A Different Kind of Scream

The Next Family

By: Barbara Matousek

Light spills from the master bath onto Eva’s face snuggled down near my armpit when I hear the screaming.  It takes me a few seconds to realize it’s not the same screaming that occasionally accompanies his midnight half-awake stumbling towards my bedroom.  This screaming is different.  Not the sound of fear but the sound of pain.

By the time I move Eva to the bouncy seat and make my way to Sam’s bedroom, he is soaking wet, his sweaty hair pasted against his cheeks and his Thomas the Train  pajamas pushed up to his knees.  He stares straight up at the ceiling and holds both sides of his neck.

“Owie, owie, owie, owie,’ he yells over and over again.

Earlier in the day, he had fallen from the kitchen stool that he often sits on when he’s drawing or doing play-doh while I prepare dinner.  I am not sure exactly how many hours it has been since that fall and the slow motion way in which his chin slammed into the counter on his way down, but there was a half-eaten slice of Amy’s pesto pizza on the floor when I picked him up and pulled him in to a hug and discovered that he had bitten his tongue.  He had sat in my lap and cried for a few moments before saying “I’m okay, Mommy” and crawling right back on to the stool.

I push the Lightning McQueen pillow away from his face and try to calm him, tell him to take deep breaths. He is nearly inconsolable as I put my hands behind his neck and sit him up.  I hold him and take deep breaths, trying to get him to follow my lead, but only when I distract him with the promise of television does he seem to come out of it.  After a dose of children’s ibuprofen and a hot wash cloth on his muscle-spasm neck, I lower him onto the couch and turn on Nick Jr.  He is excited to see Ubi, the creepy naked hand puppet that Sam has talked about since the show appeared for just one Sunday evening a few months ago.  Sam is always making his hand talk like Ubi, and it’s a frequent keep-him-awake-in-the-car trick of mine.

“Mommy, it’s Ubi,” he says with joy and I go to quickly check the internet for symptoms and treatments for delayed neck injuries.  Is this whiplash?

We lay on the couch together for the next 3 hours, me dozing in and out of sleep while Sam lays wide-eyed, watching Ubi and Grandpoo and then some bizarre program about an island with a giant tadpole.  Every bone in my mommy body tells me he is fine, that it’s just a sprain, that he has a muscle that stiffened up while he slept.  But in the morning I call the Gunderson Lutheran Clinic nurse advisor line.  He is in pain and I want to give him as much medication as possible.  I want them to tell me he is just fine and I can double the dose.  The RN goes through the usual checklist.  No dizziness or mental confusion.  No flu-like symptoms.  No bruising.  No fever. No swelling.  He is fine.  He is happy.  Immobile on the couch in front of Yo GabbaGabba, but happy.

When the nurse says, “We’re going to have you bring him in,” I feel the same way I did when I went on my one and only blind date 20 years ago.  During the hour I spent with the guy, we had nothing in common and the outcome was clear, but when we said goodbye at the end of the night he said he’d call.

“Really?” I want to say to the nurse advisor.  Didn’t we just go through the checklist?  Didn’t you hear anything I said?  Doesn’t everything check out just fine?  Why are we concerned?  But I don’t say any of that.  Instead I immediately began planning for how I will find someone to watch Eva and get Sam into the car and across the county.

To Sam it is just another visit with his pediatrician.  He moves slower than usual, and he glues his right hand to his neck.  But he gets to ride the elevator and look out the window at the big construction crane and dig through a drawer of princess books and press his warm fingers into the skeleton that changes color when you push on it.  He gets to pick out a toy in the Walgreen’s toy aisle while Mommy buys pain meds and searches for a heating pad.  And he even gets to eat skittles andf reezie pops in the car.

“I like it when it’s just Mommy and Sammy,” he says on the way home, the blue raspberry freezer pop juice running down his chin.  “I like when it’s Mommy and Sammy and Baby Eva too, but I like when it’s just Mommy and Sammy.”

When we pull into the garage he refuses to get out of the car, says he needs his medicine first.  I carry the bag filled with toys and ibuprofen and a heating pad and a cervical pillow into the kitchen, check on Eva just waking in the arms of the friends who came to watch her, and pour him a teaspoon and a half of berry-flavored ibuprofen.  In the car he pulls his hand down from his neck and slurps from the little cup and announces “I feel better already, Mommy.  I feel better.”



[Photo Credit: coba]

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