I thought horrible accidents weren't supposed to happen on beautiful weekend mornings. Certainly not when you're less than five feet away from your 6-year-old daughter, who's playing on a tree branch less than two feet off the ground. But then it happened. One second she's happily swinging, the next she's on the ground screaming in a way that made every single muscle in my body tense up in fear. Somehow she had slipped and broke off a metal ornament we had hung in the tree; it gouged her thigh pretty badly. I took one glance and knew it was much worse than anything our Hello Kitty Band-Aids could handle. In shock, I started calling for my wife, who then told me to call 911.
I arrived about 20 minutes after the ambulance made it the ER.
"She's in there," the EMT tells me, pointing at the two double doors ahead.
I run down the hall and into a large operating room. And there she is, my little baby girl lying on a gurney wearing an oxygen mask. She's surrounded by doctors and nurses and is holding my wife's hand. My wife takes one look at my ashen face and grimaces.
"Let's step outside for a second," she says, gesturing toward the door.
As I walk back out, I can feel hot tears starting to trickle down my cheeks.
"You can't be in there looking like that. You need to be strong for her," she tells me. "She's OK, she just needs some stitches, but she's still a little scared."
I start taking some deep breaths to calm myself down.
Rubbing my back, my wife gives me an assignment. "Why don't you try making her smile a little?"
"I can do that," I say as I wipe off my face. So when they wheel my daughter in for an X-ray, I start telling some jokes. I sing silly songs to try and drown out the disturbing sounds from the other parts of the ER. I make silly faces every time I catch her peeking down at her wound. I try and keep things light, but sometimes it's impossible, like when the stitches go in and her tears start to flow. I want to wince too but I kept repeating my wife's words in the back of my head, "Be strong for her. Be strong for her."
The hours in the hospital start slipping by and getting mushy. As my heart stops racing I realize I've barely eaten all day. Around 5 p.m. we get an update from the nurse. Because the wound is so deep, it might have affected the blood flow in her right leg. They want to monitor her pulse overnight in the Intensive Care Unit. It's going to be an all-nighter.
My wife goes home to relieve her mother, who is looking after our other kids. With the pain and trauma abating, my daughter and I start trying to find ways to kill time. We flip around TV channels, have a marathon session of 20 questions and partake in more than our fair share of the hospital's complimentary popsicles. I try to think of it as a camping trip only instead of crickets chirping, there are monitors beeping and lieu of an air mattress, I get to sleep on a partially reclining chair.
Still, it's impossible to completely ignore our surroundings. Every few hours, a nurse comes by and checks the pulse on her right leg. The next morning we get some bad news; it's gotten weaker. A specialist is brought in and tells us not to worry, but she orders an ultrasound to double check things before we're released.
"OK," I tell my daughter, "One more test and we're out of here."
Maybe it was the fact that it's a Sunday, or the hospital is unusually busy, or maybe we just have bad luck, but whatever the reason, we wind up waiting 20 hours for that dang ultrasound.
The more we wait, the more we explore. We find a children's game room filled with puzzles and boardgames like Chutes and Ladders. We name all the fish in the aquarium on the floor above us. We get more treats at the cafeteria. All that fear and horror has turned into an anxious boredom. I try my best to hide my frustrations from my daughter as I push her wheelchair around the hospitals brightly-colored corridors. "Be strong for her," I reminded myself.
The next morning, we finally get the ultrasound and are relieved to see her pulse has improved. The doctors and nurses feel comfortable releasing us, but it still takes another six hours to get all the paperwork signed. By this time, I'm starting to get really angry about being stuck in the hospital and then also ashamed for being angry at the people who've been looking after us with such unflinching devotion.
Just as I think I might lose it, I felt a small hand reach for my own. "Its OK, Daddy. Let's just watch another movie." My daughter scooches over in her bed to make room for me and soon she's snuggling on my shoulder as we watch Finding Nemo. I take a deep breath and look down at my daughter. My eyes swell with tears as I realize with pride how much how strong she's growing up to be... just like her mother.