If you saw my 3-year-old right now running around the playground, he looks like any other child. Besides a small bandage on the ring finger of his left hand, and the typical bumps and bruises that decorate the shins of all kids his age, he’s the picture of health. But my eyes don’t dare stray to my phone as he plays. They stay glued to him and his twin brother as they race around with the other kids.
I call out for them not to run, to be careful, to sit down every time they approach the top of the slide (even though they were probably going to sit anyway). I can’t help it. Because under that innocent-looking bandage there are stitches and a wound still healing from an accident that’s left me permanently scarred.
I’ve always been a worrywart of a mom. I was the only person I knew who baby-proofed the entire house before my kids could even lift their heads, the mom who reads an article about dry drowning and sleeps next to her child all night because they coughed after getting out of the pool. I prided myself on being overcautious. While I know that kids are going to get hurt, I’ve always told myself that by doing everything in my power to prevent the things that I can prevent from going wrong, I’m being a good parent. Until a few weeks ago.
We were on a family vacation at the most magical place on earth, and even there, this nervous mom was still on duty. When we checked into the hotel, I requested a room change because the first room we were given had a tall, heavy chest of drawers that wasn’t bolted to the walls as it is in all the other rooms. I didn’t want any accidents. I watched my kids closely in the parks, on the monorail, in the pools. One of the lifeguards even told me I looked worried as I chased my twins back and forth across the splash pad.
“I’m a mom” I told him. “This is just how my face looks.”
After that swim session, we headed back to the hotel room to change before dinner, and that’s when it happened. I sent the boys into the bathroom to pee, as I had done at home and already done on this trip countless times without incident. I stood just outside the door and stripped out of my wet clothes. I wasn’t giving them my full attention and somehow they tried to close the door while one son’s hand was still partially between the door and the jamb. I heard a scream and honestly expected to see a pinched finger, perhaps a bruise or some minor bleeding. They didn’t slam the door; they just tried to close it. Instead, he presented me with the bloody stump of his finger, partially severed. The nail was cut clean through. It was floppy and gushing blood, only attached by a few centimeters of flesh on the underside where the fingerprint lies.
Still half-naked, I grabbed a towel and his hand and shouted for my husband to call 911. EMS and a flurry of hotel staff arrived promptly, and I headed to the hospital in an ambulance with my son while my husband stayed behind with our other child (somewhere along the way I threw a dress on). An X-ray revealed that, in addition to the flesh and nail injuries, my son had also broken his finger, so he would require surgery and needed to be transferred to another hospital.
Because the accident happened on a Saturday night, they couldn’t perform surgery until the following morning, which made me more concerned about the doctors’ ability to save the finger. The doctors told me there was also the risk of bone infection from the broken finger, which was very serious, so he was put on IV antibiotics that night.
In the end, we were extremely lucky.
The doctors were able to repair all of the damage and so far, it looks like his finger has reattached and will remain intact. They are even hopeful that his fingernail will regrow one day soon.
I know that in the grand scheme of things that can go wrong, a finger injury is not that big a deal. With the exception of watching him go under the anesthesia for the surgery — which was admittedly terrifying — I was never in fear for my child’s life. But I was still worried about the possibility of a lifelong disability as a result of an accident that could have been prevented if only I had been watching him more closely. There will always be a part of me that feels like what happened was my fault.
Of course, I know that parents can’t watch their kids every second of every day Still, this incident has left me with lingering anxiety. I still feel like I’m constantly bracing for impact, just waiting for the next emergency to strike.
Three-year-olds scream all day long about everything. Every time one of the kids cries in frustration or even screams in delight, my brain goes straight to panic mode. Whenever the kids are at preschool or I’m at the gym and my phone dings, my stomach clenches because my first thought is that something has gone horribly and awfully wrong. Part of me thinks I’ll get over it in time, but I wonder if part of me is changed forever.
As I watch them on the playground, I’m very aware of just how fragile they are and how easily a good day can go very, very wrong.