You’ll recall that when we last left our hero (me), I was leaving the ER with Sam and his newly stitched chin, and I foreshadowed that we’d soon be back in the hospital. And we were.
It was a Thursday and Sam’s birthday. Courtesy of our nurse-neighbor—it takes a village—Sam had gotten his stitches out the day before. So he woke up on Thursday feeling fresh and five, and with no school that day, ready to carpe the diem! His best friend Jimmy was hanging out with us all day because his mom had to work.
My plan was to stop by their preschool for a quick parent-teacher conference and then take them to Lego Land or Chuck E. Cheese or Sky Zone or some other very nightmarishly loud germ-fest swarming with little kids. I’d treat them to lunch and we’d all be home by 1 o’clock for Tess’s nap. It would be glorious!
But as we were leaving preschool, our plans for the day changed. I had paused for a moment in the lobby to say hi to a friend and one of Nate’s former teachers. Tess held back with me, but Sam and Jimmy darted out the doors.
A moment later, I pushed through the door with Tess, smiling and ready to carpe my own diem, but Jimmy was already sprinting back toward me. Sam was a few yards behind him, his head thrown back in agony. His eyes were squeezed shut and his mouth was wide, wailing. From where I was standing, I could see the blood on his chin starting to pool and bubble, forming into a large bulb about to drop down onto the “Birthday star” sticker on his shirt.
Are you serious?! I thought to myself. I’m not the quickest processor in the world, but I could already see that he had ripped open his scar less than 24 hours after the stitches were taken out. This is a problem.
“I hate you, Jimmy! Jimmy, you’re the worst!”
I don’t think Jimmy caused the fall, but Sam’s the type to blame the sofa when he falls off it. Or the bike when he crashes it. Or the yearbook editor when he’s attributed to an offensive quote or insensitive photo. He’ll make a great politician one day.
I wrangled him by the sleeve of his trademark Captain America sweatshirt and dragged him back toward the entrance of the building.
“Um, um, we were trying to ice skate!” Jimmy was explaining over Sam’s wails. He and Tess were skipping trying to keep up.
“What happened?” the teacher said, holding the door open for us.
“He busted his chin open—again! He got his stitches out yesterday and it looks like he hit the same spot when he slipped on the ice just now.” I would repeat some variation of those words about forty more times that day.
I rushed into the bathroom, squatted down to the knee-high counter, and grabbed some paper towels. If our last experience taught us anything, it’s that wads of paper towels solve most problems. But there was definitely more blood this time.
The teacher ran to grab an ice pack while my friend fumbled trying to figure out how to help.
“I don’t know what to do,” I muttered to myself, “I guess we have to go back to Children’s Mercy…but I thought they said they wouldn’t be able to stitch it up again…”
I glanced down at Sam and I could see the blood coming out in spurts. He was still screaming preschool obscenities at Jimmy and pushing the ice pack away like it was kryptonite. The hospital seemed to be our only option.
“Jimmy, do you want me to drop you off at your Aunt Brooke’s house?” I asked as I piled everyone into the car.
“No, I want to go to the hospital!” Jimmy is a true friend. Very forgiving.
My friend knocked on the car window as I turned the key in the ignition.
“Here,” she said, handing me a sleeve of Lifesavers. “Candy makes everything better!”
I thanked her and we pulled away in the direction of Children’s Mercy.
“Patient’s name and birthday?” the admitting nurse asked when we arrived at the ER ten minutes later.
“Um, Sam Greenhalgh. And his birthday is… TODAY!”
“Today’s your birthday??! And you’re HERE?”
Sam smiled, jutting his chin out with pride, and still clutching his paper towels, trotted over to play with the waiting room puzzles that Jimmy and Tess had already found.
I’ll leave out most of the details from our visit so it doesn’t start to feel like Groundhog’s Day. Because that’s how it felt to me. There was another round of numbing gel and once again, Sam lay perfectly still when the stitching started, watching the latest season of Ninjago on his iPad loaner.
The Child Life Specialist brought bins of toys for Tess and Jimmy to play with, and they alternated between those, whatever cartoons happened to be on TV, and sidling up to Sam to see what he was doing on the iPad they had brought him.
When the doctor and nurses got to work, Jimmy positioned himself so he could get a better view of the operation. Standing on a large blue chair at the foot of the stretcher, he propped his elbows at Sam’s feet and rested his chin on his palms while Tess scooted the hospital-issued toy cars and trucks around at the nurses’ feet. They’re true professionals, those Children’s Mercy nurses.
By the time we left, Sam walked out with a birthday balloon, a Hot Wheels toy, more stickers, and the promise of lunch.
Had Sam stumbled upon a new birthday present market? In addition to gifts from grandparents, aunts, and uncles, now he gets gifts from the hospital staff? Is Sam a genius?
Six stiches this time, one more than last time, and the recommendation that since he’s “accident prone” we avoid too much physical activity for the next few weeks.
But, as I type this sentence, I can hear Nate asking Sam if he can push him down the steps. At least he asked.