With summer, in South Africa, comes braais – or as most of the rest of the world knows them, barbeques. I had just lit the fire when our good friends arrived with their 8-month old son for a Saturday afternoon braai. Becs had set out a picnic blanket with a variety of toys for young Myles and Fletcher to play with, while the moms and dad chatted and chilled.
With the fire burning away, I went inside to make the marinade for the chicken, leaving Becs, Lloyd, Ani and the kids outside on the grass snacking happily from a fruit platter Becs had lovingly prepared. While still busy with step one of my marinade (measuring out the olive oil), I heard Becs saying from outside, “Fletcher, don’t stand on the fruit.” A split second later, the follow-up sentence came – and it was one that dropped my stomach – “Babe! Stitches!” My heart sank. I grabbed a dishtowel and ran outside to where Becs was rinsing Fletcher’s foot under the outside tap. It was immediately clear, it was bad. I grabbed his foot with the dishtowel and held onto that tiny foot with all my might. I took him in my arms and Becs went inside to grab the car keys. Lloyd was already reversing his car out the driveway when we climbed into ours and pulled out, leaving our guests to clean up and lock the house. (Thanks guys.)
Arriving at the closest casualty with our two-year-old son screaming and crying in my arms while I tightly held his little foot was a surreal moment. We were ushered in by a nurse, who paled somewhat on lifting the dishtowel and quickly fetched the casualty doctor, who took one look at the wound and began issuing instructions about pain meds and calling the orthopaedic surgeon on call. Once the meds had kicked in, Fletcher allowed the doctor a proper look, which confirmed her thoughts about calling in the ortho.
We were sent down to radiology for a quick x-ray and, shortly returning to casualty, were led to the paed ward for the long wait for surgery (because, obviously, Fletcher had eaten 30 seconds before slicing his foot open, so we had to wait for that to clear his system before they could operate).
When our little man came screaming and raging out of theatre a few hours later, I went into the recovery room to try and settle him, while Becs chatted to the surgeon. Our dear son has never done anyhing in small measures. When he gets sick, he gets pneumonia; when he gets fevers, he gets 40º fevers; and when he stands on a plate and cuts his foot, he cuts through his tendons!
Being a parent is a traumatic, wonderful, terrifying and immensely gratifying experience. It will take you to places you never knew existed and show you parts of yourself you didn’t know you had. You will face your greatest fears, every day, and you will stand up to the biggest, scariest demons and smack them on the head with a plastic hammer that makes a squeaky noise. You will look at what you thought you knew about yourself and be amazed at just how far removed you are from it. And you will love every moment of it – even the ones you dread. Seeing Fletcher on the gurney in that casualty department, with tears cutting through the sunblock we’d applied just moments before everything fell apart, broke my heart. Seeing how he looked at me, pleading eyes begging me to help him, watching him look from me to Becs and back with an expression of why aren’t you doing anythingon his small, tear-stained and blotchy face was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. It’s gut-wrenching. But at the same time, it shows your mettle.
Becs and I are both in the fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how you think about it) position of having been in life or death situations before, so each of us knows that we are pure calm under pressure. Many others aren’t. A lot of people, when faced with life-threatening – or even just slightly hair-raising – situations dissolve into a puddle of hysteria. The trick is to harness the energy that comes from hysteria and channel it, it’s not an easy task but once you master it, cucumbers will have nothing on you in a crisis.
We still don’t know how many stitches Fletch actually had, but I’d guess no less than 10 (plus whatever had to be done internally). We have a follow-up appointment next week with the ortho to check his progress and are hoping for the all-clear, because keeping a busy two-year-old off his feet for a week is no mean feat. Fletcher himself has been an absolute champ! He’s been brave and accommodating, he’s been adorable and endearing and he’s been such a big boy about the whole incident. He weaves a beautiful tale about how he stepped on a plate and it cut his foot, but then the doctor fixed it, complete with dramatic embellishments and wild gestures.
The biggest thing we’ve taken from this incident is really how quickly accidents happen. Fletcher was less than a metre from two adults when it happened. He wasn’t doing anything naughty or intentional – he was just walking to get a toy for “baby Myles” and he mis-stepped – put his foot down in the wrong place, as clumsy toddlers are wont to do. The thing to remember, when accidents do happen, is not to berate yourself. Every child ends up in the emergency room at some point in their lives, whether they’ve fallen off a jungle gym at school (like I did) or stepped on a rusty nail (like I did) or run into their cousin’s bicycle handlebars and sliced a chunk out of their faces (like I did) – accidents happen. Life happens. Go with it. Be in that moment for as long as that moment lasts. Be present. Be intentional. Be an active participant and not a passenger. Try to remain calm and if you can’t, channel your hysteria, use it to help you focus – you’ll be amazed how well those panic hormones focus your mind.