R’s accident was 2.5 years ago, but looking at that picture has me blubbering in a Starbucks full of tough early morning construction workers. It was the most horrible experience of my life.
R had a new little brother, so 1:1 time was rare and he kept asking for just Daddy time. It felt great to be so wanted by someone so awesome! He and I were/are extremely close, which I attribute to luck, the glory of German paternal leave (I took their first month off, and an additional month for an adventure when they were about a year old, so 2 months for each son), and the fact that he SCREAMED in our faces for the first 6 months (diagnosed as a German schreikind early on) and we kept him anyway.
He and I were in the cellar working on my bike. I was cleaning the chain and he was having a great time spinning the rear wheel around. The wheel clunked, I heard his intense inhale, and then the pause. I turned to see R’s look of terror as blood sprayed from his middle finger.
Years of experience on a Search & Rescue team in Washington State and as a scientific (scuba) diver kicked in as I tried to distance myself from the emotion that my son appeared to be missing a finger and was bleeding out on the floor. Holding him to my chest, I spent about 30 seconds dragging my fingers through the puddles of blood on the concrete floor looking for the rest of his little finger. I couldn’t find it.
We took the elevator up to our one bedroom apartment, and Kerry opened the door to my screaming and banging with understandable eyes the size of half dollars. Our neighbor was soon over my shoulder, having come up the stairs, and recognized that we were leaving a trail of blood. He was speaking German and I couldn’t decipher anything in this state. He switched to “Hospital?” “Ja Ja!” I was soon sitting in his passenger seat holding R to my chest speeding our way to the hospital [thanks again Gunter!]. In the frenzy, I told Kerry what little I knew and said I would call her as soon as I knew something.
Even in an ER on a Sunday, a kid and Dad soaked in blood still opens a path to the front. The staff at the university hospital in Lobeda were awesome, quickly directing us to a room. I heard Gunter saying that I didn’t speak much German (and I don’t, especially medical German and in my frenzied state) and a Resident from Pakistan was in our room in just a couple minutes.
The Dr. examined R’s finger and thought R needed surgery as soon as possible. He called his Attending and within 45 minutes, the surgeon was there reaffirming that R needed surgery, and while he wasn’t missing any parts of his finger, a muscle had been torn away from the bone and several ligaments were torn — without surgery, R would lose all control of his middle finger. Surgery was dangerous though, as with someone so small, anesthesia may cause brain damage or other medical complications. “What you want of me to do?”
It was an impossible decision.
The surgeon’s hair was peppered with gray and he wore a wedding ring. I assumed he saw things like this every day, and maybe even had some personal experience. I looked him right in the eye, and asked “If this was your kinder, would you operate?” He nodded. I bowed my head with acceptance and hope.
I held R through the surgery. About 3.5 hours after R stuck his finger into the disc brake that then stopped when it hit the caliper, he was bandaged, calm, and sleeping, so I slipped outside looking like a murderer and called Kerry with an update. After a few more hours of monitoring, we took the strassenbahn home.
Every 2-4 days for the next month, I took R back to the hospital for bandage changes and to check for infection. It broke my heart every time, as R fought against going every time and I knew each visit would be painful for him. The bandages progressively became smaller, the stitches came out, and R was able to move his finger and didn’t seem to have suffered any adverse effects.
R was about 2.5 years old at the time, but he still remembers the blood, the danger of bikes, and the ongoing street car trips to the hospital where I guiltily filled him with gummi bears. His finger is scarred forever. When he talks about it though, he thankfully holds up the wrong finger.
No parent should ever have to look for parts of their kid in pools of blood. Ever.
The experience is still very stark for me, but I have forgiven myself for causing R so much pain. Soon after the accident, I sincerely asked R for forgiveness, but he didn’t understand. I changed my phrasing and words, but he still didn’t understand. I asked again a few days later, but he didn’t understand. Finally he just answered with a big hug around the neck. He seemed to think there was nothing to forgive.
I still have so much to learn from my boys.