Worst day, right here.— Neil Lee (@neilio) March 6, 2013
I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not it was a smart idea to write about this, but in the interests of being, at the least, a cautionary tale I’m getting this out of my head. Besides, as Nora Ephron’s mother used to tell her repeatedly, “everything is copy”.
The tl;dr version of the story is: I broke my baby.
Baby Let’s Play House
Before I go on, I should provide some context.
My wife and I were expecting our second child, a boy, due in the beginning of March. To our great surprise, The Baby Now Known As W decided March was too damn late and decided that the end of January was a more appropriate time to jazz hands his way into the world.
(That story, and the story of the roller coaster ride that immediately followed W’s birth will have to wait for another confessional.)
To say we were caught off guard would be, as the cliché goes, an understatement. We already have a 5-year-old son and had kept all of his baby things (and I mean all) piled up in a chaotic heap in our shed, lugged between two different moves in a mix of not wanting to let go and ironic laziness.
Knowing that we had a second son on the way put the HOLY SHIT fear in our eyes, and I proceeded to move almost everything that was in the shed into the house in a fit of “Let’s Get Organized!”
Our basement looked like an episode of Hoarders had collided with Teen Mom.
We managed to get most of the pile sorted and put away when W decided to make the scene. The house was still a disaster, but slap my ass with diaper cream were our onesies and swaddling blankets PRIMED.
Cat’s in the Cradle
W came home after a stressful 2 & 1/2 week hospital stay to much happiness, and we settled in to adjusting to the new normal. It’s amazing how quickly the memory of how to take care of a baby comes back, even after five years. Our reawakening muscle memory, coupled with the fact that W seemed to be a mellow, laid-back baby helped ease the transition.
I was actually quite enjoying having a baby to take care of again, and no, that’s not the Stockholm Syndrome talking.
Now I should introduce our other player in this story: our geriatric cat Raj. We’ve had Raj for 14 years, and as far as we can assert he’s at least 17 years old. If Gilbert Gottfried were a cat, he’d be Raj: whiny, annoying, and petulant. And yet he could be friendly and warm when he needed to be.
Throughout his life Raj has been, well, leaky. The amount of our personal belongings he’d soiled throughout the years is embarrassing to admit; a normal human being would have put him out of his misery a long time ago. But normal? That’s for boring assholes! So we kept him.
Baby Got Back
Necessity turned our living room into Baby Central, with a Pack ‘n’ Play, two infant car seats, a swing, and the rest of the accoutrement required to care for a child crammed in. I had been standing by the stereo trying to find some suitable baby soothing music when I noticed Raj climbing into one of the infant seats.
The thought of Raj decimating an infant seat with his power urine flashed through my mind and I came quickly around the couch to try and pull him out of the seat. At some point my foot caught on something (a swing? the couch? my own left foot?) and I suddenly realized I was falling.
With W in my arms.
I wish I could say some deep-set daddy ninja reflexes kicked in and in microseconds I swivelled my body to protect W, but the truth is my sleep-deprived mind didn’t even remember I was holding him until I was close to the ground. By then, it was too late.
My elbow smashed into the ground, and W bounced out of my arms and onto the hardwood floor. He immediately started shrieking in this horrifying way I had never heard before.
Writers like to describe extreme moments of stress as having a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. I would describe the feeling you get when you realized you just seriously hurt your own child as getting tackled by Terry Tate while someone shoves a small organ-sucking black hole through your anus.
We immediately picked W up and brought him to the bassinet, where I pulled off his sleeper to see if I could see any broken bones. All the while, W shrieked.
Not finding anything obvious I made the decision to bring W into Sick Kids hospital. Toronto East hospital was closer, but anything major got transferred to Sick Kids at some point anyway and I wanted to get the best care as quickly as possible.
I jammed some diapers and wipes into a bag, called a cab, and put W into one of the infant seats. He quieted down a little but was still whimpering, and I noticed a large bump starting to form on the back of his head.
By the time W and I got to the hospital the lump on W’s head had gotten noticeably larger. I rushed into the emergency triage area and after a short wait W was seen by a nurse. Seeing my crestfallen face, she tried to reassure me, saying, “you’re not the first, and you won’t be the last parent to drop your baby.”
This was a refrain I heard multiple times while at the hospital. It’s not exactly reassuring to know there are other people as dumb as you are, but I suppose any solidarity is better than none.
Doing It All For My Baby
Sick Kids is renown for a reason: they provide some of the best, most effective child health care I’ve ever seen. In the two nights and two days we were at Sick Kids W had the following tests arranged and performed:
- Head ultrasound
- Head x-ray
- Head CT scan
- 4 rounds of blood work
- Vitals taken 16 times
- Extensive eyes/opthalmic evaluation
- Head MRI
- Full body x-ray
All through, the staff at Sick Kids were amazing, especially the nurses and doctors in the neurosurgery ward. Kind, patient, caring, thoughtful: these are the qualities you want in any health care system.
These qualities were even more evident after we found out W had severe skull fractures running along both sides of his head.
One huge piece of luck was the CT scan showing W as having just minor bruising on his brain, and just a small amount of blood from the break. Doctors were confident no surgery was needed (to our immense relief), but the skull fracture was bad enough that they wanted to keep W overnight for observation — apparently if anything disastrous was to happen, it’d happen within the first 24 hours.
I stayed with W for two nights while my wife ran around taking care of our other son, getting us fresh clothes, expressing milk for W, and trying to keep our spirits up. I tried to busy myself with the new routine of caring for W while talking to doctors, but the question we were almost too scared to ask was, is there permanent damage?
We spent much of the hospital stay worrying ourselves sick waiting for the test results. The CT scan looked promising, but only an MRI would be able to give us conclusive information how how much damage there was to W’s brain.
Confirming that there was only very minimal bruising and blood on the surface of W’s brain that should heal completely was a relief beyond words.
Baby, scanned for $847.63
The night of the accident the neurologist on call, a jovial, bushy-bearded Scottish man with an accent thick enough to cut haggis noted off-handedly that, “there will be questions in the cold light of day, so I’d prepare for that.” I didn’t realize what he meant until much later, after an unusually long and detailed Q&A I did with the “Pediatric Scan team”. I realized the word “scan” in their name wasn’t a verb, it was an acronym. “SCAN”: Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect.
Knowing there was any suspicion at all that I had done this to W on purpose was sickening, but it was explained later that hospital protocol required that any head injury be investigated by the team. Still, unsettling.
Baby Come Back
Home.— Neil Lee (@neilio) March 7, 2013
So now we’re home. The post-injury care for a baby with a skull fracture is surprisingly straightforward - do what you were doing before, but don’t trip and drop your baby this time, dumb-ass. We had expected the hospital to mount some kind of elaborate head protection gear on W’s head, but infant’s skulls are surprisingly resilient and within 3-6 months it should be like nothing ever happened. The only outward sign that the accident occurred is a cone-shaped swelling at the back of W’s head which is disturbingly pliable. I’m told his head will return to a more spherical form in a couple of weeks.
Conehead aside, W is his normal, gurgling self, and I’m extremely thankful knowing he’ll remember none of this as he grows older. We’re still on guard for developmental issues, but everything we’ve been told points to a full recovery.
The after-care from Sick Kids has also been exemplary, with a detailed explanation of what tests were done and what the results were, as well as multiple follow-ups appointments. They’ve also given us a dedicated phone number to call if we ever had any questions at any point, day or night. “We’d rather you phone us than sit at home and worry, so don’t hesitate to call.” Amazing.
So all’s well that ends well? I guess the coda is still to be played out as we watch W grow and starts to hit development milestones. I can’t let myself think too much about the “what ifs” or I’ll go insane with worry, so I instead clean our house up, organize our crap, and remind myself that life is about learning from one’s mistakes.
I’m paraphrasing here, but I remember reading a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that went something like,
“Learn from other’s mistakes, because you can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”