One time, when I was eight or nine years old, my sister and I decided to aim the lawn sprinkler at the jungle gym in our backyard so that we could more easily slide down the frame’s metal poles. On one of my turns, I slashed open the back portion of my thigh on an exposed screw. I have very few memories of this, other than sitting on our front stoop bleeding wildly while my sister banged wildly on the front door. She was screaming for my parents to open the door, while I simply screamed. My dad, who had been padding around the house with either bare or stocking feet, raced out to start the car without his shoes. Indeed, it’s long been a fond family memory of dad taking me to the emergency room without his shoes. I received a dozen or so stitches for my wound. I have few memories, other than screaming, of the actual procedure.
Today, just after I settled in to relax, I heard Tyler screaming outside. I raced downstairs to find her in the arms of a neighbor boy. Carina was right behind them, saying “Tyler needs to go to the emergency room!” Just before I could ask “What happened?” I saw the gigantic gash on her left calf. The wound was deep, clearly past the layer of fat, and bleeding a lot. The next sixty seconds were a blur: I raced out to the car, in my socks, and pulled forward toward the house. Carina ran in to fetch her purse. The neighbor, still holding Tyler, gently placed her in the backseat. Tyler screamed in pain. Tayler screamed in fear. I screamed for Carina to hurry the hell up and was she coming or not? Carina lept into the passenger’s seat, and I drove toward the hospital.
And then an eerie calm settled.
Tyler stopped screaming, and only occassionally wimpered. Carina, Tayler, and I all offered soothing words of encouragement to her. Tayler gently patted Tyler’s shoulder. Carina applied pressure to the bandana that was plastered over the gaping hole in Tyler’s leg. Quietly Tyler asked “Am I going to die?” We all said “No way!” and I offered several examples of considerably worse disasters from which people regularly recover. I dropped Tyler and Carina off at the front door, and took Tayler with me into the parking lot before joining the others in the ER.
A long time passed. I occupied everyone’s attention for a while as I retold what little I could remember of my own experience with stitches, focusing quite a bit on my dad without shoes. The twins both giggled, and clearly enjoyed the irony of my situation.
I took Tayler home so that I could put on some shoes, thinking that Tyler would be seen while I was away, and would be all ready for discharge shortly after my return. We collected a few things, just to be safe (Tyler’s GameBoy, and Bunny, her favorite stuffed animal), and then headed back.
A lot more time passed.
We watched Cartoon Network on the television in the room. Tyler was exceptionally calm, even a little jocular. She explained what had happened: she had been climbing a tree up the street and fallen. It was (and is still) unclear to me whether she cut herself on the tree on the way down, or on the sidewalk somehow when she landed.
The doctor’s assitant finally came in. She examined the wound, which I couldn’t stomach to watch. It was deep, revealing Tyler’s muscle through the blood. Thankfully it was a clean cut, with no debris or dirt. Thankfully, also, the muscle itself wasn’t damaged; nor was the bone broken. The doctor’s assistant explained to Tyler what was going to happen. Tyler was attentive and observant through this whole process, only asking politely but firmly that the wound not be touched. She sat there, muscle exposed, bleeding, without so much as a whimper as she talked to us. When the poking and prodding began, things changed a little, but not much.
Tyler was extremely worried about the stitches she was to receive. She fiercely, though utlimately unsuccessfully, opposed the anesthetic. She screamed as the needle entered her exposed flesh.
My heart broke, watching her beautiful little face contort in pain and helplessness. It makes me pause even to recall: her eyes scrunched up, her cheeks flushed, brow furrowed, as she rasped “No, please don’t, please stop.”
Tayler screamed, desperate that her sister stop being hurt. Carina ultimately had to take Tayler out of the room, to let her calm down. I stayed with Tyler, who continued to ask politely but plaintatively that the whole thing just please stop please don’t do any more. The doctor’s assistant was pleasant throughout, soothingly explaining each action she was performing without trying to overly sugar coat an obviously unpleasant experience.
First the inner tissue was stitched, which proved to be uncomfortable, but not exactly painful for Tyler. She watched a few stitches, then had to look away as her brain told her that this really should hurt like the dickens no matter what the nice lady was saying. She concentrated hard on Cartoon Network for a few more stitches, then peeked a glance at the last few. When the outer tissue was worked on, though, she resolutely did not look. She set her jaw, and squeezed my hands. Again my heart broke, seeing this tender little girl toughing it out.
And then it was all over, except for the cleanup. Carina brought Tayler back just as the last stitch was being completed. The hole in Tyler’s leg was now a black V, comprised in total of 22 stitches; 10 on the inside, and 12 out. As the doctor’s assistant was cleaning the blood away from the closed wound, Tyler winced, and again asked “Please don’t. Please stop. Don’t.” When this was ignored, Tyler said brightly “I like your sense of humor, but I don’t like your touch.”
As we were waiting for the discharge papers, all the anxiety and fear and hysteria ebbed. Tyler began making jokes, and looking forward to talking to all her friends about the stitches. I simply marvelled at how resilient she was. I wasn’t that cheery after my stitches, I know.