Yesterday morning I had a ton of stuff to do, so Terry volunteered to take Max to a toddler playgroup he’d heard about in the village, while I got myself ready for the day. He’d told me they’d be out for at least an hour, so when I got out of the shower about twenty minutes after they’d left, and heard Max’s cries echoing up the stairs, I knew something was amiss.
Max really isn’t the type to cry for no reason, and these cries had a particularly hysterical ring to them, so I ran downstairs in my dressing gown, and found Terry and our friend Carol – who lives right across the street from us – in the kitchen, trying to comfort a clearly distressed Max.
“It’s his lip,” said Terry, as I walked in the door. “I think it’s going to need stitches.”
Sure enough, Max’s chin and t-shirt were covered in blood: not a huge amount, granted, but enough to make me instantly turn round and run upstairs to grab whichever clothes came to hand. I don’t think I’ve ever moved so fast in my life. It wasn’t until we were half way to the hospital that I got the full story of what had happened, but it seems playgroup had been cancelled that day, so Terry had turned around and come home, where he’d met Carol coming out of her house. Now, Max adores Carol, so they stopped for a chat, and as Max ran excitedly up and down the path, he’d fallen over and split his lip open on the pavement.
Cue panic. From me, I mean: and, to be fair, I managed to just panic silently and in my own head, which is a first for me, for sure.
Honestly, though, even as we drove towards the hospital, I was already starting to convince myself that it wasn’t that bad. The bleeding had stopped by the time we got into the car, and so had the crying: in fact, Max spent the duration of the journey asking for a snack, and when we finally pulled up outside Accident & Emergency, he was pretty much his usual, chirpy self. “LIP!” he announced to the A&E receptionist, pointing at his mouth. And then, “NIPPLE!” he shouted, turning to a poster of a bare-chested man on the wall. So, yeah: his behaviour was reassuringly normal, and his lip had stopped bleeding, so, by the time a nurse appeared to assess him, about ten minutes later (Quick shout-out here to the absolute awesomeness of the NHS: I went in prepared for a long, long wait, but we were seen almost right away…), I was starting to calm down a bit.
Just to reassure me some more, the nurse wasn’t worried either.
“I don’t think this will need stitches,” she said, looking at the lip. “It looks to me like it’s going to heal up OK, but we’ll get the doctor to take a look at it, anyway, just to be sure.” Then she showed us into a special children’s waiting room (It was filled with toys, but naturally all Max wanted to do was repeatedly open and close the toilet door…), where we waited for another ten minutes or so, before the doctor appeared and took us to a consulting room with Nemo on the wall, and another selection of toys, which Max proceeded to totally ignore in favour of the door.
This time, the news was not so good.
“I think we should stitch it,” said the doctor, once Max had grudgingly allowed her to look at his swollen lip. “We could just leave it, but I’m worried that it might leave him with a wonky lip-line if it doesn’t heal properly.”
Well, she did her best: she really did. First of all, Max was wrapped in a blanket, almost as if he was being swaddled. Then a nurse came in to hold his head, while Terry and I stroked his face, and the doctor attempted to stitch up his lip.
She’d warned us before she started that it would likely prove impossible, and, within just a few seconds, we could see she’d been right. “I’m really sorry,” the doctor said, standing up and passing a wailing Max over to me for a cuddle. “I just can’t do it with him awake: it’s going to have to be a general anaesthetic.”
And THEN I panicked.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you might know that there are two things in this world that terrify me beyond belief:
02. General anaesthetic
I’ve always said I don’t know which of these two is scariest, but, honestly, I think if the doctor had told me I could put my hands into a box of crabs, and Max wouldn’t have to have a general anaesthetic, I’d have done it. Actually, scratch that: I’d have done ANYTHING to stop that happening. And, yes, I know it’s perfectly safe, and that he’d be in the best possible hands: I know it would take ten minutes, and he wouldn’t even remember it by this time next week, but when you’re faced with the prospect of holding your tiny baby while he’s put to sleep, and then watching him being wheeled off to an operating theatre, none of that really matters, does it? Or not to me, anyway: because, to me, this was one of my very worst fears coming true, and as I bent down to pull something out of the changing bag (Which we’d somehow had the presence of mind to throw in the car as we were leaving the house), and saw Max’s little jacket, which I’d put in there just over an hour earlier, in case it was cold when Terry was bringing him home from playgroup, I almost burst into tears.
One hour: that’s all it had taken to turn an ordinary Wednesday morning into my worst nightmare. One hour, a little fall, and a cut on the lip that didn’t even look particularly big to me. How had this happened? How did we somehow manage to get from me tucking that jacket into his bag for a morning at playgroup, to all of us sitting in a hospital room discussing how we could render my baby unconscious, and, oh yeah, he’ll also be scarred for life now? It was just inconceivable: even more so when I looked at Max, now happily wandering around the room as if nothing had happened.
Something HAD happened, though, and now it would have to be fixed, so the doctor called in a colleague from ‘plastics’ as she called it, who had a quick look at the lip, and then told us it was up to us to decide whether or not to go ahead with the general anaesthetic. Because, here’s the thing: there’s no medical reason for Max to need stitches in his lip. We could just leave it, the new doctor told us, and see what happened: it might heal fine, or it might heal crooked – there was no way of knowing. He would have a scar regardless of whether he had the stitches or not, and having the stitches might not make too much of a difference. Or it might. Again, there was just no way of knowing, and that’s what’s made this whole situation so torturous for me: and for Terry, too, obviously, because while he doesn’t share my fear of general anaesthetics, I don’t think there can be many parents out there who’d be happy to send their child off for one without knowing there was absolutely no choice.
We, however, DID have a choice: we just didn’t have the knowledge to make an informed one. For me in particular, I know that my phobia of anaesthetic makes it impossible for me to think rationally about it: because no matter how many statistics you throw at me, or how many people tell me it’s perfectly safe, I just can’t stop my brain from telling me that it isn’t, and that something terrible is going to happen. I KNOW these thoughts aren’t rational: I just don’t know how to stop them. I don’t, however, want my fears to prevent me from doing the right thing for my child, so, after a brief chat with Terry, we agreed to take the doctor’s advice, and allow him to go ahead and arrange the procedure for the next day. Then, finally, we went home.
By this stage, I was doing my best to stay calm in front of Max, but I was absolutely terrified, and already starting to doubt the decision we’d just made. As the day went on, I started to doubt it even more. Within a couple of hours, the swelling had reduced, and the wound was already starting to heal. Max seemed totally happy: he refused to sleep, and was a bit clingier than usual, but he was eating and drinking normally, and seemed totally oblivious to the cut on his lip. By bedtime, the swelling was almost completely gone, and the lip underneath looked straight, which gave us hope that the doctor’s concerns of him ending up with a crooked lip might not actually come to pass. I’m not going to say that it’s not noticeable, or that we’re not worried about it: the cut was deep, and he will definitely have a scar, which absolutely breaks my heart. Honestly, though? It really doesn’t look too bad: which has made even Terry start to question whether we REALLY need to put our 17-month-old through a general anaesthetic in order to re-open a wound that already seems to be healing well.
We still don’t have an answer to that question.
At the time of writing (It’s currently 10pm on Wednesday night, although it’ll be Thursday by the time this post goes live), we’re fairly sure he’s not going to need to have it stitched, and we’re REALLY hoping that will be the case. We’re obviously not doctors, though, so the current plan is to call the hospital first thing this morning and ask if we can bring him in for a second opinion, rather than just taking him straight into Sick Kids to have a procedure he may not need. I have absolutely no idea what will happen, but I’m really, really hoping they’ll agree that he doesn’t need to have the general anaesthetic, because I can’t even imagine how I’ll cope if he does.
With that said, the only person who matters in all of this is Max, and we’ll obviously do whatever the doctor tells us is best for him. I’ll post an update on Instagram as soon as I know what that is: in the meantime, though, your good thoughts and positive stories about scars that healed/ toddlers who had general anaesthetics would be very welcome: it’s going to be a long, long day…