A running Emmett trips and knocks his forehead into a bench. I’m watching Luka go down the slide when I hear the cries and turn, expecting to see the usual scrapes and cuts, not rivers of bright red blood. The gash in his forehead is two inches long, half an inch wide and a quarter inch deep. I look at it for a moment, convinced I see bone, and press his bleeding head against my shoulder. Then I stand in the middle of the playground in Madison Square Park and say to the parents who have gathered to help, “I don’t know what to do. Do I take him to the hospital or call an ambulance?”
But the thing is, I do know what to do. I have a 4-year-old gushing blood and an 18-month-old hanging on my skirt. I can’t possibly get us and a stroller to NYU medical center. But an ambulance will take us to Bellevue, a city hospital, and all I can think is, scar, scar, scar.
I call 911 and wait seven or eight minutes for the ambulance to arrive, although it feels like a full hour with Emmett crying hysterically over how much it hurts. The EMTs are efficient and kind. They ask about loss of consciousness. They immobilize his neck. They check for signs of concussion. And still I’m thinking, scar, scar, scar.
Emmett was a beautiful baby and is a gorgeous little boy. He has wavy blond hair, creamy skin and clear blue eyes. The cut starts in his eyebrow and slashes across his forehead. In two weeks, he begins kindergarten—two dozen new classmates who will know him as the boy with the scar in the middle of his face.
As expected, the ambulance takes us to Bellevue, not because it’s three blocks closer than NYU but because it has an excellent pediatric trauma center. Emmett is treated immediately. Calm now, he stoically answers the medical staff’s questions. The cut has clean edges, I’m told by a plastic surgeon in her 50s with bobbed silver hair. The wound will heal nicely—no puckering or dimpling—and a good part of the scar will be hidden by his eyebrow. She goes on to explain the type of stitches she’ll use, but all I hear is, scar, scar, scar.
I have lots of scars, including a narrow puckered line in the middle of my forehead from when I slipped off the edge of the bathtub into the corner of the shower when I was eight. I also have a straight four inches on my knee from an ACL reconstruction. These marks never bothered me, and yet I think, as I stare at my son, that I’ll never be able to look at him again without crying.
A doctor cleans the wound while Emmett lies quietly on the gurney, as pale and still as a statue. Then he threads the needle to do the stitches.
Hold on. Where’s the plastic surgeon?
The doctor explains that he’s a third-year resident and that the knowledgable, confident and comforting older woman I’d spoken to earlier was his attending. Neither of them are plastic surgeons. Still, he assures me, the edges of the wound are clean and present no complications. He can easily stitch up Emmett. But if I want, he can call a plastic surgeon.
Oh, yes, I want. I want to wait for the plastic surgeon, and I don’t care how long it takes for him or her to show up— 15 minutes, two hours, a decade. But I take one look at Emmett, so pale, so silent, so damn brave in his green hospital gown, and know I can’t do it. This ordeal has already gone on too long and I can’t conceive of extending it one split second longer than necessary. When you have a stoic little boy lying on a gurney waiting to have his face sewn up, you do it.
An hour later, Emmett is telling the story to his grandfather, his head wrapped in white gauze, which gives him an oddly 1940s look, as if he’s just come through the London blitz. He’s relaxed and smiling as he eats hospital-gift-shop popcorn out of the bag.
As we leave, I realize that here are all kinds of scars. Some you see; some you don’t. All of them say the same thing: I survived. I survived an accident, my first day at kindergarten, knee surgery, my mother’s death. They make us who we are, and if one happens to run horizontally across our brow, so be it.
No, I will not cry when I look at him. I’ll smile and think, my son survived.