Dar was rushed to medical care yesterday!
Like you, I’m guessing, we have been so, so, so, careful not to get sick since the quarantine began. Wearing socks in the house at all times. Drinking fluids like they’re going out of Netflix. Et cetera. It all reminds me of my protocol the day before an international flight. I don’t skip stairs, I grip water glasses carefully, I don’t touch common surfaces, I avoid suspicious food. Probably I’m a lunatic, but in normal times I’m more cavalier about these sorts of little things…unless it’s the day before a long flight. What if I were to get injured or sick enough to ruin the trip? But now, in April 2020, every day is pre-travel day, minus the part about looking forward to travel.
We managed to hold out until yesterday. In a sudden instant, Dar unlocked our lockdown.
Have I mentioned that Dar’s home ABA therapist is a godsend? I can’t possibly mention it enough. Today I’ll call her Shelly since that is not even close to her name. Shelly has been maintaining her pre-COVID schedule, seeing Dar for three hours every weekday afternoon. We are so grateful to see her come nearly every day wearing a surgeon’s mask over her mouth. Well, yesterday she probably should have been wearing one of those transparent hard-duck-bill masks.
We didn’t know because Dar usually isn’t violent. He’s especially not violent when he’s in a good, giggly mood like yesterday. Was yesterday different because he’s been spending so much time indoors, without as much exercise as usual? Maybe. Dar was happily grabbing at Shelly for at least twenty minutes that I saw. The incident happened when I wasn’t watching. I heard Dar’s uproarious laughter, and a minute later, I heard “Daniel! I need you.” That never ever happens. I ran into the kitchen to see Dar’s hand covered in blood.
Shelly was doing her best to cover it with paper towels. I took away the bloody paper towels, put his hand in the sink, and washed it out with water. I sprayed it with Bactine and washed it out with water again. His right-hand pinky finger was cut open with a dangling flap of skin about a centimeter long.
Shelly explained that Dar had hit her with a portable phone battery charger, a grey metal thing about the size and shape of a deck of cards. Somehow he hit her in her eyeglasses and somehow his pinky got squeezed between…honestly it doesn’t make any sense. But I entirely trust and believe Shelly, and the blood was as real as real gets.
In the world of the neurotypical, I would have been able to take Dar to a doctor by myself. Dar’s doctor was only ten blocks away, a three minute drive, but there was no way to make that drive without getting blood all over the car, no way to dress Dar’s wound in a way that he wouldn’t pull it off, no way to instruct Dar not to touch his own finger. So I got wifey, which meant getting brother. That meant getting us all ready to get in the car. That meant masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, Dar’s seizure pills, snacks, shoes. That meant saying a rushed, abbreviated goodbye to Shelly, and trusting her to see herself out (not for the first time). As we were going, she said to me “do you have any ice?” and I realized I hadn’t really checked to be sure she was okay. Maybe I’ve grown accustomed, over the last month, to too much social distance from her. I said “Yes! Yes!” and took her to the fridge’s ice maker while also offering her every ice pack and bag of frozen food in the freezer. She laughed; she wasn’t bleeding, but I think she was stunned in more ways than one. I thought about how it was the kind of incident that could become a problem…and then I thought that I had no time to think about that.
I wanted wifey to hold Dar’s wrapped hand during the brief car ride, but that didn’t quite work. Instead wifey wrapped up Dar’s finger in several layers, the last one being her scarf. I opened Dar’s car window to try to distract him. The makeshift dressing almost made it to the doctor’s office, but was falling apart as I parked. I got him out, lightly redressed his wound, and put on my mask. Even though we have thousands of disposable gloves, I forgot to bring mine; I would be relying on the pocket hand sanitizer. I asked wifey if she wanted to drive home and let me and Dar return via Lyft or even walking; wifey chose to stay in the car with brother.
In many ways we’re lucky to be with Berkeley Pediatrics and not some impersonal hospital, especially on a day like yesterday when I would have hated to have driven to the Children’s Hospital emergency room or whatever. It’s not that I’m afraid of large emergency rooms in the pandemic – like you, I hear they’re now empty because everyone else is afraid. It’s the time element. In an emergency, I like being able to drive three minutes from my house and see a doctor within ten minutes.
I’m not saying it went perfectly. I saw a bunch of flags and arrows and signs directing “well patients” to a backdoor entrance. I thought, well, Dar ain’t well. I walked into the usual front lobby to see an intake nurse wearing a mask. I said, “my son is bleeding. He’s a patient of…” and I named one of their doctors. The nurse wanted to know if we had any allergies or if we felt otherwise sick. I said no. She asked me to enter through the back; hadn’t I seen the signs? I replied I thought that was for well patients; his hand is gushing blood. She said to go to the back.
I walked Dar back there, trying to stanche the bleeding. I got to the door. I used Dar/wifey’s scarf and tried to open it. It was locked. I knocked. I knocked again. No noise. I kept trying the doorknob. I took off the scarf and tried the metal doorknob with my naked hand. Still locked. I banged on the door. “HELLO!” Finally that same intake nurse opened it. I said “didn’t you send me here?” She said, “oh the door wasn’t open? That’s weird.” It was 4:45pm, well within office hours. It had taken her about three minutes to walk about ten feet. What else did she have to do before opening the door, move ten COVID patients away from me? I doubt it. Little old Berkeley Pediatrics isn’t a big hospital, and as I just told you, I didn’t want to be sent to one for a centimeter-long cut. I said nothing; I realize these days we all need a little slack. I did, however, slather my hand in sanitizer.
The nurse’s tiny check-in office was five feet from this “weird” door. She checked my and Dar’s temperature, both around 36 degrees Celsius. I showed her the problem, gave her all of Dar’s information, and added “but then, he’s been coming here for ten years, so you know all about his autism and non-verbal condition.” She told me I’d be going upstairs. I said, “you want us to wait in the waiting room next to the fish tank?” She replied no, she’d put us in a room.
We walked into the room. From then on, it went surprisingly well. Dar wasn’t screaming half as much as I expected him to, other than during the moment that I put his finger under tap water (again). Did Dar sense my alarm? Maybe. Rather than look at his cut-open finger with pain or panic, he seemed to see it with almost scientific curiosity even as the doctor rewashed it with “sterile water.”
The doctor said that we had to choose between sewing or glue. Sewing, of course, would take longer, and it might not work any better. I told him I trusted him. He brought in another doctor for a second opinion. To me the main issue was what would be harder for Dar to later remove. We simply can’t watch him every second of every day, and he’s going to pick at anything. We can’t dog-collar him. This has come up before, but this kind of thing gets worse as he gets older and more powerful.
Anyway, we all decided on glue. They finished; Dar’s ripped finger was now glued. I said something like “you guys must have had a fun last couple of months, eh?” They laughed.
They sent me to that same backdoor. It was locked again, this time from the inside. Scarf failed, naked hand failed, and then finally the nurse let me out. I stepped outside as I applied more hand sanitizer.
This time, wifey drove while I held Dar’s hand from the passenger seat. We made it back to the house. We bandaged him up again. We left him alone in the house for a little while. And then…we found him with blood all over him from where he’d ripped off the glue.
Cleaning the blood was the easy part. Wifey and I re-bandaged him and put a sock on his hand and tied it with a string. Wifey said, well, it’s good that the injury happened on his right hand, because his left is weak (cerebral palsy) and so he won’t pull off the dressing. I said, uh, no, it’s bad that it’s his right hand because he needs his right hand. Sure enough, he kept asking us to take off the “mitten.” He kept presenting his hand to us. We kept saying no. I took his left hand to a bag of dearly loved chips, but it’s just too hard for him to eat that way.
Finally we went to plan B. (Or C, or D, or wherever we were.) We tied up just his wounded pinky finger with the cutoff finger of a disposable glove and string. And then we watched him like a hawk until he fell asleep. And…that worked.
I heard Dar as early as 3:30 this morning, but most of his noises were happy. That’s a lot better than screaming, but still hard to sleep through. I tried to put myself back to sleep, but had the usual trouble. Finally, around 5:00am I went to him. I started to see why he was so happy. He had extricated his finger, probably with his teeth. The bandage and gauze and string were lying on the floor.
The good news: no visible blood. His finger was mostly, or maybe entirely, stable. A lot of the glue had held up. It looked cauterized, which is, you know, disgusting, but manageable. We tied up his finger again. He bit it off. We gave up and are now hoping for no infection.
There may be a larger metaphor here, about Dar’s body, about the “body” of my family or even the body of society, about what I can take care of and what I can’t, about glue, about stopping the bleeding but not doing more. But you know what? I’m not doing metaphors today.
Today I get to think about how to baby-proof a house against a tween that gets stronger every day.
But I love you guys, because you won’t tell me to google it or “just look for a youtube video on” how to child-proof a house against adults. Thanks for not being THAT friend. Much love. Stay safe and stay home. Peace.