Last night while we were sitting around the campfire with some friends, I started digging out lint from my 4 month old son Jack’s toes. After one of my friends had a hair tourniquet around her son’s toes recently, I have been a bit paranoid about this happening, so whenever I hold him I pick the lint out of his toes and do a quick check.
When I looked down to check his little piggies, I was astounded to see a tightly wrapped hair around his middle toe. As luck would have it, my friend (the one who previously experienced the hair tourniquet on her son and is also studying to be a midwife) was sitting beside me, and we both quickly rushed inside to get some tools.
Once inside, she held Jack and armed with a needle, tweezers, and scissors, I attempted to free him from this invisible constriction. My first thought was to cut it with a pair of scissors or a knife if the hair was over the nail, but it was just at the cuticle line. Next, I tried to press down on the area below the hair with a needle hoping to slide it under and break the hair. When I did this, blood started to spill around the entire length of the hair.
I started to panic at this point realizing the seriousness of this infliction. Just then Scott came in, realized what was going on, and tried to see if there was a way that he could get at the hair. Thankfully at this point, Jack did not seem to be bothered, but I was already starting to panic when I said,
“We need to take him to the ER.”
We had hoped to stay up past dark and do some of our 4th of July fireworks early, so it was 8:30 and a bit past bedtime by the time we started pulling out of the driveway at our friend’s house. I dropped Scott off at home with the four older kids (10 minutes away) and took Jack to the ER (3 minutes away).
When I checked in, I was in a bit of a panic, but relieved that we would be in good hands, have some kind of anesthesia, and be able to get it taken care of. The nurse that assisted me in getting Jack’s vitals (a mother I knew from one of my son’s field trips) recalled her brother getting a hair tourniquet around his penis, which made the toe seem practically benign!
Being the researcher that I am, I read a medical article about removing hair tourniquets when Scott was driving us home so I knew our options would be dissolving the hair (although not really a possibility since his skin was broken), trying to get at it with more delicate instruments than I had access to, or giving him a local anesthetic and making a perpendicular incision.
When the doctor came in to check (about 9:00 p.m.), he decided that his first course of action would be to put a topical numbing agent on the toe and try to work it out with tweezers and small pliers. I had to hold Jack for about an hour (which was good because I was able to nurse him and get him to sleep) while they waited for the area to get numb.
I was hoping that Jack would be able to sleep through the procedure and that it would be done quickly. As I sat on the exam table holding Jack, his foot resting on the bed and held down my one of the nurses, I thought that this might be a possibility, but this was not quite the case. While his eyes remained closed and a pacifier hung from his mouth, he started to cry every time the pliers were used, and it was clear that the area was not very numb.
I tried to remain calm and hold my tongue for as long as I could, but after about 10 minutes of holding him down while he writhed in pain, I asked,
“Is there something else we can do?”
The doctor sat back, and I could tell this was traumatic for him too, but his mind was buzzing with protocol and logic knowing that now it was time to move on to phase two. He calmly explained what was going to happen next, and we prepared for the next phase.
As I’m writing this now, I don’t know if I can relive this memory again. My eyes are already welling with tears and I can feel myself starting to tremble. The next five hours were the most traumatic times of my entire life.
The entire time this is happening, I’m posting on FaceBook and texting my mom and husband to keep everyone in the loop. The support I was receiving really helped me to keep things under control, and I put myself in the mindset that this doctor knew what he was doing, and was going to do everything necessary to help Jack.
I didn’t know if I could look once I saw the needles and scalpels, but I wanted to be a voice for Jack, so while soothing him the best I could, I looked, and I saw everything.
He was asleep when they started, but once the needle with the local anesthetic had to be injected into his toe numerous times, he woke up screaming bloody murder. After more pokes than I could count, I whisked him up to rock, bounce, and calm him down again knowing that if he was calm and numb it would be the best for everyone.
At this point, it’s about 10:30 p.m., and the small town hospital ER is a ghost town except for the doctor and three nurses in our room. As I prepared Jack in my lap and sat on the bed, I started thinking about the research that I had read on the way over and knew that now there would be an incision. I held onto Jack’s torso and when the doctor asked me to also hold onto his leg, I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle that, so asked one of the nurses to do so.
“Can we get another pair of hands here?”
I asked, knowing how important a still baby would be (especially as I recalled the tongue tie procedure I had to go through with Julian…right up there with top traumatic experiences). The doctor said, “Yes, let’s get another pair of hands in here.”
Honestly, I can’t write about what happened in the next 20-30 minutes with much detail, but let’s just say there were several cuts with a scalpel, digging with a needle, more cuts, more digging, me seeing Jack flinch when they cut him, asking if the area was really numb, more shots of local anesthetic right in the cuticle, a few more incisions going deeper this time, more digging, Jack screaming bloody murder the ENTIRE time, lots of blood that the doctor had to wipe up himself in between cuts, and finally me knowing that he had been put through enough and saying again,
“Okay, what needs to happen now,”
The doctor tipped back in his chair and pulled the magnifying glasses to the top of his head sighing and said,
“I feel like I’ve done all I can here, and I don’t feel comfortable going any deeper. At this point, with my limited tools, I have no way of knowing if I actually got the hair.”
I asked if we would be going to the Devos Children’s Hospital (in Grand Rapids, about an hour away), and he said probably yes, and that he was going to make some calls. The entire time he’s telling me this, Jack is still screaming. Nothing is calming him down.
Finally everyone leaves the room, Jack nurses, and as he’s perched calmly on my shoulder, I FaceTime with Scott and tell him what’s going on. Thinking that I would be home anytime, he was up doing fireworks with the kids, but knew then that he would have to put everyone to bed by himself. Next, I FaceTimed with my mom to see if she could meet me at Devos because I didn’t want to be alone.
As I started filling her in on what was going on, it suddenly hit me what they were going to have to do at the Children’s Hospital to get the hair off. I saw images of me holding him down again while they gave him more shots with more blood and scalpels or of him having to go under (which JUST happened with Ruby only the day before for a tooth extraction and was a very traumatic experience as well), and I felt myself slipping into what I can only imagine is a panic attack.
My heart raced, my limbs felt numb, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I could feel myself slipping into darkness like I might pass out or go absolutely crazy. I was silent with my mom for several long seconds as I tried to breathe deeply to get the feeling to pass. It was 11:20 at that point, and my mom bolted up in bed and said,
“I’m coming to you honey.”
“Okay mom,” I replied with tears in my eyes. At that point a nurse came in to get something, and I asked her if she could find out for sure if we needed to go to Devos, and she said she would check.
I started to feel like I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs and followed her out as she went to get the doctor. I followed her right through the door into the central nurses station and blurted, “I need to get some air, I think I’m having a panic attack.” They saw the crazy look in my eyes and one of the nurses quickly bolted up saying, “Here, give me your baby and you go get some fresh air.” I was so happy to have her take him because I felt like I might pass out at any moment and drop him.
The doctor followed me outside and explained again what he had done and why. He said I did a remarkable job of staying calm while he did the procedure, and I thanked him profusely for his steady hand and for doing everything he could.
When I came back in, all of the nurses were playing with a happy Jack, and I kept telling myself that he was screaming bloody murder before because he didn’t like being held down, not because he was feeling every incision.
At this point, I asked for a phone charger because my phone was about to die, and they let me plug in using one of their personal chargers. I made a comment about how this was right up my husband’s alley since he was the IT guy at the hospital. Even though Scott works first shift mainly, he has gotten called in at all hours of the night, and everyone was like, “I thought your name sounded familiar!” I showed everyone Scott’s picture, and not that they weren’t super sweet before, but they warmed to us even more after that.
One of the nurses suggested going to the cafeteria to get me some food, and I realized that my blood sugar was probably low which was why I was feeling so faint. I didn’t feel comfortable holding Jack in case I passed out, so one of the nurses carried him for me while we went to the cafeteria. I heard them making a call to the cafeteria as we left saying to put anything I wanted on their account.
After eating some yogurt and apple pie, I felt a bit better. Once we got back to the nurses station, the doctor said that they were ready for us at Devos and that we could drive there when I was ready. I didn’t feel safe driving in the state I was in, so I told my mom to come get me. Just then, Scott called and said he’d be there in 90 seconds. He had gotten one of our friends to watch over our sleeping kids and came to be my night in shining armor!
When I saw him, I collapsed into his arms knowing that he could take over from there. My mom continued driving to relieve our friend and watch the kids. After I nursed Jack, we hopped in the car and headed to Devos.
My mind kept slipping into near panic mode as I thought about what they were going to do to my sweet little Jack, and I tried everything I could to stay sane. I even looked in the mirror and talked to myself about how it was going to be okay. I also prayed…a lot.
It was 2:00 a.m. at this point, and I was exhausted, so I closed my eyes and tried my best to sleep until we got there. After they valeted our van and checked us in, I felt myself slipping back into momma bear mode and knew that I would have to be ready to face whatever happened next.
As the doctor examined his foot, I almost crumpled to the ground in relief when he said,
“Well, I think he got it! The hair is gone.”
He went on to explain how the line on Jack’s foot would still be there for a bit but that there was no constriction anymore. He also looked at the incisions the other doctor had made and remarked on what a fine job he had done. I wept tears of happiness, and felt the greatest sense of relief a mother can feel. It was as if life itself had stopped, and I lost everything, but was now getting another chance to have it back.
By 5:00 a.m., Jack and I were snuggled into our bed nursing to sleep, and I felt such a great sense of appreciation and thankfulness for the outcome of these events. After only three hours of sleep, I knew I needed to write this story down a) because I wanted to share it with everyone that had been so wonderful, supportive, and concerned and b) to help myself process and accept the events that had taken place. At some point in the near future, I am going to write a thank you card to the wonderful staff at the Reed City Hospital, and I am also going to buy myself a bottle of Nair to keep on hand should this ever happen again.
Your story drew me in! I never thought about something like that happening to a child, but you described it well and also helped me feel what you were going through. Well written piece!
Thank you! It was a traumatic experience for sure, and writing about it helps me process it.
Thank you for sharing your story Stacey. I was in tears as I read this. Oh it’s so hard to see our babies in pain. <3 Laurie (Playgroup)
Thank you Laurie. It’s hard for me to think about it even now. Sometimes I’ll hear a sound that sounds like him screaming, and it takes me right back.