24 February 2011

Closet Full of Hats

I heard the screaming even before I the door banged open to let Daryl and Emmaline in from outside.

Then I heard Daryl call out, "Meg, we've got a little bit of blood here."

There's this thing that happens when children are crying and have blood in their mouths where the blood mixes with spit and snot and tears until the usually angelic toddler is transformed into a virtual Hannibal Lecter. So Emmaline was not especially beautiful after falling flat on her face from our shallow front concrete step.

I took her from Daryl. I gave her a hug. I played the mom for about thirty seconds and then I wanted to see what was wrong.

Daryl was taking off his coat instead of getting a washcloth to wipe up the blood. Maybe he was doing the dad thing, where you hand the baby off, take a deep breath, and hope there is nothing else you will be called on to do. When I asked for the washcloth Daryl's arms were still twisted and caught up in the sleeves of his jacket. My mom went to the drawer and ran the hot water and handed the moist towel to me.

"Take her," I told Daryl, now free of his parka.

He sat Em facing me in his arms and I wiped at the blood, transforming her from one of the FBIs Most Wanted serial killers into a beautiful baby girl. She was still crying, of course. There was still snot on her face, but then I wiped that up to.

It was at this point that I became obsessed with the location of her top two front teeth. Now Emmaline, like her mommy and daddy before her, does not have remarkably straight teeth. They have been, since erupting, slightly askew. But were they slightly more so after her fall? Had they been pushed up into the permanent teeth above them, forever damaging her adult smile? Did she need a trip to the Children's Emergency Room to see a pediatric dentist and get panoramic x-rays of her entire jaw? Did her front teeth need to be yanked back and splinted in place with spackle and glue?

The bleeding had stopped only minutes after her accident. She was happily chewing on a cracker and asking for milk. Any sane person would have looked at their child and seen immediately that she was okay. But I am not sane. I am a pediatrician. And so we spent the following several hours, she and I, in a power struggle where I tried all of the most cunning techniques my years in practice have provided me to get a good look in a small child's mouth and she simply and resolutely decided not to let me.

Would she, if her teeth had shifted significantly and dangerously, so cavalierly eaten a cracker? Would she have chewed on the block that she quickly picked up? A rational person would say, no. But I was not being rational.

People assume that because I am a doctor for very small human beings that I must automatically parent better or easier because of the things that I know. There are times that is probably true. When Emmaline got her first sniffly nose cold at a few months of age she sounded atrocious. The snot rattled around in the back of her throat and she kept us awake. But her lungs were clear. I knew this because I own a stethoscope and I had checked. So when Daryl, in the middle of the night, became alarmed at the decibel level of her breathing, I asked, "Is she blue?" When he assured me that she was not, I rolled over and went right back to sleep.

There are times when the things I have seen in the hospital or in the clinic do make it easier to step back and decide there is no need to actually panic. The first time Emmaline fell and bumped her head, for example, and the second and the third and so on and so forth. But there are also time when I think that I panic more.

Did Emma enjoy having her mother pry her mouth open on multiple occasions during the course of that afternoon? Did she need me (when she was about six months old) to spend twenty-four hours looking at pictures of abnormally shaped heads while trying to decide if her sutures had closed prematurely? Would she enjoy knowing that I put off getting her treated for croup (and making her more comfortable) when she was a little over a year because I was satisfied she was not sick enough to actually die?

I'm guessing the answer to all of this questions is no. I'm guessing that in the future whenever she might be posed with such a query, she would rather I stop playing doctor and remember to just be her mom.

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