A few days after "that day" with Aunt Colleen
As a nurse, I’ve been in a lot of crisis situations, dealing with emergencies as just a part of my job. I’ve worked in the Emergency Room, the Operating Room, the Delivery Room, and the ICU. Seeing messed up things and doing what was needed to help fix them was what I did.
So the day I couldn’t fix something was a day I never want to experience again.
We were at my grandpa’s 90th birthday party in Arvada (Denver) at my aunt’s church. We’d eaten and all the kids—second cousins—were playing together around the church, being led by my cousin’s kids who knew the building. I was with Jason in the fellowship hall visiting, enjoying the day, seeing extended family I didn’t see regularly anymore, and celebrating my grandpa.
While catching up with my brother Keith, Charlie came up to me and leaned on me like he needed a hug. I kept talking to my brother, but put my arm around Charlie and pulled him into me. I felt his body language tell me something, and I started paying more attention to him. “What is it, Charlie?” I said. He kept his face buried in my shoulder and I probed deeper. “Charlie? What’s wrong?” Without lifting his head, he held his hand up to me.
I looked down. And I went into shock. I couldn’t process. I couldn’t respond. In my mind, the words just hung there, “I can’t put a bandaid on that. I can’t put a bandaid on that.”
My eyes were glued to his hand. His poor little hand, mangled and covered in blood. I couldn’t process. I just knew parts weren’t where they were supposed to be.
Suddenly his hand was covered. The contact was broken and I looked up. My husband or brother had gently tossed a napkin over his hand, disconnecting me from what I was seeing. Charlie was silently sobbing into my shoulder. I heard Linda, my cousin and also a nurse, say, “I’ll go get my car and drive around. I’ll take you to my hospital. It’s close.”
“Yes, yes,” my mind said. “Doctors. They’ll know what to do. Take us to the doctors.”
My husband helped me up. We carried Charlie toward the door, everyone forming a passageway to the exit, guiding us to go get help with concerned expressions, eyebrows furrowed, heads titled in compassion. Linda was in the driveway in seconds, or minutes, or hours. Time had stopped. We rushed past all the other kids playing on the lawn. I got into the back seat and cradled Charlie, whose sobs were no longer silent, then Jason jumped into the front seat and Linda took off. I don’t know how long the trip was, but I held Charlie, reassuring him—and myself—as we went that we were "going to the doctors, they'll know what to do. They’ll take care of everything. It's going to be okay. The doctors will know what to do. They’ll take care of everything. They’ll fix your hand.” We sat in the back and cried together, clinging to each other, hoping someone somewhere would know what to do.
In the Emergency Room, they asked us if we had the fingers. Oh gosh. “No. No, they’re still attached. Kind of.” Thank God. They rushed us into a room. The did know what to do. Right away we had x-rays and examinations. Then finally, finally, they numbed his hand. Much worse for only a few seconds, I told Charlie. Then it will be better. He had to know it wouldn’t be easy, the shots. But then the relief came. He relaxed, he started to breathe again. I might have a little then too. The x-rays, amazingly, revealed his bones weren’t broken, somehow, a miracle for how crushed his hand was. A gift. So then it was time to stitch it up, put it back together. Make it like it was supposed to be and suture his fingers to heal. The healing could begin. Even then.
Back at the church, my sister Colleen had the sense to take care of our other kids in a way I will be forever grateful for. She sat with them, let them process, then asked them real questions like, “Are you okay? This is really scary. What are you thinking?” The three sat with her around a table strewn with plates of half-eaten forgotten birthday cake. Molly looked at her and asked, “Is Charlie going to die?” All they’d seen was Mom and Dad suddenly rush past them playing on the grass, Charlie cradled and crying in their arms, and maybe the blood, they might have seen all the blood, and a strange car taking their brother away. All the adults were serious and quiet, speaking only in hushed tones and not to the kids, not telling them what was going on. So when Colleen said this is scary, they could finally talk about what they’d seen. “No, no. Charlie isn’t going to die,” Colleen reassured them. “His hand it hurt really bad. But he’s not going to die.”
Later, once Charlie was having a Popsicle in the ER, my parents brought all three siblings into the hospital to visit him. They needed to see with their own eyes that he was okay. The four reconnected. They talked, asked questions, and touched Charlie to make sure he really was there, that he was okay. Later we learned that my brother had discovered the mess at the church where Charlie had tried to take care of his injury himself. Keith found a mop and he cleaned. He could see where Charlie had gone, following his trail with the mop, seeing how he’d tried to tend to it himself, tried to be brave and fix it himself. I thank my brother for taking that on, for helping Charlie and us that way.
What had happened occurred while the kids were playing in a big room and decided to go outside. Charlie held the giant solid fire door when everyone left, then as the last person went through, the door closed and Charlie’s hand was in the hinge side of the door. He was trapped there and couldn’t reach the doorknob, and couldn’t be heard calling for help. He had to extricate himself, had to find a way to get out of there alone. And it caused more damage doing so. Once he was free, he went to the bathroom to wash his hand, but he couldn’t stop the bleeding. He saw the blood washing down the drain and he knew something was really wrong, with that much red. Finally he came to find me, me his mom, the nurse, who was supposed make everything all right.
After the visit at the hospital, my folks took the other three kids home with them and Charlie got the full attention and love of Jason and me. When he was released from the hospital, we went home, stopping to get food because we hadn’t eaten for hours. I didn’t want to eat—couldn't have swallowed anything if I'd tried—but Charlie and Jason could stomach a shake. Once home, they settled onto the couch to watch a hockey game together on TV—vegging on the couch, the perfect prescription after such a harrowing experience. Once they were safely cuddled into the pillows and everything was going to be okay, I went upstairs and called a friend to tell her what had happened. Within about a half second into the conversation, any semblance of control or strength I’d mustered evaporated and I became a blubbering pile on the floor. Charlie was safe now and I didn’t need to hold it together anymore. Charlie was safe.
His hand healed very well in time. White thin scars wrap around his fingers still, and the feeling isn’t right on the surface of one of them, but he’d tell you they’re fine. He doesn’t even notice. It turns out it was okay that I didn’t know what to do, because everyone else around us did. I'm grateful for that!
Want my stories delivered right to your inbox? I can do that! Click the button below to sign up and I'll make sure to send my post right to you each day that I blog.