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October 11, 2006

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Sunday afternoon. I was monitoring several ESPN Gamecasts at once for signs of impending yardage gain. A thump. A howl. The dark hours descended.



"Elijah fell off the sofa and hit his head."

"Is he bleeding?"

"AHHHH!" I heard Elijah say. "It hurts!"

"Oh my God, Neal! It is bleeding!"

Seconds later, I was in the living room. Regina was cradling Elijah in her arms, pressing her hand against his left temple. The boy was screaming.

"Do something!" she said.


"Get me something cold!"

I ran into the kitchen and grabbed a bag of frozen broccoli. Then I got a big towel out of the linen cupboard and wrapped the broccoli in the towel. This wasn't what Regina wanted.


This I did. She pressed it against the gash, which was, because of the blood, of indeterminate width and depth. Elijah continued to howl.

"What do we do?" she asked, near hysteria. I was being incompetent, but at least I was calm.

"Um," I said.

I ran back to my office and Googled "child head gash." lt didn't yield anything immediately helpful.

"I CAN"T SEE!" I heard Elijah howl.

"Neal," Regina said. "He says he can't see."

That was kind of a cheap cliffhanger to get you to keep reading.

Of course he could see. His hair was in his eyes. Because Elijah is essentially me, but much younger and cuter, I knew this as a tactic of melodrama. Still, he was obviously in pain. I called 911.

Regina's towel-wrapped cold-pack proved successful in stanching the blood. Fewer than five minutes after I called, a fire truck and ambulance came screaming down the street. I guess the operator had been able to tell from my voice that I was white.

Two paramedics entered our house. One of them took Elijah's blood pressure, which was impossibly low. I made some joke about how I wished my blood pressure were that low. No one liked that joke much.

The lead paramedic asked Elijah some questions. He asked us some questions. He took a look at the gash.

"You have two choices," he said. "We can take him in the ambulance, or you can drive him yourself to the hospital. He's gonna need stitches."

"Elijah," I asked. "Do you want to ride in an ambulance?"

"It'll cost you 583 dollars," said the paramedic.

"I think we'll drive," I said.

Two minutes later, we had Elijah's Crocs on and we were in the car. Then I remembered that I'd cleaned the cat box out with with a hose and had left it to dry in the sun. We weighed the situation. Regina and I both agreed that it would be better to come home from the emergency room to find that Teacake had not pissed all over the bathroom floor.

Soon, we were on our way to a hospital in Glendale.

"This hurts worse than all my other boo-boos," Elijah said.

"It is worse than all your other boo-boos," I said.

Then we told him about our great boo-boos past. Regina got her lip bit by a dog when she was little. When I was two, a telephone fell on my nose. And when I was 16, I accidentally sliced my wrist while trying to open a plate-glass window. I'm not sure if these stories made Elijah feel better. He still had the bloody kitchen towel, and he clutched it tightly.

We waited in the emergency room for a while. The triage nurse determined that we could. Apparently, there were a lot of people in Glendale last Sunday who were having trouble breathing. Elijah sat calmly and chewed his fingers. This, he informed us, was what he did when he was scared.

I tried to prepare myself mentally for what was to come. At this point, I knew that Elijah was going to be OK. There really hadn't been much doubt after a hairy first couple of minutes. But I also knew that, upon skinning his knee, this kid howls like he's being cut open with a machete. Some tough minutes awaited us.

It wasn't a very long wait once we got into the actual ER. Elijah doodled aimlessly on a coloring book about a rabbit who breaks his arm. This had been a gift from the triage nurse. A nice doctor lady came in and looked at the cut.

"I'm going to clean this with water," she said.

Upon hearing those words, Elijah threw the coloring book on the floor and howled,


The doctor tried to swab the wound. Elijah would have none of it. A nurse came in. He twisted out of her grasp, too.

"Dad," said the doctor, "I'm going to need you to hold him down."

I was ineffective. Before I knew it, there were two doctors and three nurses in the room. It became obvious that Elijah wasn't going to be a willing patient.

"Get the board," said one of them.

They came in with a board with lots of straps attached, and a sheet.

"Elijah," said the doctor, "I'm going to wrap you up like a burrito."


"He's going to sweat a lot," the doctor said to me.

Two nurses and a doctor put Elijah in a sheet and tied his arms and legs up tight. At this point, the poor thing began howling for his mommy. She was right there. I stood off to the side, since I was so choked up with tears I could no longer speak.

"Are you OK, dad?" asked a guy who may have been a doctor or a nurse.

"Gulp," I said.

They cleaned the wound. Then the doctor began applying something called DermaGlue. Apparently, it's all the rage now. Stitches are so 20th Century. Meanwhile, Elijah had been reduced to a sweaty, terrified, gurgling mess. I couldn't speak. The doctors tried to keep him engaged.

"Elijah, how old are you?"

"FWEE!" Elijah shouted.

"Aww," said a nurse. "He's so cute."

"Do you go to preschool?"


"Do you have a girlfriend?"


"What's your favorite TV show?"

I can't help it, but I was thinking, "come on, say Pee Wee, say it, please." Later, Regina admitted that she was thinking the same thing.



I hate The Backyardigans.

When it was over, Elijah fell sobbing into Regina's arms. The medical crew scattered.

"Say thank you," Regina said.

"THANK YOU FOR HELPING ME!" Elijah moaned.

"Aw," I heard again. "He is so cute."

Even when he's in pain, I thought, my kid plays well to an audience.

Regina had a meeting that night, so it was up to me to put Elijah to bed. We read some books and hung out on the couch, tickling each other. Then I put him down and went into the kitchen to make myself a tuna sandwich, using my special recipe of lemon juice, olive oil, dijon mustard, capers, and sea salt, which transforms a can of ordinary tuna into something edible, though still stinky. Elijah caught a whiff.

He peered around the corner, eyes a-glitter.

"Don't forget to save me some tuna for the morning!" he said. And then he went back to bed and immediately fell asleep. He'd obviously recovered from the trauma, but I'd had to witness my only child in pain, and then had to witness him more afraid than he'd ever been. Plus I'd learned, for certain, that The Backyardigans is his favorite TV show. That alone would have made it a rough day.



Yikes. Poor Elijah. Neither of our kids have needed stitches (or Dermaglue) yet - knock on wood - but I live in fear of this. We've been through enough other injuries and sicknesses with them, but it's still hard.

When I was pregnant with our second child and we found out he was a boy, we started going to college hockey games, and we joked that it would toughen us up for this kind of thing. Not so much.

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At least it wasn't the Wiggles.

Wow! What a story. Well told as always. Sounds like you guys did a great job with it. Hope you're doing well!

Thanks. Thanks a lot. I have to watch my 3 year old nephew tomorrow. Maybe I can do the burrito thing. Tell him it's for Halloween.

When I was a kid I played bed trampoline once too often and collected my head on an old gas heater. It was stitches for me. But the doctor gave me a surgical mask and told me that I could be a doctor some day. It went a long way towards easing my pain. A new toy and career advice? The pain in my skull went right away.

Jesus fucking christ. Just reading that is a cringe-fest. I think maybe it counts as a milestone, parent-wise. Cripes.

Head wounds build character.

Let's face it, wounds heal and chicks dig scars.

One day, about twenty years hence, he'll be sitting at the 35'er (or some bar like it) talking up some girl. The convo will come around to the scar which will inevitably be

A)a motorcycle crash,
B)racing accident, or
C)a fight (against three other guys).

I realize that is little consolation, but all three of you held up admirably and you'll be stronger people for it.

Ugh. When I was three, I had to be strapped to the board after I cut my arm right down to the bone. Good traumatizing times.

And when my little guy was four months old, I got to witness a scene much like you described, when he had to have a spinal tap due to a meningitis scare. I've never seen a human being in the throes of such fear.

Kids. The only things scarier than being one is owning one.

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