It’s been just over a year since my six year old cracked her head open and bled all over an indoor trampoline park.
I could’ve panicked. She couldn’t have lost consciousness, or worse. But having medical training in just a veterinary assisting field helped me keep her safe and now she has a cool story and the scar to prove it.
Instead of getting mad at the park, or fearing all dangers, I know that nothing will keep my children safer than teaching them how to handle themselves in an emergency and also exercising every ounce of patience possible in those dire circumstances.
No one wants to go to the emergency room during the holidays. It’s hard enough dealing with the usual stress, but no matter what happens parents, family members, and kids can get through anything if they know how to handle the unexpected.
Looking back, the kids and I were just enjoying the wonders of a kiddie birthday party. A family friend’s eldest was turning seven in mid-December and I was happy to hand my baby over to the other moms and chase after the older kids. My middle child, Lexi, led me through the indoor trampoline park. We bounced around giggling with giant grins attacking our faces.
She raced ahead and stopped at a big obstacle course hungry for adventure. She stared as kids her age jumped in with no fear.
Her toes wiggled on the mat.
“I’ll go with you.” I nudged her forward.
Her dark eyes shined. “Really?”
“Sure. I need the exercise.” I laughed and we got in line
“You go first?” She stepped behind me when it was our turn.
I preferred to keep my kids in my sight, usually following behind them, but I thought maybe she’d benefit from watching me so I grasped the bungee cord dangling over a big rubber ball in a pit of soft foam bits and stepped onto the round surface. “You can sit and ride on this one if it’s easier.” I sat on the ball and swung across.
Once on the other side I sent it back to her. “Now you try.”
She caught the rope. “Okay.” She swung her leg over the ball and sat down to ride across.
“Good job!” I caught her and clapped.
She was so excited she turned to the next obstacle. Two long trapeze bars taunted us. I had seen a couple of smaller kids walk across them so I followed suit and demonstrated for my daughter.
As soon as my feet were secured on the landing pad, I smiled at her already testing the first bar. I turned away to survey what we had coming next. A hill of triangle pads led to a long zip-line. Not sure if my daughter was ready for it, I turned back and found her slowly climbing out of the foam. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?” I reached down to help her up.
We walked toward the zip line, but she swayed. I stopped and studied her face. Tears pooled in her eyes. Her shoulders and neck tensed.
She rubbed the back of her head and I knew something was wrong. “Did you hit your head?” I patted her shoulder thinking it was a little bump.
She nodded and a few tears slipped out.
“It’s okay,” I told her.
She pulled her hand off her head and it was coated in blood.
“Oh my god.” I spotted blood on the mat behind her.
The hardest part of being an adult is finding the maturity to avoid panic. Children get hurt. They bleed. They do not come with padding, instructions, or warranties. In order to raise well-adjusted children who are not reckless, but also not afraid of the world, we have to let them take risks while preparing for injury. Nothing prepared me for that moment, but previous knowledge did give me the courage to look for immediate solutions.
I picked her up and searched for an escape. We stood in the middle of an obstacle course, but I knew there had to be an emergency exit. To my left was a pile of mats. I followed them to an employee-only access ladder. “Hold onto my neck,” I said.
My daughter clung to me like a tree frog.
I climbed us down and went straight to the front desk. “We’ve got an injury. I need a first aid kit.”
My previous experience working in a vet clinic aided me. I needed to stop the bleeding and find the wound. I set my daughter on the counter and looked her in the eyes. “It’s going to be okay. I know it hurts, but I have to check your head.”
“Okay mommy,” she whimpered.
The teenagers working there were terrified. I doubted they had dealt with an emergency yet. One of the girls got me the first aid kit and asked if we need to call 9-1-1.
“I need gauze.” I sighed at the Band-Aids and surgical tape littering the first aid kit, not one pack of gauze to be found.
She ran off and came back a pile of napkins. “This is all we have.”
I dabbed at the back of Lexi’s head, parting the hair as gently as possible.
She winced but let me work.
The blood kept pouring. Head injuries bleed a lot, I reminded myself to keep calm. She’s going to be okay. She has to be.
Positive thinking may not heal wounds but it does prevent unnecessary fear.
I sopped up the mess with numerous napkins and finally got to the massive cut. It didn’t go to the bone but plenty of meat stuck out of the gaping wound. “Yes. Please call 9-1-1. Now,” I told the worker.
The American Association of Pediatrics lists head injuries as the leading cause of death and disability in children. I wanted to scream but needed to keep my daughter calm. If she started kicking and screaming it would have increased blood flow and she would have lost too much blood.
“Lexi baby, it’s going to be okay, but you’re probably going to need stitches. We’re going to get you help honey. This might hurt a bit, but I need to clean the wound.” I opened an alcohol pad and cleaned the cut.
“I know it hurts, but it will get better.” I dabbed at the cut, making sure not to wipe. Wiping could open the wound more or infect it.
She nodded. More tears flowed.
I glanced at the workers stepping closer. “I have to go get my other kids.”
“Okay, we’ll wait with her.” The girl who had handed me the napkins patted Lexi’s shoulder.
I look my daughter in the eyes. “I’m going to get your brother and sister, but I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
She nodded, sniffling.
I raced back to the party room just as our group was singing, “Happy Birthday.” I snuck behind the circle of people and pulled my daughter away. We gathered up our things, then I went to our host to grab the baby and let her know what was going on.
“Oh no! Let me help,” she said. She carried a few things up front just as the ambulance arrived.
The paramedics rushed in to check Lexi over. Thankfully they ruled out a concussion. Together we worked with Lexi to determine that when she fell, the corner of the trapeze bar must have cracked her just where the metal secured the wood.
“We can take her to the nearest hospital but if you want to drive her, she’ll be okay,” the ambulance driver told me.
“I can drive her.” I felt more comfortable staying in some control of the situation.
The firemen and policemen who showed up gave the kids stickers and praised Lexi for being so brave. They helped me get the kids in the car and sent us on our way. We met my husband at the hospital and he took my eldest and the baby home so I could tend Lexi while she got stitches.
The doctors and nurses were wonderful. They put on a movie for us and let my daughter pick out the color of the “magic strings” that would close the wound. She got a Popsicle and ended the night with five stitches and a smile.
It all rushed by so fast. Thinking of it now it’s more like a movie that we watched rather than lived through. I attribute that to mommy-mode. When things go wrong, parents have to hold in our fears, stay calm, and comfort the child to gain control of the situation and seek out help if needed.
I don’t regret encouraging my daughter to go into that obstacle course. Countless children do it every year. I am mad at myself for going against my instincts and not following behind as usual.
By going in front of her I hoped to lead by example, but I should have been there to spot her. I may have been able to catch that trapeze bar before it hit my daughter. I could have caught her. Maybe we would have been able to finish.
I could blame myself all day, but in truth, I may have freaked out at the pool of blood or made things even worse trying to catch the trapeze bar. The blame game doesn’t fix anything. There are endless nightmare possibilities, but it is better to learn from the accident.
My daughter is tougher for it. I am more equipped for emergency situations. Focusing on her gave me the strength to handle everything the way she needed. We now laugh about what happened and feel stronger for surviving it together.
By focusing on her, soothing the injury, getting help and letting the pros work I was able to give my daughter the care and support she needed.
Children learn by example. They look to us for everything. No matter what we say or how many rules we set, it is our actions that lay the foundation for our children’s behavior.
It’s exhausting. Controlling our emotions to cater to the needs of another isn’t easy. But it’s necessary.
Children cry when their parents freak out.
When I picked up my daughter to carry her away from the bloody obstacle course, she clung to me. Just hugging me helped her feel better. Kissing boo boos really does work. It may not offer a medicinal aid, but it slows racing heart beats. It eases tense muscles and wards-off fears.
The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences has noted that oxytocin (which is released when parents touch their children) can induce anti-stress-like effects by:
- Reducing blood pressure
- Reducing the stress hormone cortisol
- Increasing pain thresholds
- Promoting growth and healing
The power of touch is a type of medicine that all parents are able to provide.
No one knows exactly what to do in an emergency. My previous work in a medical field gave me a leg up, but I still had to stop and think before I could do anything. There isn’t often time for mistakes when someone is losing blood. Based on my own veterinary assistant work I have a few steps that are ingrained in me:
- Assess the situation and secure the patient
- Get the supplies you need
- Stop the bleeding
- Examine the wound and keep the child talking if conscious
- Get that wound cleaned and closed
Not every emergency needs a doctor, but it’s good to be safe when uncertain. Even when a child falls off their bike, if it’s a bad fall it’s necessary to have them sit as still as possible while you check them over to make sure no bones are sticking out. Once you know how bad the injury is then you know whether to move the child, keep them still, and/or call for help.
Having a first aid kit with the proper contents is helpful as well. The facility where my daughter got hurt didn’t have gauze and that made it harder for me to find the wound which caused my daughter more emotional and physical pain.
Stopping the blood is key. It can save a life. When calling for 9-1-1, minutes matter. Applying pressure on the area with gauze, napkins, or any cloth available can make a huge difference. Always dab, never wipe. Wiping may open the wound further or infect it.
It can be difficult for the child in the moment, but if you keep them talking they are more likely to survive. I talked to my daughter as I parted her hair and sopped up blood. When I found the cut I had to bite my tongue to keep from expressing how bad it was. I dabbed an alcohol wipe on the area before we left to get her stitches without making a big deal about it.
At the hospital I had to step back and relinquish control over the situation. It was just as difficult to watch as it was to jump in. There are moments of helplessness during an emergency. No parent can avoid that, but we have to trust the doctors and nurses. They handle these kinds of cases on a regular basis and work in the best interest of the patient.
No one is ever 100% prepared for a bloody emergency. It’s impossible to know what to do in each situation, but having a basic plan gives parents the tools they need to assess each individual situation.
Talking to other parents about their experiences, getting together with family members and going over past emergency situations is a great way to know what to do. This also allows people to emotionally prepare or heal from past experiences.
Every cut and scrape is training. The injuries we handle ourselves give us the knowledge we need for the big ones.
Even minor boo boos need tending. Whether it just takes a hug to make the kid feel better, or a bandage, how we handle the small stuff matters when facing real danger.
Being prepared is always better than panicking.