Why is it that there is a greater occurrence of tragedy on days that are holidays? Is it that we are so full of angst about being surrounded by our larger family that we let our anxiety distract us from situations that we would normally have under control?
Five minutes before my wife was to return home and ferry myself and my three year old off to my parent’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, Finn stuck a large brass hook- his self-proclaimed pirate hook that he had been carrying around and using as an artificial appendage for the past hour- into his mouth.
Finn is a very large fan of the T-shirt, in fact on most days he chooses one of the three or four that meet his approval, and are on constant rotation in his wardrobe; and that is all he wears, no pants, no underwear and rarely socks: just a T-shirt. But on this very special day I had him neatly buttoned into a pristine white collared dress shirt for the first time in recent memory-for that matter in any compartment of memory-however it was layered over top of a bright red T-shirt that was covered in Bears, but that is a minor and unimportant detail; for he unquestioningly looked dapper. And it had taken the small bribe of only one Hershey’s kiss to get him clothed in this way. I felt unduly optimistic about the red sweater vest that I had laid out on the couch. A Facebook friend of mine had just posted a picture of his toddler, neatly dressed in a sweater vest, and I felt sufficiently goaded to attempt the same with my cherub faced drool monster. But this is when the mere struggle turned into more of a fight; I soothingly cooed at him as I did up his pants,and wasn’t paying enough attention to notice the fact that the large brass hook he had been fondling-One with a threaded needle point end; One large enough to hang plants from your ceiling or coffee mugs in your cupboard-had just entered his mouth. He was crying because he was being clothed, but anyone with a three year old knows this isn’t anything unusual, and most have been similarly conditioned to not respond to a manipulative snivel. But suddenly he was choking; and in a painful flash- one with incredible clarity-I instantly realized what it was that he was gagging on.
I instantly flipped him over and jammed my finger as far past his jaw as possible; I could feel the winding threads and sharp pointed end of the hook sticking towards me, and with a prayer and a loud expletive, I depressed it into his tongue in an attempt to get a grip and pull it back out the way it had gone in. The semi-circular hook had passed his tonsils, but this prickly part remained at the back of his throat, and I prayed to all the Gods in every religion I had encountered in my life, to allow me the ability to pull this jagged hook from my child’s mouth. Finn let out a jarring scream and a gob of blood leaked onto my hands. Panic set in and my body began to vibrate. Finn became more hysterical as I tried even harder to coax the metal intruder from its horrific jam. Blood was intermingled with saliva and snot, and it was running out of his mouth onto his crisp white shirt and pooling onto the floor. With great urgency Finn fought me off, and the thick wads of curdled blood made me relent; recoiling my finger and re-assessing the situation.
Once my finger was gone, Finn swallowed, and in a renewed panic I pried open his jaw and reached inside but the hook was gone. I released my hold on my son in shock and he stopped crying. With wide eyes that expressed hurt and fear he retreated into a corner, protectively hiding behind a pair of bar stools and staring out at me. Reality seemed to crumble; I live in a society that emphasizes worst case scenarios, and I imagined the lethal things this hardware was doing to my child’s throat and stomach.
My primary concern was that he was Okay and so I apologized to him for forcing my digit into his mouth and asked if he was alright. He stared at me without replying, but his face had softened, and other than the blood smeared across his chin and staining his white shirt, he appeared to be fine; weathering this much more gracefully than I.
My wife was supposed to be home any second, so I began to coax Finn from the corner he was cowering in, and a few sympathetic words brought him into a tight embrace. I whispered as I clutched at him lovingly, “I’m so sorry Finn, I just wanted to get that hook out, I won’t put my finger in your mouth any more.”
I carried him out the front door and sat in a chair that was in the carport. Before I could formulate a plan, my wife pulled up, and as the gravel crunched beneath the car tires I ran up to the vehicle and shoveled Finn into his car-seat.
“Don’t ask any questions,” I uttered with as much calm conviction as I could muster, “just drive to the nearest Emergency room, now.”
I felt my world falling apart, my reality eroding away as I struggled to push any negative thoughts to the periphery. We tore down the asphalt and I clutched at my cell phone, deciding it best to call 911.
About half way to the hospital an ambulance met us, and I accompanied Finn into its square metal belly. He was leery of the nurses, but he was alert and responsive. Our attendant became more worried about me, as my heart raced and my face went pale describing the incident; Finn reached out to console me with a hug as he saw my concern.
My wife drove our vehicle, following us the rest of the way to the overcrowded hospital.
After a few more embarrassing explanations, and one condemning look that assured me that I was not going to win any parenting awards, we made our way to the X-ray room. The digital X-ray showed that the hook had made its way into Finn’s belly-it was a stark and solid reality-clear and bright amongst the faded white of his bones. We were given a few cardboard receptacles, a handful of oversized popsicle sticks, and told to monitor the situation.
“It should come out, and with any luck not tear anything in its path,” the sympathetic doctor reported, “but if you don’t see it embedded in his feces in about a week, please return.”
I cradled my son, attempting hard to stay calm, and pushed away all images of the metal in his digestive tract. I thanked the doctor, stepped through the large sliding glass doors, and was punched in the face by the cool evening air; I felt certain that I deserved this and thought I could easily win a medal for world’s worst father.
Finn angled his head upwards, I looked down into his vulnerable face, and he uttered the first words since the start of this debacle, “I think I am all right now Dad.”
The knot of tension that I was carrying in my shoulders relaxed, my body gave way as I began to laugh; his courage far outstretched mine.
I squeezed him tightly, my love for him so immense; suddenly feeling so thankful.
I heard one last remark as I stumbled outside into the darkening Thanksgiving night, “Why is it always crazy in here during the holidays?”