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Emergency Room Tourist

Tech in this article: First aid kit, GPS, iPhone, camera phone

I guess the lessons here for traveling with children are:

1) You can never be too prepared. I have a first aid kit in my car, but we weren’t near my car. (OK, I don’t have THAT first aid kit, but I have a good one).

2) Kindness of strangers. The bakers who gave us their first aid kit and lots of paper towels, the staff at Johns Hopkins, the pirate crew…all lovely people.

3) Friends. Especially the kind that are resourceful and forgiving (and know where the local ER is) (or have a GPS)

4) No plan survives first contact with the enemy. But kids are resilient and adaptable, even my headstrong stubborn son, so if you can keep them in one piece they’ll have fun. And if they are having fun, you should too.

We had big plans for this weekend. Mal and I were going to drive up to Fells Point and spend the weekend with Fran and her family. The capstone was Saturday; both kids and 4 adults were going to go on the Urban Pirates ship, have lunch, take a water taxi to Fort McHenry, and then attend the Great Halloween Lantern Parade. Saturday night we were planning to drive home, so that we could attend a birthday party Sunday.

Like every other time I’ve made plans with Fran, the weekend went off the rails. The short version is that Mal now has 3 staples in the back of his head, and possibly had the Most Perfect Mal Day Ever. (Same day. Yes, I know.)

The first check was the weather. It was rainy, and threatening thunderstorms. The pirate ship canceled most of its trips, and by Friday afternoon we knew the Lantern Parade would be postponed to Sunday. We checked with the pirates and our morning trip was still on, so we adapted our plans to go to the (indoors) Science Center after pirating. While it rained during the night, it wasn’t raining when we left the hotel.

The cobblestone streets and brick sidewalks were wet, but the kids were happy to be alive, outside, and together, so they were running ahead of us parents. We were playing Red Light/Green Light, to keep them from getting too far or running into a street. All was well, until Mal ran across a metal drainage grate, slick with rain.

His feet went straight out in front, and he slammed down backwards, landing with his skull on the metal grate. I knew it was bad because he started crying right away, and he never cries. He ran to me for a hug, and Fran, who could then see the back of his head, gasped and shoved her daughter’s jacket onto it to staunch the bleeding – but not before I’d seen the blood just fountaining out.

It looked like a bad special effect. We got Mal’s jacket out of my bag, and I held that against his head while Fran went to a nearby bakery to beg a first aid kit (note: First Aid Kit now added to walking bag). Tom took their daughter (she was upset and crying) to get their car, just in case, and Mal proceeded to flip out like a mammal, going into his patented “fight-AND-flight” reaction. I had to sit on the sidewalk with all my limbs wrapped around him in a judo hold, while Fran applied pressure and Mal screamed at the top of his lungs. I have no idea why passers-by didn’t call the police.

There was no way I could determine if he was concussed or otherwise had brain damage, so we just focused on clearing enough of the blood to see how bad it was. I really didn’t want to interrupt everyone’s day if not absolutely necessary. But when I could finally take a look, I saw skull. The cut was over an inch long and at least a centimeter wide. Definitely stitch-worthy.

So we bundled Mal into Tom’s car and he sped us to the hospital, while Fran took her daughter to meet with Nana, the other person who’d planned to go pirating with us. We therefore got to visit a very old and very prestigious hospital – Johns Hopkins.  So, you know, not a bad place to wind up for our first ever emergency room visit.

I can’t say enough good stuff about JH. Except, like any hospital, we were there for a really long time (note: Add extra snacks to walking bag). At some point, Mal’s hair glommed into the cut and it started coagulating (Mal wanted to see, so I took a pic of the back of his head for him with my phone). He was happy to hang out, but really wanted to be on the pirate ship. Then he started to get bored, and run out of steam (since we hadn’t had any food).

Thankfully, Fran and Tom are the best people to be around in these sorts of situations, so F showed up in the exam room with food and drink and her iPhone with Dr. Horrible. As usual, the initial assumption seemed to be that Fran and I were a couple, and Mal’s mommies…I need to make a list of places that are awesome and accepting of same-sex couples, and when I do, Johns Hopkins will be on it (even though the assumption wasn’t correct in this case).

Finally the pediatric emergency doctor shows up, and gives himself a hernia lifting Mal onto the exam table. Yes, he is unusually heavy. There’s some drama when the hairclot is tweezed out of the wound. Mal goes into mammal mode again, and teleports to the far corner of the room. The doctor explains that he’s going to put a numbing cream on the area, something the consistency of peanut butter, and it will have to stay on for 20-40 minutes. Mal aims his imaginary arm laser at the doc and yells “I DON’T WANT PEANUT BUTTER ON MY HEAD!!!” The doctor and I share a look, and he says, “Excuse me a moment.”

He returns and says “OK, we have two options. I can try to sedate him, which (looks at Mal) I give a 50-50 chance. Or we can do what’s called “papoosing” him –”

Me: “Papoose him”

Doc: “He’ll be awake but fully restrained, so it might make him even more upset.”


“Are you sure? Some mothers don’t like to see their kids–”

“Papoose. And it might take extra nurses to get him into it.”

As it turned out, Mal was totally into the whole papoose thing, at least the getting into it part. He was immobilized from the neck down. Fran laid on his hips, I held his head, the doc irrigated the wound, and Mal still nearly threw all of us off. But staples were achieved.

The doc said I should keep them clean and in for at least three days, preferably seven. He asked that I keep Mal from clawing them out. I asked for a cone for Mal to wear. He gave me neither a cone nor the dermal stapler (which, dude, I’d already paid for it!), but said I could probably find the papoose board on eBay (note: Add dermal stapler to walking bag, to avoid future hospital trips).

The nurse came in with the “treat box” so that Mal could pick a treat for surviving. He immediately picked a sparkly purple and black headband with bats on it and said “I’m going to give this to [Miss Fran’s daughter]!! ” So the nurse melted and let him pick a second thing, and he picked a stuffed fox who he named Stitch.

Then at long last, we finally got to head home, meaning to the hotel.  With Mal asking to go on the pirate ship the whole way. Yes, I’m serious.

At this point Mal had three staples in his head, hadn’t eaten all day, missed the pirate ship sailing, and it’s 2:00 pm. We returned to the hotel, where Fran’s daughter was napping after a fun pirate excursion, delivered the sparkly headband, and then headed to a local tavern where Fran knows the owner. They made Mal some Kraft Mac & Cheese, and brought us mothers alcoholic drinks. At this point I decided not to drive home that day.

Chatting with the waitress about our morning resulted in seconds on the drinks, this time stiffer (mine at least was).

The pirate ship had told us that we could come back for free whenever we could to make up the ride we missed. It was in port due to impending stormy weather, so we stopped to chat with the woman who runs it. Her kids were there, so she invited Mal on board. They gave him a bandana, and provided a plastic cutlass, and the three kids spent about an hour running and playing and swashbuckling all around the ship. It totally made up for missing the sailing.

After that, we walked a couple doors down to a new comic store. We were in there when the storm hit, so we had to stay put…to Mal’s delight, the staff had Revenge of the Sith on the plasma screen, so he was in Star Wars-TV-watching-heaven while we waited out the deluge. I bought him a small AT-AT walker, even though he’d already gotten a stuffed fox from the hospital and a bandana from the pirates.

Once the rain lightened up, we returned to the hotel. I’d already checked out, since I’d planned to leave from the Science Center, and my room was booked for that night, but the hotel staff offered to provide two cots and let us stay in our friends’ room. We had a full house! I collapsed on one cot, attempting to nap while Spongebob was on (unpossible). The kids played for a bit, and then we all walked up to a Chinese restaurant that was really good and very friendly. Mal brought his AT-AT and Fran’s daughter wore her sparkly bat headband.

Walking home, we passed a bar where Fran and Tom knew the proprietor. They stuck their heads in, and discovered Nana and other neighborhood elders, one of whom had brought a tray of freshly made cookies. It was a very sweet community setting. Mal totally adopted Nana. Thus, despite the pain and terror and discomfort, Mal had the perfect Mal day – playing pirates, meeting new people, being an Extrovert, getting new toys, watching new Star Wars, eating Chinese food, having cookies, and best of all, spending time with his most favorite friend.