- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2000

The sound was a sickening one, splitting the relative calm of a Tuesday afternoon like a starter's pistol.The sound after it was deafening, a hideous, banshee wail I had never heard in Jeremy's 14 months of life.

It was the beginning of his first trip to the emergency room. I know better than to include "and last." Not with this particular youngster.

It started innocently enough with Jeremy taking his usual midafternoon stroll around the living room, dining room and kitchen and 4-year-old Sean shadowing him and trying to make him laugh, often with success. Every once in a while, they would bump into each other, and Jeremy would go down. After one too many collisions, I separated the two and took Sean into the living room while Jeremy moseyed into the kitchen.

That's when he slipped and hit his head against either the pantry door or the edge of the wall leading into the living room. I didn't see it I only heard it, back-to-back sounds that would send a chill down any parent's spine.

In the time it took me to fly across the living room into the kitchen, a hideous 2-inch-long purplish bruise of almost cartoonish proportions had sprung from Jeremy's forehead. He looked like a Warner Bros. character after an encounter with an anvil.

The calm, dispassionate side of me should have dug some ice out of the freezer and coolly dialed our pediatrician for suggestions. The calm, dispassionate side of me, unfortunately, was sunbathing out on the deck. The Dagwood-Bumstead-racing-around-the-house-late-for-work side of me was wide open for business, however.

I hurriedly packed a diaper bag and made a few futile attempts to ice down Jeremy's forehead. He would have none of it and howled louder every time the washcloth got near him. Sean, meanwhile, followed me around repeating, "What happened to Jeremy? What's wrong with Jeremy? He has a boo-boo."

"Yes, I suppose you could say that," I said, trying to sound as if I were engaged in a conversation about one of Sean's "Veggie Tales" videos. "Jeremy's got a boo-boo all right. Let's take him to see the doctor."

A road trip. Sean was all for that. I loaded them into the minivan, wiped the sweat off my face for the 20th time and gunned the engine. Jeremy, who also loves riding in the car, stopped crying long enough to look around to see where we were going. He stopped crying almost too abruptly for me. I did my best to chase away the fears of his going into shock en route to the hospital.

But by the time we got there, my fears were taking on a new shape. Jeremy had stopped crying altogether, and the swelling on his head was already going down. I was beginning to think I was overreacting.

The triage nurse who signed us in was the first to ask me, "Is this your first baby?" I shook my head. She nodded, as in a sign of affirmation and took my clipboard back to the doctors.

Jeremy amused himself with some scattered toys in the waiting room and drank his bottle. The sign-in nurse motioned me over.

"Is this your first baby?" she also asked me as she processed my insurance cards and checked my paperwork.

"Yes," I said, feeling more foolish by the minute.

Another nurse took us back into the emergency room and another waiting room. Jeremy and Sean ate Cheerios, and Jeremy had some more of his bottle. Another nurse poked her head in the door and said to Jeremy, "Hey little fella, how are you feeling? The doctor's almost ready to see you."

"Come on, Sean, let's get ready to move," I said. The nurse looked at Sean. Before she could speak, I jumped in.

"Yes, he's Jeremy's brother … his older brother," I said. By now I was already picturing the jokes around the water cooler as soon as I left.

The doctor examined Jeremy for about 25 seconds. He asked me a series of questions, all without using the word "yutz" once. I was impressed. I learned at the end of the day that babies' foreheads swell that much when they take a blow like that because there's no flesh there to absorb the blood that's released.

I learned that trips to the emergency room usually aren't necessary, even if the baby looks like a crew member from "Alien," unless there's repeated vomiting, loss of consciousness, disorientation or obvious personality or mood changes (beyond the obvious mood change that comes with being clobbered in the head).

I also realized, as I drove home feeling like the world's biggest donkey, that I probably would have done it all over again.

After all, feeling as if you're sprouting a pair of huge, floppy donkey ears for a couple of hours isn't the worst feeling you can have as a parent.

Mark Stewart is the father of two boys, Sean and Jeremy. He is a staff writer for the Family Times. He can be reached at [email protected]

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