“Mom, I think I hurt myself,” I say, walking up the path toward her and the house. She’s talking to Dana, but she looks up immediately.
I am holding my hand over my right eye. Blood is dripping down. My brother had been chasing me around Dana’s truck, both of us laughing ourselves silly. When I leaped off the curb, I bashed into the open back window. You know those cantilevered metal-framed windows in the back of covered pickup trucks that open up and out? Super sharp corners? Bam! Into that corner, my eyebrow.
“Into the truck,” she says, “both of you. Dana, you’re driving.” She runs into the house, coming back with her purse and gauze and antiseptic.
It doesn’t hurt. Yet. Later, my mother tells me that she thought I’d poked my eye out. But she is seemingly calm right now, my physical therapist mother.
She directs Dana to Marina Mercy. “Left here,” she says, and he turns off Lincoln Boulevard into the hospital’s Emergency driveway.
Their Emergency Room is clean and quiet and pretty, with indirect lighting and upholstered chairs. No one is screaming or bleeding. Well, I’m still bleeding, but it’s slowing down.
Our health insurance is Kaiser, so they can’t help us, but the nurses change the gauze pad anyway, and tell my mother that I will be okay. She exhales.
Medical professionals respect my mother. She’s one of theirs, speaks the lingo. She is competent, capable, and calm. So I am, too.
“Hold on, Susie,” she says as we get back in Dana’s truck. My brother Jim is uncharacteristically silent throughout this adventure, his blue eyes huge and anxious. He’s six or so, I’m twelve and much taller. That seemed important in those days. Big sister Susie.
Kaiser’s only a few miles south, but a world apart in terms of compassionate care. In their Emergency Room we wait for hours to be seen. Every so often someone wails in pain. It’s crowded and stinks of fear sweat. The nurses are curt, overworked.
Fortunately the bleeding has stopped. I lean against my mom in the adjoining plastic chair bolted to the floor. The fluorescent light hurts my eyes so I close them. My head throbs.
Dana takes Jimbo outside, or to the cafeteria, I don’t know. I am receding, letting the world and noise and light get further and further away …
The nurse calls my name and we follow her to a small room. “Lie down,” she says and gestures to a small operating table covered with white paper. I grip my mother’s hand, and she nods at me to comply.
The doctor comes in. A man in a white coat, dark hair, glasses. I think he tried to get my mother to leave, but I would not let go of her. She stayed.
The worst pain was when they poured anesthetic into the wound. It burned, and I cried out. Looked at my mom. Her face was whiter than usual, but it was her face. The one I love. The one that loves me. Big mouth. Long black hair. Big brown-sometimes-green eyes. She does not let go of my hand, just looks at me. I don’t remember any words. Many times she and I didn’t need to speak: we just knew.
The doctor went away for a few minutes, “while you get numb.” He smiles at my mother on the way out.
Eighteen stitches. That’s how many it took to sew up the gash in my forehead. And I heard every single one of them. From inside my head. It didn’t hurt, but it was bizarre to hear something through my skull instead of my ears.
By the time we got out of there, it was night. “Kentucky Fried?” asks my mom. A special treat. Expensive.
“Yeah!” says Jim.
“Susie?” asks Mom.
“Yeah,” I say, and hold her hand all the way home.