Wednesday, May 04, 2005


In Which I Talk Off the Top of My Head...

By the time we got on the highway to head to the Distant Hospital with the Excellent Pediatric ER, the Brownie's head was starting to ache and she wanted to hear more stories about someone else's pain. Especially if that person had done something stupid and/or funny to cause his own pain. Especially if that someone was me.

Earlier, when I had tried to calm my son (who was having an extreme empathetic reaction to all the blood pouring out of his sister's head) by explaining she was not leaking brains, he accused me of not really knowing if that was so. But in fact, if my life has prepared me for any aspect of parenthood, it would be in the niche category of Coping with Head Wounds. There are so many instances of head injury in my own life, it's a wonder I don't simply go about my day wearing a football helmet with a pillow strapped around; so many moments where I have felt the sharp knock, heard the dull, bone-conducted sound of the melon splitting, seen the sparks of light before the gray muzziness crept in at the edges.

On the drive in, in the waiting room, and in the exam room waiting for the kind doctor with the needle and thread, I shared some of those moments with The Brownie:

The Tuffet Tumble of 1970
We're at Storyland, a regional theme park in the White Mountains. My parents position my 2-year-old self on Miss Muffet's Tuffet for a photo. The gimmick of this attraction was that a park worker would manipulate a giant plastic spider on a string and it would drop down beside you, scaring the curds and whey out of you while your parents preserved the look of horror for all eternity. But the park employee fouls up the string somehow, causing the spider to rappel down from its hiding place at a dizzying speed. It swings in a short, fast circle, smacking me in the forehead and knocking me backwards off the tuffet. I am found scraped up and crying but otherwise unharmed. For years afterward, my brother would recite the Little Miss Muffet rhyme, always ending with "...along came a spider, AND WHACKED HIM IN THE HEAD!"

The Sheet Metal Mishap of 1972
On a rainy Sunday, I am sent to the garage to retrieve my father, who is working on some welding project. I slip on the wet garage steps and fall head-first onto the razor-sharp edge of a roll of sheet metal. I am knocked cold and come to on the couch, my ashen father holding a bloody rag to the side of my head. The edge of the sheet metal has missed my right eye by less than an inch, and opened a flapping gash at my temple. (I didn't tell this part, but the doctor who was called in to stitch me up was a total prick. He was pissed off about coming in on a Sunday and took it out on me. I was stitched without anesthetic. Nobody told me what was going to happen and the doctor wouldn't even let my mom in the room while they sewed me up. When it was over, she barred the doctor from leaving and told him off while I clutched her leg and whimpered. As the prick doctor brushed by her, I threw up on his loafers.)

The Unzipped Head of 1976
Late for school one winter morning, I run to my room to retrieve a book. Coming back down the hall, I slip and fall flat on my back. Somehow my parka gets bunched up behind me and when my head hits, it lands squarely on the metal zipper of my own coat. My mom finds me flailing in my own blood. Four years has not dulled my memory of the last time I got stitches and I beg my mom not to take me to the doctor. After washing out the wound and deciding it's pretty superficial, she agrees. I still have a zipper-like scar on the back of my head.

The Dope on The Rope, 1978
Living in the Midwest, we have a giant tree in the backyard from which hangs a length of thick rope that we call "the Tarzan swing." One day, I try to swing from the rope upside down, as I have seen Spider-Man do in the comics. As soon as I invert myself, I lose my grip and plummet four feet to the ground, landing hard on my head. I hear a crack as I land--so do my friends--and am sure I have finally broken my neck, as my mom had always predicted I would. It turns out I landed on a twig that had snapped when I hit it. But I sprain my neck and can't move my head for a week.

The Lawnmower Mishap of 1980
Helping my father fix our ancient riding lawn mower. I am the dutiful son handing tools over his shoulder while he tweaks the engine. For a long time he doesn't hand back or ask for any more tools. This is because he has finished his work and is about to yank the pull start. He doesn't tell me this, however, so when I turn to see what's going on, I catch his elbow just as he's yanking back on the pull cord. He conks me in the forehead and knocks me over. While he turns to see if I'm okay, the mower roars to life and tears off across the yard by itself. "Well, at least we know it's fixed," he says.

Night of the Skiing Head, 1987
My first time night-skiing at a little local place in New Hampshire. I've been skiing since I was 4 and figure I can take the difficult trail first time off the lift. But on the dim, sodium-lit trails, I can't see the patches of glare ice until I'm on top of them. I shoot down the hill too fast, barely able to keep my balance. Up ahead, a boy crosses my juggernaut path and I must heroically divert into the ravine! I flip and skid down the embankment on my head. When I come to my senses, I see bright lights sparking in my field of vision and I'm paralyzed. I start to panic, then realize I can't move because I'm wrapped in 12 feet of orange webbed fence. Also, there is snow in my underwear. Later at the ER I'm diagnosed with a mild concussion and, again, a sprained neck.

Crash-Test Dummy, 1989
In college, racing back to my apartment in my shit-brown Chevy Chevette. Suddenly I spy a pile of broken glass on the road! I swerve to avoid it...and collide head on with a Ford Bronco that has just emerged from a nearby parking lot. I am not wearing a seat belt (for the last time in my life) and so shoot out of my seat, heading for the windshield. At the last second, my forehead catches on the sun visor, which crumples like paper, but succeeds in cushioning me when I finally hit the glass and crack it. The Chevette is totaled, but I miraculously emerge with nothing more than a cut on my forehead. And yet another sprained neck.

Impale-a with a Nail-a, 1990
Helping my parents tear out an old farmhouse they're remodeling, I find myself in the tiny attic, under the eaves, pulling out plaster and wood. When my dad comes to bring me a soda, I turn and stand straight up into a rusty nail that is sticking out of a rafter. For an awful moment I am stuck fast, then pull myself free with a gruesome slurping noise that sounds awfully loud to me. At the hospital, they give me a tetanus shot and fill the hole with some kind of goop. I forget the name of it because they give me some really good painkillers. Best head injury ever.

The Softball League Loop-de-Loop of 1995
My first year playing for the company's recreational softball league, I am digging out a high pop fly. I am running as fast as I can, but I still won't make it in time. I make one of those flying dives like you see in baseball all the time. Except my outstretched glove misses the softball completely and the ball hammers me on the very crown of my head, driving me into the ground like a tent peg. I do three complete somersaults before coming to rest near second base. I try to open my eyes, but my right eye is smarting because I seem to have a drop of sweat in it. Then I hear a woman on our team squeal and I realize it's not sweat, but a river of blood that is pouring off the top of my eyebrow. When my face hit the dirt, the edge of my glasses was driven into my brow, cutting it like a can opener. I wash my eye out at the fountain and once the wound clots to a bloody crust, I come back out on the field and actually make the game-ending catch. Later that season, I am voted Rookie of the Year.

Grown-up Cranial Traumas, through 2005
Brained by countless wooden blocks, Barbie dolls and hard plastic dinosaurs, all wielded by unthinking children. Cracked skulls with dog while pretending to be a dog. Hit with assorted women's shoes, a ring of keys, and a tomato, all hurled with scary accuracy by furious spouse. Vigorous repeated contact with bed headboard (spouse also involved). Realize these are either too pedestrian to mention or perhaps not quite appropriate for the audience, so I don't tell them.

In the end, The Brownie's own injury turned out to be far less of a trauma than most of mine. At the pediatric ER, we were assigned a woman named Angela whose sole job was to keep The Brownie in the loop on what was going to happen. She was honest and direct, and demonstrated on a stuffed doll exactly how the two stitches would be sunk in the back of her head. And yet, somehow she made it sound like a neat thing to do.

Indeed, the only one who suffered a bad moment was yours truly. In the interest of keeping me busy (and out of the way), a nurse handed me some latex gloves and an anesthetic lidocaine swab and instructed me to hold it on The Brownie's laceration until the doctor came in. She plopped the swab in my right hand, but I am left-handed. I switched hands, parted my baby's matted hair...and saw clearly for the first time the quarter-inch wide gaping hole in the scalp of my sweet angel child of light. I instantly plugged the hole with the swab and held it there, but the image was burned in my mind. To keep myself from uttering a gasp or alarming noise of any kind, I instinctively put my hand to my mouth. Of course, it was my right hand. The hand that had briefly been holding the lidocaine swab. My bottom lip and chin went numb instantly. When I spoke, I sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher.

When stitching time came, Angela produced an enormous bag of spinning toys and other eye candy and the Brownie watched mesmerized while the doctor went to work. My good brave girl (I tried to tell her that, but it came out "Magooblavurl.") She did everything they told her to do, didn't move her head at all and didn't cry once during the whole thing.

When we returned to the crowded waiting room, her brother reacted as though she'd been raised from the dead. He ran to her and hugged her, but that was all I could see because my eyes got all blurry. I would never wish ill on anyone, especially my family, but sometimes I think a little crisis is not a bad thing, insofar as it shakes you out of your complacency and helps you to realize how much you love and appreciate one another, and the good things you have.

"Did you cry?" the Big Brother asked, crying.

"No!" The Brownie said in a loud voice. "My friend Angela talked to me the whole time. And Daddy put some stuff on his face to make him talk funny."

Her Lovely Self turned to look at me.

I shook my head. "Id nebber habbened. Sheesh jud kibbing."

And so we made our way home, the adrenaline ebbing, fatigue overtaking all of us.

Well, except for the dog.

Who, in his extremity, in some misplaced heroic effort, battered his kennel so badly that he managed to burst through the top of it and get free. When we pulled into the driveway, the headlights of the car shone on his excited leaping form, framed there in the front window, which was covered with approximately 375,000 desperate noseprints. I swear I thought he was going to come right through the glass when we got out of the car. I went in first, hoping to corral him, but as soon as I got near him, he whizzed on my leg, then feinted left and dashed right, bolting past me and up the stairs, where Her Lovely Self had carried The Brownie to put her to bed. Big Brother and Her Lovely Self followed suit almost immediately. The dog positioned himself in the Brownie's doorway and in seconds his doggy snores filled the hallway.

As we would discover, the dog had reason to be exhausted. In our absence, he had torn the downstairs apart. The place looked like a crime scene, complete with bloodstains. Chairs were overturned, sofa cushions were dragged to the floor. Anything that had The Brownie's blood on it was chewed or clawed in some way: the windowsill, patches of the carpet. The phone that still had my bloody handprint on it was missing. (When I finally recovered it from underneath the sofa, I discovered to my dismay that the dog had managed to activate the speed dial twice, calling first my mom (great...just great) and then my office. I have a four-minute message in my voicemail, all snuffling noises and indistinct growling). To complete the destruction, he managed to liberate the roll of toilet paper from the bathroom and string it from room to room, which I think must be a union requirement among all dogs who freak out when they're alone in a house.

But clean-up could wait til morning, I decided. For now, all I wanted to do was join my family in sleep.

I checked The Brownie one last time, then padded off to my room where my pillow waited for my own scarred and weary head.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

glad that turned out well, and it is very sweet that her brother loves her so much. your story does make getting stitches sound less scary.
I'm glad it all turned out ok. I hate to say I told you I don't - that dog got you good man!
Now I have to go change my pants cause you made me laugh so hard I peed in them.
All those head injuries explains a lot ;) My fav has to be The Lawnmower Mishap of 1980, your Dad certainly didn't raise no wimps.
I don't think I've ever laughed so hard at a blog entry before. (The part about the dog, not the injured kid of course!) I was trying to read it to hubby but couldn't stop guffawing long enough to get it all out. Yes, guffawing!

I can't believe you've had head injuries from both a hammer AND a nail.

Glad the kid's ok! (She really does look older than she is BTW.)
I'm with Rurality - I was busting a gut reading first your litany of head trauma followed up by the dog calling your Mom. :)

Glad to know the Brownie's injury was not too serious. Sounds like she takes after her Dad with resilience to head wounds! :)
That was a hell of a tale. Thank you for sharing that.

Laughing at head injury stories would be wrong. I know that. I do.

*big ol' grin*

On the other hand, I'm so glad the brownie is okay. Her brother sounds very sweet. And the dog...

Well, we know his heart is in the right place.
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I think I started turning green at about 1990. Glad everyone's okay. :)
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