What You’ll Know

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To be honest, you won’t know right away.

When you find your child lying on the ground beside her bike with no obvious injury, you won’t immediately pick her up and run to the hospital.

Instead, you’ll most likely say, “You’re ok. You’re fine. Come on,” because you’ve seen your child take a fall thousands of times before. You taught her how to ride the bike, after all. And after the hours you spent on the phone with the kind nurse at your pediatrician’s office that first year of life, you learned, kids are pretty hardy, even yours who has inherited your lack of grace.

So, you’ll help her inside, put her on the couch and offer her an icepack. When she refuses and doesn’t immediately wiggle into a more comfortable position, you’ll become suspicious. You’ll take a closer look at where she says it hurts. This, of course, is a little like popping open the hood of your car to see if you can figure out what’s the matter. You’re no mechanic, and you’re certainly no doctor, so you’ll quickly give up gently poking at her abdomen trying to determine if it feels soft or hard. Which one is it supposed to be? All she’ll tell you is that it hurts.

After studying her breathing, just a little shallow, and her color, just a little off, you’ll run up the stairs to shower. Fast.

Because you’ll know something is not quite right.

But just in case, it really is as simple as getting the wind knocked out of her, you’ll tell your daughter how bummed she’ll be to miss the festivities in the park you’d planned on catching after you first mopped the floor and made it the grocery store. Today was supposed to be fun, remember?

You’ll return to her side, your phone already dialing in your hand because it’s been 10 minutes, and she’s not moving. Sure, she’s talking to you and she’s not crying. But she’s also not arguing with her sister. She also didn’t get up to get her Kindle that you strategically move out of her reach as one last test. You’ll know your plans for the day have changed.

Your doctor, however, won’t know what’s wrong with her and will send you on to the ER. And you’ll be scared, and you’ll know you need another adult with you because two heads and all. So you won’t ask, you’ll tell your husband you’re picking him up early from work and you’ll all go to the ER.

An hour later, they still won’t know what’s wrong. But you’ll know that your youngest child will not be able to cope much longer because there’ll be a woman, a stranger, moaning in what must be excruciating pain across the hall. It will be horrible on top of horrible. So you’ll call a friend who wonderfully, beautifully, miraculously will know to come to the ER to collect your baby allowing you to focus your fragmented attention on your seriously injured child.

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And it’ll will be serious, though you won’t know this at first. They’ll draw blood, they’ll do tests, they’ll perform an ultrasound. They still won’t know, so they’ll schedule your firstborn for a CT scan. “Look honey, it looks like a donut,” you’ll say. “Who knew?” She’ll be ok through all of this because you’ll know you have to act like everything’s ok. Only your husband will see you wiping tears. Your baby will just want to go back to the room to finish watching the Charlie Rose show on PBS. You’ll know this is just a little bit weird.

It’ll be another hour before you’ll know it’s her liver that’s been “popped.”

Popped? You won’t know that livers can “pop.” Certainly not from a bicycle handle bar. “Yes, she was wearing her helmet,” you’ll tell the doctors. Not that it protected her liver. “Ah, but livers heal,” they’ll tell you. “They heal very well, much easier than brains,” they’ll chuckle. You’ll remember your grandmother eating liver and onions with you once at a restaurant, and how tender and bloody the organ appeared. “It’s good for you,” she’d said, encouraging you to share a bite.

Taking your first breath in hours, it seems, you’ll say, “That’s good. We can take her home then. Just let her rest for a day or so, right?” It’ll be a relief.

But she won’t go home. Instead, she’ll spend three days in the pediatric intensive care unit and two days more on the children’s ward. And then you’ll know all the little tricks there are about entertaining a kid with an IV attached to her arm on complete bed rest. Then you’ll know how clever you were to not let her paint her nails before because it turns out painting your nails is an excellent hospital activity. Then you’ll know how good a team you and your husband are, how kind your daughters can be to each other. Then you’ll know when to say, “Yes! Yes, please leave some food for us on our doorstep. We have nothing in our refrigerator. Thank you. Thank you.”

So that’s what you’ll know. And now you know what you’ll know if it happens again.

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Mary Beth is a Southern transplant to Vermont by way of California, where she taught middle school. These days, you can find Mary Beth still working in education with a local college and as a playwright with the Burlington-based, Complications Company. She likes to write about things that make her laugh, like how her eldest sometimes channels a 50-year-old British man when she speaks; everyday tragedies, like being the only person in the house who seems to know how to change a toilet paper roll; and things that keep her up late at night, like climate change, school shootings, pandemics, and if she remembered to pay her car registration or not. She is a co-founder of Complications Company.

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