My son fell off a swingset yesterday. He fell not from the swing itself but from the crossbar that holds the frame together. Factoring in his own height, he fell about five feet and hit his head on the concrete so hard I could hear it. Just thinking about that moment makes my eyes burn.
He had climbed up there while I was on the phone. I was right there, trying to stop him but, ironically, I was afraid that by fighting him, I’d make him fall. So I went around the frame to get behind him as I was positive he would end up falling backwards but before I could put a hand on him, and in the blink of an eye, he fell forward and hit the concrete along the outside of swingset. I will never forget that slow motion fall to the ground and the sound of his head hitting the unyielding cement. I screamed.
I inspected his head for the blood I was certain would be pouring out of it but miraculously, he wasn’t bleeding.
I carried him inside while he cried like I’ve never hear him cry before. It was relentless and mournful. I put ice on his head but by then, I couldn’t remember which side hit the ground. I kept asking him to show me where it hurt but he wouldn’t answer. He just kept asking to lay down and kept blinking his eyes like he couldn’t see.
I was terrified.
As I dialed the pediatrician, I replayed in my mind all the stories I’ve ever heard about people hitting their heads a lot less hard than he did and dying from it. I thought about my friend who hit his head when he jumped from the car we were in together. His brain swelled from the impact and he didn’t make it.
The pediatrician suggested I bring him in immediately rather than go to an emergency room as it would definitely take longer to get even a basic head injury assessment.
I hung up the phone and began to sob uncontrollably. I felt like I had failed my son by not being able to prevent his fall.
And for the first time ever, I considered my childrens’ mortality for more than a half a second.
I’ve read many blogs written by parents who have lost a child and I have cried tears for them as I tried to grasp their pain. But I’ve never, ever allowed myself to imagine the horror of losing a child of my own. Even though the ever present spectre of death has been a part of my life since I was a child, I’ve willfully never let my mind go to that dark place until yesterday.
I cried as I put my son’s shoes on, knowing I shouldn’t do so in front of him, but powerless to stop. He’d said almost nothing since the fall maybe 15 minutes prior and he seemed very out of it but as I cried, he climbed off my lap, gently wrapped my face with his two tiny hands and kissed me. My heart ached.
As we drove to the doctor’s office, I forced myself to not cry, opting instead to make silent bargains with God.
After an extensive examination, his doctor concluded that while there was a very small chance he *might* lose consciousness, it was okay for him to go home as long as we agreed to wake him every three hours to make sure he was not unconscious. If he was or if he started vomiting, we were to go to the ER immediately. She also said it was a miracle his head didn’t split open from the impact of hitting such a hard surface from five feet. My sentiments exactly.
P made it through the night okay but he might be feeling some minor effects from the fall as he’s been very fussy today and a wee bit clumsy, hitting his poor little head again on my desk. Cognitively, he seems okay and I’m guardedly optimistic that he’s going to be wonderfully, perfectly fine in a day or two. I hope.
There is nothing on this earth that will make you appreciate your children more than thinking you might lose them. It’s not that I needed to be reminded to appreciate my son but in the chaos that is our everyday life, it’s easy to forget that my children are really the only things in my life that truly matter to me. I don’t want to lecture or preach but please, look at your kids and take in their essence; their goodness; their ability to love you unconditionally. And then imagine if all of that was gone from your life.
I really believe P is going to be okay and aside from knocking a couple years off my life, I’m fine, too. It was a horrible event that’s now over. The one good thing that came from it is a very pointed reminder to not take life for granted — yours or anybody else’s.
I just wanted to say thank you to all you nice people who sent their well wishes and congrats via email, comments and twitter for my little 15 seconds of fame in the Wall Street Journal. Most of you were not friends, as one might have expected but rather total strangers (and maybe new readers?) who found their way here from the Journal. Your kind and very unexpected words made me feel really good. I realize now it was kind of silly of me to feel so oddly self-conscious about the whole thing because I am good enough, I am smart enough and doggone it, people like me! And If I ever channel Stuart Smalley again, pinky swear that you’ll throw me in front of a bus.