When I think of my first Mother's Day, a variety of strange, incongruous topics will come to mind. Whoopie pies, concrete, and radiation.
When think of my first Mother's Day, I will think first of Greg's 35th birthday. He turned 35 on Saturday. A good friend of ours was organizing a charity evening of music to support pitbull rescue. We had tickets. Greg was playing at the show. I made peanut butter chocolate whoopie pies and accidentally purchased candles that wished Greg a Happy Retirement instead of Birthday. We mingled with friends and ate hors d'oeuvre off of toothpicks and cocktail napkins. Greg tapped a keg of his own home brew. Everything was great for just a little while.
The very minute that Greg got on stage, I received a call from our babysitter. It was 8:30pm. Jack had been fussy, so she decided to take him out for a stroll around the block. While she was stepping down our back porch steps, she tripped. They both fell. He hit his head. He definitely hit his head.
He cried, she said, for a minute or two. He cried and then he seemed fine and happy. He pointed at things. He exclaimed and giggled. About 30 minutes later, he settled down and she put him to bed.
Was there any change in his behavior?, I asked. Was he cut or did he have any major wounds? No, she said, after he stopped crying he seemed totally normal. Nothing out of the ordinary. Did she think he was OK? Yes, he seemed just fine.
I called my doctor anyway. She asked me a question after question and I answered as best as I could. "99 times out of 100, falls like the one you described turn out just fine. If it'll make you feel better, wake him up when you get home and be sure he's alert".
I waited for Greg to finish his show. I told him the news and I headed home.
I assured the babysitter that I wasn't upset, that I understood accidents happened. I asked for more details about the event, and what I learned began to horrify me. She had not fallen with Jack, her hands protecting him as she stumbled. She had been on the second to last step when she tripped. He flew out of her hands, landing at least a foot away from where she did, on concrete. I did the math in my head: he fell from six feet onto concrete? I bade her goodnight. I noticed that the lights were on, Jack's door was open, we had been loud... and he was sleeping.
So I went into my baby's room. I reached into the crib and picked him up and brought him into the light. He had an welt the size of a silver dollar above his right eyebrow, scrapes across his elbow and hand. And he didn't respond. He didn't open his eyes. He didn't move.
His eyelids barely parted. I could see one eye completely dilated and the other a small spec. He closed his eyes again. Oh my god.
Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.
I don't even believe in god.
Oh my god.
Oh my god.
All I could feel was his warm weight across my shoulder as I lunged for my cell phone and car keys.
I think we flew to the emergency room. I cannot account for my speed. I only know that my son wouldn't respond to me and if that was that then my life was over.
I skidded into a parking spot at the pediatric ER and flung my keys at the valet attendant. I explained Jack's condition to the triage nurse. They took Jack from me and placed him on a stretcher. At least 8 people crowded around him, assessing him, testing him. A nurse came to help me, sat me in a chair and offered me some water, but there was nothing to do. I just waited in the corner and cried.
But then he started crying, too, and that was a good thing. He started yelling and he started moving and twisting. He was upset and that was a very good thing. They let me go to his side. We looked into each other's watery eyes and he instantly calmed down. My baby was very scared and very confused and he wanted his mama. Soon they let me lay down on the stretcher with him and hold him, and he began to be to be like a baby should be. He cuddled his head against me. This was very un-Jack-like behavior, but I appreciated it.
And then they informed me that he had to have a CT scan. He had to. He probably had a subdural hemorrhage. Based on the change in mood, decreased respiratory rate and unequal pupil sizes, there was a strong change of hemorrhage and a hemorrhage could kill him. They had to know.
But, my god, the radiation, the excessive radiation. A 9 month old should not be exposed to that kind of radiation. I asked them about dosing. They said it would be OK. I told them I was in diagnostic radiology at the school of medicine, a medical imaging researcher, and what would his dose be?
One in one thousand and five hundred. What? One in one thousand and five hundred, the doctor repeated. I'm sorry, what is that? That's the increased likelihood of a brain tumor from the scan that we will give him.
But that's when he's old, the doctor said.
I actually laughed. Some of what I do involves brain tumor research. My husband studies occupational risk for a living. He's writing a review on the overuse of radiation in medical imaging. I explained this to the doctor. I am a conservative person: 1 in 1000 risk of brain tumor, and half of brain tumors being fatal within months? No. No no no. We could not let him be exposed to that kind of radiation.
What alternatives? MRI? Wait and see? What would they look for? How would they treat it? How would the CT scan change the course of treatment? Each question was carefully answered. I thought about my paranoia during pregnancy. I thought about how careful I was to avoid occupational radiation. How my film badge came back below detection each and every time. How we didn't even let him fly in an airplane until he was at least a few months old. I thought about our caution with his body, about the organic food and the non-ozone emitting air purifier, the no-VOC paint and the used furniture, about sunscreen and caution and every attempt we make to ensure his future health.
The nurses reiterated how bad it could be. I felt frantic. I explained to Greg on the phone. Greg was adamant: we could not let them expose him to that kind of radiation. Wasn't his improved mood an indication of anything? The doctor sympathized and said if it was his son, he would do the scan. Immediately. It was necessary. It was absolutely necessary.
Greg showed up. Greg showed up and Jack cheered up. He started to move more. He tried to sit up. He started crying again. He wanted to play.
It could happen quickly, they said. The pressure of an intracranial bleed is relieved through the baby's fontanelle, and often there are no symptoms until it is too late.
And so we put on aprons and wrapped our baby in led sheeting. We placed our hands in the scanner along with him. We sang Jack songs and jiggled a toy in his line of sight. And between the CT and the x-rays, we gave him 500mRem of gamma radiation in a span of 20 minutes.
And then we went back to the ER and waited. And Jack cheered up. And as his smile broadened, ours did too.
Then the doctor came back and said it was all OK. There was no bleed. His liver was fine. His kidneys were fine. His skull was not fractured. His blood vessels were not damaged. He had a concussion. He had a serious fall and his brain was swelling, but the swelling would go down. Jack would be just fine.
And I cried and we hugged and we held Jack tightly. I nursed him. Then we took him home and curled up in bed. I cuddled Jack and Greg cuddled me. We spent a worried night with a sleepy, confused and disoriented Jack. And then we woke and spent a beautiful morning with a happy, talkative, playful Jack. A Jack we recognize.
So we gaze in wonder and fear and acknowledge the greatness of good health. Our amazing, special boy. The terrible magnitude of love and worry that all parents have feel every day for their children. Jack is here and he is happy and there is simply no thing more important thing in life than that.