“Get the lead out, MISTER.” Sargent Fury and his Howling Commandos
Let me set the scene for you. Sunday evening, just after supper. When it’s just the three of us, we break into our after dinner roles without discussion. I go to fill the sink with water and start the dishes, and my wife runs a bath for our daughter and gets her into her pjs ready for bed. I don’t know how this tradition began, but it seems to be our default behaviour assuming everything else is equal. I mean, I’ve run baths and my wife has done after supper dishes, of course, but if I were a wagering man, and I had to bet on where you’d find me after supper on an ordinary night, I’d bet on finding me in the kitchen, with a podcast playing, or maybe just some “dish washin’ music” to complete the scene.
And so it was last night, a night like any other. By happy coincidence, I am usually just about done the dishes the same time my wife is done overseeing our daughter’s bath and bedtime routine. For some reason that I won’t get into in this post, I had come into possession of a 79 minute CD full of nothing but English madrigals, and I thought, “what better time than now for me to give it a listen?” and so I did.
I was nearing the end of the dish washing and madrigal listening, (which, incidentally, is beautiful for like 5 minutes and then it kind of gets a bit, um, samey, doesn’t it?) when I heard protests coming from the bedroom. I wasn’t too concerned at first. There’s always a bit of a negotiation as who what night-gown is to be worn, or which furry friend gets the honour to be the bedmate on any given night, but then I heard troubling language like, “I’m going to get your father if you don’t stop” and “how did you DO this?” and “I can’t do this on my own”. Now, to be fair to me, none of these sentences were actually calls for help from my wife, but rather negotiation tactics on my wife’s part to get our strong-willed daughter to do whatever she didn’t want to do, and I was so close to finishing the dishes and earning a tiny window of quiet time.
My wife came out and said in a rather calm voice, considering the context, “could you light a match for me?” and held out a book of paper matches.
“Um, sure. What’s going on?”, I asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
My wife didn’t answer but held up a needle to the match flame.
“I need to sterilize this”, and off she went back to the bedroom.
Well, I couldn’t ignore the situation any more, could I? Plus, my wife was now shouting, “Trevor, get in here. She’s not cooperating!”
I put my sponge down (with just the dutch oven left to go) and headed into our daughter’s bedroom. I was met by a scene of Bosch-like depravity. Here our daughter was, lying on top of her bed, covering her chest, sobbing quietly, and there was my wife at the end of the bed, holding the needle out menacingly.
“Good LORD, Marla. What’s happening?” I exclaimed.
“She has lead in her chest. I have to get it out,” she said calmly but firmly.
“Wait, what? What happened? What’s going on?”
Well, apparently, as the story goes, our daughter was running around after church yesterday because my wife and I were stuck in a meeting. Since it was just after Halloween, there seemed to be a shitload of candy lying around, and I had to stop her periodically to make sure she wasn’t running with a sucker in her mouth. I guess I was so preoccupied with the suckers I didn’t realize that the kids were also running around with sharpened pencils. This is where the story gets muddled. (Maybe I can interest the producers of the podcast Serial to take on this case when the Adnan case runs its course?) We don’t know if our daughter stabbed herself by accident with a pencil, whether another kid stabbed her, and whether it was an accident or on purpose. Our daughter doesn’t remember it happening, or at least isn’t able to give a clear account of the morning’s events. What I do know is that we got home from church, had lunch, she and I went out to a park for a couple of hours, we hit a Starbucks on the way back, had supper, and all this time she didn’t say that she had a chest wound.
But I guess it was spotted during her bath, and all of a sudden my wife has turned into Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman and she’s about to cauterise the wound with a hot needle or something.
“You’ve gotta hold her down. She’s squirming too much!” was all my wife said.
“Jesus! Let’s hold back for a bit. Do you know what you’re doing? Did you google this?”
She hadn’t googled it, as it turned out. She just went into some weird survival mode. I was too surprised to do anything but obey at this point, and as I tried to hold Audrey’s arms out of the way, I saw the wound for the first time up close.
Now, let’s not over dramatize the wound. It was not much bigger than a millimeter around, I’d guess, but black. Lead black, with a bit of redness (infection! Marla pointed out) around the outside.
Still, it kind of turned my stomach to see her wee little chest like that. I’ve sort of prided myself in making sure that nothing really bad has happened physically to our daughter in the past 5 years. Sure, there was that terrible gash on her forehead when she was six months old when she crawled up against her dresser when I was supposed to be watching her, and that time last summer when she was at a friend’s place and tumbled off the front steps and actually required stitches (I technically wasn’t looking after her that time, so I’m really just on the hook for the 6 month old forehead gash, which I am happy to report miraculously disappeared completely a couple of days later). In fact, as her father, I feel like I just need to make sure she gets to age 21 without getting pregnant and I will have done my job. 5 down, 16 to go!
But back to this bedroom drama. I was trying to convince my wife to hold off. “You know, it’s probably not even lead, it’s probably graphite” which was meant to sound intelligent but I honestly don’t know what graphite is, and whether getting stabbed by graphite is any better than getting stabbed by lead. Maybe it was a whole “Butter vs. margarine” debate but in the writing utensil world. Neither one is probably all that good for you.
“These were church pencils. They were probably ancient,” was her reasoned response and she began to move forward with the needle.
Our daughter was not having any of it.
Between the screams, she was saying, “it’s going to hurt, it’s going to hurt” and I thought, “she not wrong.” I also had the thought that maybe if my wife demonstrated on me what she was going to do to our daughter, it would aleviate her fears.
“Sure, it’s not like Mommy’s going to stick that needle right in there or anything, she’s just going to try to get some of the lead out, like this”. I took my wife’s hand and lightly brushed the needle against my arm.
“It’s not the same! It’s not the same. Do it to that!” our daughter screamed, pointing to a pimple on my arm. I gave my wife a look that I hope conveyed this thought: “there’s no fuckin’ way I’m going to let you stick that needle into my pimple, okay?” and luckily I think that message came across because my wife said, “I’m not worried about Daddy’s pimple, I’m worried about that lead in your chest” and kind of unexpected lunged forward with the needle.
She got one good pass at the wound with the needle before our daughter spun around, but that one pass got a little bit of something black out of the wound. I honestly couldn’t tell if it was lead, graphite or even just dried blood, but it encouraged my wife to try to get the rest out.
But seeing that needle go into the wound and kind of move around really made me feel sick to my stomach.
“Good GOD I don’t think this is the way. At the very least let’s google this” and I was out of the room looking for the iPad. All this time the English madrigals were playing merrily away in the kitchen, and what started as a pleasant musical diversion to wash dishes by, soon took on more sinister and incongruent connotations.
Well you know how no matter what you look up on the internet, the answer 99% of the time is CANCER, right? Well in the case of puncture wounds, there’s a lot more grey area. I found a site that asked a lengthy questionnaire with questions like “is the wound from an axe” No. “Do you have a history of Crohn’s disease?” What the heck does that have to do with lead poisoning? ” or “Was the wound self-inflicted or was it done by another person?” Still don’t see the relevance, but I asked our daughter, “Did anyone do this to you? Did you do this? WHO DID THIS?” but you can imagine this approach yielded no fruit.
The advice seemed to be “well, it could be treated at home (without actually saying how to treat it) but it might also need medical attention!” Oh, internet. I DID find out that two famous composers, Handel and Beethoven, were thought to have suffered from lead poisoning during their lives. I absent-mindedly wondered if they also suffered from Crohn’s disease or composed any madrigals in their day.
I resigned myself to the prospect of heading down to emergency on Sunday night, and said this to my wife, but a calm had come over her, and she seemed partially satisfied with the little bit of lead/graphite that she got out of the wound already. The storm had passed, metaphorically speaking.
“Well, I don’t think we need to go down tonight,” she finally said. My daughter seemed relieved that the treatment had ended, and we stuck a band-aid on it (why the hell not?) and called it a night. I thought that was the end of it. We’d check on it the next day and it would be just fine.
Well, the next morning, as I got back from my morning walk, I came into the kitchen to find my wife on the phone with “healthlinks”, this service where you can call and ask a nurse about medical things and they will advise what you should do. It seems like my wife had been on the phone for quite some time before I came home, because I heard her say,
“No, I don’t think there’s a history of Crohn’s disease. Yes, she’s had all her shots. No, I don’t know if anyone did this to her or if she did it to herself…” and so on. What’s up with this Crohn’s question anyway?
My wife got off the phone and said that the nurse thought she should get it looked at “in the next couple of days” so off we went, the three of us, to our local walk-in clinic, only to find out that the doctor himself went home sick himself.
We found another clinic further afield which could take our daughter in an hour, so in the mean time we hit a McDonalds for breakfast because at this point we realized none of us had anything to eat. Our daughter was so excited that we chose a McDonalds that had a play area (a fluke), and being 9 am, she was the only kid in the place, so she had it to herself.
I was feeling a little bad that she was having this merry time, knowing that within the hour some stranger was going to be using tweezers on her chest. It reminded me of my own childhood when my Mom would take me out for a McDonalds treat and then on the way home say, “SURPRISE! We’re going to the DENTIST!” and then I would proceed to throw up chicken nuggets everywhere because you really should eat a big meal of fast food when you are known for your unrepentant gag reflex.
And here I was doing the same thing, letting our daughter have a gay old time minutes before things take the inevitable turn. But then I thought maybe this could be some radical form of aversion therapy. Maybe if our daughter associated fast food and McDonalds play with excrutiating chest pain, she may adopt a healthy lifestyle as an adult.
Or maybe I’m just trying to rationalize things.
So, to make a long story short, if that’s even possible at 2121 words, once we were back at the clinic, my wife took our daughter in to the examining room while I waited in the waiting room. I reasoned that there really wouldn’t be room for the three of us in there, and my wife thought that our daughter would probably act better for her than for me, but the real reason was that I didn’t want a repeat of last night, where I nearly threw up witnessing my wife’s game but rather amateur attempts at lead removal. I had just scarfed down a sausage mcmuffin and most of our daughter’s hot cakes (she was too busy playing on the damn play structure to eat), and I’d rather keep them down.
It wasn’t long before I could hear my daughter’s screams, and then, even more disturbing to me, her little sobs between the screams. They seemed to go on for quite some time, and other people in the waiting room were turning to me, since they saw the three of us come in together. How should I react? Should I look surprised? Shocked? Concerned? I think I pulled off one of those “kids these days!” kinds of faces but I’m not sure. I had a brief memory of the very first time I heard those screams, 5 and a half years ago on a maternity ward in a different city under what one may call “unique circumstances”, but that’s a story for another time.
Before I knew it, the door swung open and out bounded my daughter, cheeks stained with tears and eyes red, but a huge smile on her face and the biggest grape popsicle I’ve ever seen sticking out of her mouth.
“Don’t run with that thing!” I said to her as I hugged her, but then I realized that was the same thing I said to her yesterday at church, and she ended up taking a pencil to the chest. I asked my wife, “was he [the doctor] nice?” I always seem to ask this. I don’t know why. I mean, why does it really matter if he’s nice or not? I guess I just want to connect on some level with him, and I wouldn’t be able to judge if he was a good doctor, but niceness is universal. He was nice, as it turned out. And he was able to take some tweezers to it and get a bit more out, but he wasn’t even sure if there was any more to get. He couldn’t tell if it was just dried blood or what. I got the sense that my wife wasn’t entirely satisfied with the outcome, that maybe a different doctor, maybe one who had more experience with kids (or experience with puncture wounds maybe?) would have given her a more definitive answer, but it was all grey. He thought she should have some baths and maybe she’ll have a little mark on her chest from it forever but maybe not.
At least he didn’t ask about Crohn’s disease.