I really didn’t have my back turned to him. I was bent over in the garden, weeding. And the Boy, when we was fifteen months old, had toddled up the front porch steps. He was fine. I was right next to him. Everything was great.
And then, in a paralyzing moment, the Boy cartwheeled down the front porch steps and landed on his face.
I’m not exaggerating.
In my memory, time really did slow down. I reached out my arms in a feeble attempt to catch him. In my mind, I can still see the tiny shoes shaped like thick golf clubs going in a perfect circle over his head.
His face was broken. Literally. His lower jaw was shaped in a V, jutting out from his face. He looked like a duck with a broken bill.
My baby, my darling and beloved child was horrifically hurt . And it was my fault. I should have been paying more attention to him. I should have kept him from going up the steps. I should have walked up and down the steps with him. I should….
I know blood was everywhere. I know that I was supposed to go visit my best friend that day. I know that the pediatrician’s office hadn’t opened yet and I was desperate and went numb and dialed 911 even though it really wasn’t an emergency. But my son, my beautiful son was no longer perfect.
I’m not that shallow. It’s just that my son’s face wasn’t broken and due to my inattention his face was broken.
I begged the dispatcher to stay on the line with me. I needed a source of comfort as I waited the excruciating moments for the ambulance to arrive. No lights. no sirens. No emergency except for the pounding of my heart.
By the time the ambulance arrived, the pediatrician’s office had opened. I was given the choice of them driving me to the hospital or me going first to the pediatrician’s office and then going to the hospital if needed.
I knew greater emergencies would happen. I thanked the EMT’s, strapped my son into his car seat, and drove to the pediatrician’s office, my heart in my throat, my ability to control my emotions transparent and an illusion of calm.
I brought my son into the office. By now, I know we both were streaked with blood. I remember so little, just colors of panic, my heart pounding. A nurse coming out and telling me to take my son to the hospital, to the ER.
The fifteen minute drive was me sobbing to God that my son’s teeth wouldn’t be removed. The fifteen minute drive was me begging God for forgiveness, me sobbing to my son that I was sorry, me making deals for anything that would guarantee healing. I screamed at the people not driving fast enough and then tried to talk cheerfully to the Boy.
We arrived at the hospital and the nurses were amazing. Comforting. Loving. Compassionate. They recognized my grief, my shame, and my guilt and did everything they could to show me that I wasn’t a horrible mother, that I wasn’t abusive. They cheered up the Boy, lifted my spirits, and placed us in a room where the Boy ran circles around the bed with me chasing him.
We had normalcy except that my son’s lower jaw still looked like a broken duck’s bill.
A child’s mouth should never be shaped like a bloody V.
X-rays. One of the Boy’s teeth had already fallen out and we needed to establish that it wasn’t lodged in his throat, his stomach. Everything was clear. His skeleton was perfect, a beautiful polar negative of my grief.
We were directed to go to a pediatric orthodontist…dentist…oral surgeon. I can’t even remember the right word. A nurse or doctor or someone in the ER gave me a phone number, an address, a set of good wishes.
By this point, I broke down. I called my husband and begged him to help me. I was trying so hard to be strong, so hard to be the independent woman who could handle emergencies on her own.
And here is where I found both tragedy and blessing.
My husband arrived and I tried to cry on his shoulder but he shooed me aside and picked up our son. My husband was still dressed for work, wearing a beautiful white shirt and colorful tie. And in a moment, he went from having a pressed, perfectly white shirt to a bloodstained, worthless button-down shirt.
And then, we were called to the back.
The oral surgeon didn’t take our insurance.
The oral surgeons who would take our insurance wouldn’t treat toddlers.
Our son required immediate surgery that was going to cost us at least two thousand dollars out of pocket.
But we didn’t have two thousand dollars. We had nothing remotely similar to that money.
We were going to have to find someplace else to take our son, and the doctor, seeing our panic, our desperation invited us to stay in his office (even though we weren’t going to be using his services) and use his phones to make as many phone calls so we could find proper treatment.
For the next hour..maybe more..I can’t remember anymore, my husband and I were on two different phones, talking to pediatric oral surgeons who wouldn’t take our insurance or talking to oral surgeons who took our insurance but wouldn’t treat pediatrics. A hospital in the middle of the city would take our insurance but required us to go through the ER again. My husband has gone through this emergency room…he said we could be waiting for hours. He refused to take our son there.
My son fell asleep on my shoulder, drooling blood and spit. I contacted the insurance company again and spoke to one representative who told me that it was impossible for my son to receive care and have it covered. I thanked the person and grew my backbone and asked to speak to the supervisor so I could confirm everything.
And somehow, suddenly, things started falling into place. We were being denied coverage because we hadn’t received a referral from our original doctor (the pediatric nurse who sent us to the ER). I explained that we had been referred to the ER who had referred us to the oral surgeon. Somehow, I started stringing together the right words.
The insurance company insisted on speaking to the oral surgeon (remember, the one who would help us for two thousand dollars but then said we could use his office even if we weren’t going to pay him for anything). And the insurance company put the doctor on hold.
And that blessed man stayed on the phone, on hold, for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes during which he listened to crappy elevator music and reminders that our business was important to the corporation. And then, suddenly, he lost his temper. He let go of the receiver, turned to me and said, “I go to South America and do this surgery for free. I’m taking care of you as well.”
Or something like that.
I can’t remember. I remember the sudden flush of relief. The realization that my son was going to be fine, was going to have his perfect face once more. We were escorted to the surgery room where the nurses began prepping my son for surgery.
They gave him a shot of cat tranquilizer because he couldn’t be anesthetized due to his age. And at that moment, my son suddenly started panicking, screaming and crying, almost as though he had been hurt all over again.
Without thought, I leaned over and stared him in the eyes, stroked his hair, and started singing to him. When I was pregnant to him, I used to sing “Baby Mine” from Dumbo/Beaches. And while my son laid on the operating table, he stared at me in fear and then slowly relaxed, his fists unclenching, his legs drooping back on to the table.
Even the nurses relaxed, one saying, “I’m ready to go to sleep.”
And just as I finished singing and the nurse said that lovely sentence, the oral surgeon, my angel entered the room and said that insurance was going to cover the surgery.
A two thousand dollar surgery was going to cost me ten dollars. But the surgeon was going to be paid. And my son was going to be healed.
Pat and I were invited to leave. We went to the waiting room? A different room? I can’t remember. I know that we agreed we were going to have take-in for dinner, Chinese food and wine coolers and beer. Comfort food. Anything to assuage the sadness.
Fifteen minutes, maybe ten. Possibly five. That’s how long the surgery lasted.
The surgeon ended up removing two more teeth, saying that our son, given his age, would merely poke and pull at the teeth until they finally had to be removed anyhow. And we didn’t want to have to re-experience this day. My moment of sadness that my son’s teeth were gone was immediately shredded with the mere idea of having to re-live this day.
My husband and I packed our son into my car. I took the Boy home, thanking God for the doctor. Thanking God for giving me a man who was truly an angel.
The pictures of my son for the next five or so years always show him smiling. If you look very carefully, you might notice the huge gap of the missing three front teeth. But I see a baby who was healed by a man who had tucked his wings under his scrubs and his halo under his hat.
He healed my son. But he also healed me. And every now and then, I’ll see his plastic surgery commercials on television and I re-live that day for a second. But what I remember is not the anger at the insurance company. I don’t remember the panic anymore.
I remember my son’s beautiful smile, even if he was missing three teeth.
I remember the doctor saying that he would do the surgery for free.
I remember the angel saving my boy and giving my husband and me the reassurance that goodness exists.