Wrapped in a purple pashmina in place of a shirt, my daughter, ML, lay in my lap, sometimes still, sometimes whimpering, sometimes crying, as my husband carefully drove the long, long mile to the hospital. I was careful to try to keep her right arm tucked against her and away from the bumps and nudges that could unintentionally bring her to tears. “Mama hold,” I said, echoing her request made in times of sadness, chanting it as if the repetition could ward off more tears. “Mama hold baby. Mama love baby.” We don’t really baby talk her – we never have – but those are the few remnants of baby talk that have lingered. With a slight jostle, she’d cry, the kind of sound that fills you with fear as does a siren in the middle of the night, wailing that makes you shiver and draw the sheets more tightly around you.

The ride was short, and so was the wait. The injury hadn’t taken much time, either.

“Dip!” our daughter will shout, her version of “flip” as she asks to be flipped again and again by holding her arms and flipping her over, front to back. And that’s apparently just what she and her daddy had been doing, as they’d done so many times before, while I was at yoga the day before yesterday, feeling relaxed, refreshed, and restored. All of that was burned away as I walked in the door. She was crying, her face blotchy from tears, even while my husband tried to comfort her and and distract her with Mole, a Czech cartoon she calls “Gustav Mole” after her beloved puppet. Pain crying sounds different from frustrated or tired crying, and when Matthew explained what had happened (flipping led to crying and holding her arm funny; he’d taken her shirt off to see it better but didn’t want to hurt her further by putting it back on her) and asked if we should go to the ER or stay home, I immediately said, “ER,” and we grabbed a bag with her water bottle and a few books, put a diaper on her (she usually wears undies while awake), and set out for the brief trek across town.

The worst was yet to come – although not the worst as you might expect it to be. After a first false visit – “Is she the one vomiting?” the doctor asked in confusion, as ML sniffled and nursed for comfort, no vomit to be seen – the ER doc came by to see us, on purpose. We explained the situation, and he took her arm in his, gently twisting it; the gentle touch, however, did not keep her from more tears. The doctor went on to explain  how she had nursemaid’s elbow – a dislocated elbow common in children under five before ligaments have tightened. It was now back in place, he said, and she should feel better by the next day. No sense in getting x-rays and spending unnecessary money on pictures. Like many fearful, doubtful parents, I was worried that it wasn’t such a simple thing. I touched her wrist then, and she cried again. He did the same, and she cried again. X-rays after all.

And that was the worst part. I couldn’t be near the x-ray machine, so I couldn’t hold her; Matthew had to, and as the x-ray technician moved ML’s arm into position on the plate on the table in front of her, she wept more loudly than she had before, pleading, urgent, hysterical: “MA-ma! MA-ma! Mama hold!” She reached towards me as I stood, uncertain, a room away. In her pain and need for unmet comfort, she sounded bereft. If we’d been in a valley of endless echoes, I couldn’t have felt worse. Was she crying just because of the pain? Was she feeling like I’d abandoned her? Daddy held her and loved her, and I was grateful – but being unable to comfort your child in need is like being covered, head to toe, in paper cuts: there’s nothing to do to fix it, but oh, how it hurts.

And then it was over. “Mama hold,” I said, arms outstretched, and she came to me. All was clear on the x-rays. We were free to go home. It was the shortest ER visit I’ve ever made, and we waved to the vomiting girl and her parents as we left for our short trip home, grateful for what comfort we could offer, sure to be more careful, thankful that this small child of ours would remain healthy and whole at least a little while longer.

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“Emergency Room.” Photograph. “For 20-Somethings, Everything’s an Emergency.” Futurity. Futurity, 2009 – 2011. Web. 17 Feb. 2012. JPEG file.

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