On guilt and motherhood in an ambulance

Before tragedy struck

I want to preface this post with a bold statement: I rarely, if ever, have felt guilty as a mom. In fact, I hardly ever experience guilt. I have recently wondered if that makes me a sociopath. Hopefully not. But as a mom, I try to give my kids all that I have to give — at least I did until recently. I have always tried not to leave myself any room to feel guilty.

This weekend, while we were camping with the kids, Nate, our youngest, fell into the campfire. He burned his hand badly, and I spent most of the night in two ERs getting him treatment. It was a complete accident. Geoff was starting the fire while the kids played in their fort on the other side of our campsite. Midway through setting up the fire, Nate wandered over to Geoff, who was sawing apart a log. Geoff warned Nate to stay back, and Nate turned and started walking away, looking at Geoff over his shoulder. He took a few steps and tripped directly into the fire, which, thank God, was low, tiny. Geoff saw what happened and immediately pulled him out, but the damage was instantaneous. We all jumped into the car and headed to the nearest hospital.

Where was I while this happened? I was reading a book. In my chair. Watching from afar. I’m embarrassed to admit it. I think of my best friends, the ones who are moms, and I know that each one of them would have been following behind their babies wherever they went around the campsite. There was an open fire and I was reading a book. It’s unforgivable.

The attending doctor at the first ER was concerned that Nate should receive care from a pediatric burn unit. He told me that Nate would need to be put under while his wounded hand was cleaned and the damage accessed. So we transferred to another hospital, closer to home, now at 9 p.m.

Nate fell asleep in the ambulance. It was heartbreaking to see his car seat belted into a stretcher. He looked so tiny and helpless. When the EMT covered him with a white hospital blanket, I couldn’t stop myself from crying. What if the fire had been bigger? What if Geoff hadn’t pulled him out so quickly? All the impossibilities came flooding in at once. If the EMT, sitting across from me in the ambulance, noticed me crying, she didn’t say. How could she have known how much I hate white hospital blankets, how they will always only be shrouds to me ever since my mom died? How could she have known that covering my baby with one to keep him warm in the air-conditioning would put me back in that room with my mom who died so suddenly that I couldn’t even make it to the hospital in time to say goodbye? She couldn’t. She meant well, and truthfully, it all turned out fine.

We made it to the second hospital, and a team of burn doctors assured me that Nate’s hand will heal without surgery. They bandaged his hand, sent us home, and all is well today. He’s learning to be a lefty without much complaint. But I still can’t shake this too-close-for-comfort feeling of near-miss, and I can’t let go of the blame. Maybe I shouldn’t.

elleroy was here