothers have separately told us since, “This is the first of many falls.” I just can’t imagine it ever getting easier. As a worrier, I have imagined all sorts of horrific and devastating circumstances in which Little Foot has fallen victim and I have no idea how far down that rabbit-hole I will tumble before realizing that I cannot control everything that happens to him. I guess we, as parents, can only really do so much.
I find myself often mulling through memories from my childhood through a parental filter and I wonder how on Earth my parents are remotely sane. Three kids, several broken bones, epic tantrums, us staying out (way) past curfew – it’s a true testament to the love that they so unconditionally have for my brothers and me. We are very lucky. I don’t think I’ve ever been as grateful for them as I have become over these past several months now that I know the emotional trenches they’ve crawled through to raise us. I imagine they had several nights much like this one that King Ranch and I did where they didn’t sleep a wink and drove all over town just to try and do what’s best for us. Even better, is that I know they’d do it all over again in a heartbeat, just as we would do for Little Foot. The sleepless nights, the days spent on the floor playing with blocks instead of being productive, the endless possibilities of what the future holds – one thing is for certain: King Ranch and I will love our child to that big, ole’ fat moon and back no matter what.
I do think that King Ranch and I made the right decision to not sit at the ER for hours. We realized that he was probably open to more risk through germ exposure and overall discomfort there than the likelihood of him having some sort of cerebral-spinal-fluid leak from his fall. I guess that’s a start. We need to accept the fact that accidents will happen, that we’ll make mistakes, that there will be tears and blood and uncertainty. If we’re doing our best, however, and we’re doing it from a place of love, what more can we really do?
Back home, I sure want to burn the shit out of that TV stand for ever hurting my baby, though. I want to burn it to the freaking ground.