Last weekend, while staying with my parents, Squidge decided to investigate their gas fire while it was switched on.
On previous visits he’d discovered that banging his cars the metal surround (whilst the fire was off) produced a very exciting noise, despite us repeatedly telling him ‘no’ and moving him away but so far on this visit he’d completely ignored the fire in favour of pushing his trains along the floor. So when I remembered I had a blog post I really wanted to finish I thought that I’d be fine sitting on the floor with the laptop while Squidge played only a few feet away.
Until he abandoned his trains, toddled over to the fire, put both hands flat on the glass front and screamed.
I dropped the laptop, scooping him up and running into the kitchen before sitting him on the worktop and holding both of his hands onto a partly defrosted carton of milk while he screamed in pain and fright. After a few minutes I turned his hands over and, at the sight of the patches of seared skin and blisters on his chubby little hands I felt so dizzy there was a second where I thought I might faint.
How on earth had I let this happen to my baby?
My Mum heard the commotion and when I told her what he’d done she grabbed him and ran to the bathroom to run cold water over his hands while I stood at the bottom of the stairs, feeling like a child and having no idea what to do next. With Squidge upstairs, unable to see or hear me I burst into tears of shock and fright at what had happened and how quickly…
We drove up to the hospital while Squidge cried and I tried to soothe him and reassure him that everything would be alright. When we got to the hospital I jumped out of the car and, carrying Squidge, practically ran into A&E, desperate for someone to do something so that my little boy wasn’t in pain anymore.
We were seen in triage almost immediately, where the nurse wrapped Squidge’s hands in clingfilm and snapped at my mum about causing infections when she tried to give Squidge his beloved huggy ted to stop him crying. I understood what she was saying but my little boy was crying for his teddy and is too small to understand why he couldn’t have him or what on earth was going on. The clingfilm kept the air away from the burns, helping to ease the pain and for the first time since his accident happened, Squidge stopped crying.
The nurse showed us into a side room and a few minutes later a different nurse came in to give Squidge some strong, morphine based pain relief. Squidge looked at her suspiciously, wondering if she was going to do anything nasty to him but the medication worked quickly and he snuggled up in my arms, exhausted by the events of the past hour. The nurse asked how Squidge had managed to burn himself and I burst into tears, wanting to be brave for my scared little boy but also so frightened myself. The nurse was wonderful; kind and compassionate as she tried to reassure me that children burning themselves was far from uncommon and that we can’t watch them every minute of every day.
But I should have been watching him.
I should never have taken my eyes off him, not even for a second.
We waited for an hour or so before the doctor was able to see us but the pain relief was so effective that Squidge spent most of that time toddling around the room and chasing his toy trains with his hands still wrapped in cling film. The doctor was also very kind but when I reiterated what had happened he misunderstood, thinking we had been at home and asked me why the fire was somewhere Squidge could easily reach it. My heart pounded and my voice wobbled as I told him that we didn’t have anything like that at home which was why Squidge was so interested in my parent’s fire.
It sounded like an excuse even to me and a poor one at that.
The hospital we were currently at didn’t have a specialist burns unit and the doctor told us we’d need to drive to the burns unit at the Children’s Hospital nearly an hour away to have Squidge’s hands properly assessed. He said that it was highly unlikely that Squidge would need to be admitted but that the burns unit would be able to dress Squidge’s hands properly and make absolutely sure that the burns weren’t serious.
My Mum and I drove to the Children’s Hospital almost in complete silence while Squidge sat quietly in his car seat, transfixed by the motorway lights rushing past us in the dark. Both of us were scared and worried about Squidge but I took her quietness to mean that she was angry with me and blamed me for Squidge hurting himself.
I was furious with myself so why shouldn’t she be?
By the time we got to the Burns Unit it was well past Squidge’s bedtime but I hoped that they would be able to see us relatively quickly. These hopes were dashed when one of the nurses arrived with a hospital name band for Squidge and told us that she was almost certain that Squidge would need to be admitted to the unit and stay overnight. I had nothing with me apart from Squidge’s backpack which contained some nappies, a pack of wipes, a sippy cup, a packet of baby biscuits and his trains.
As it was already late and told my mum to go home and that I would call her as soon as the doctor had reviewed Squidge and his hands had been dressed. While Squidge explored his hospital room I tried to phone the Northern One at work but had to leave a cryptic message with the nurse who answered the phone for him to call my parents as soon as possible. I didn’t have my mobile phone with me and although all the beds had a combined TV and phone with free outgoing calls to landline numbers but incoming calls were charged and I had no money with me either.
By now Squidge was so tired that he just wanted to cuddle on my lap and fall asleep but he’d only been asleep for about 10 minutes when the nurse came to fetch us so that he could be bathed and have his hands dressed. Squidge was very confused as to why he’d been woken up and even more so when I undressed him and sat him in a strange bath but trustingly went along with everything. He sat in my lap, wrapped in towels while one nurse inspected his hands and the other nurse got all the dressings ready, only giving the occasional whimper until the nurse had to remove all the blisters and damaged, dead skin from his little hands.
My poor, brave little boy screamed and trembled, holding his shaking little hands out towards me so that I would stop the pain while tears streamed down his face.
Except I couldn’t.
Up until this moment I had always been able to make everything better for him; chasing away bad dreams, fixing bumps and bruises with a kiss and righting every wrong with a biscuit and a cuddle.
Now there was something that I couldn’t make better and he didn’t understand why.
I held him close, rocking him and reassuring him but in that moment I felt like the worst mother in the entire world.
After his hands were covered in huge dressings that reached all the way up to his elbows (and contained so much padding that his arms no longer fitted through the sleeves of his t-shirt) I carried Squidge back to his room and settled him in the brightly coloured hospital cot. He fidgeted and fretted while I stroked his hair and soothed him, finding it difficult to settle without huggy ted who had been relegated to the bedside drawer due to infection control reasons.
Even after he’d fallen asleep he carried on making little hicupping, sobbing noises for several hours whilst I lay on the camp bed in the too-warm room, unable to get to sleep. My mobile phone was still at my parent’s house and all the nurses were busy so I was alone in the dark with with my thoughts and my guilt.
Despite finally going to bed around midnight Squidge woke up early, unsettled by being in a strange place and the fact that he had huge, uncomfortable bandages on both hands. Despite this he’d returned to his normal, cheery self and toddled around the room in his nappy, waving at people through the window and babbling to anyone who came into the room whereas I was physically and mentally exhausted and feeling rather manky due to being unable to have a shower or even clean my teeth.
The doctor was satisfied that Squidge’s burns, although looking awful were superficial and that there was no reason to keep him on the burns unit any longer. I called my parents to come and collect us, who arrived with a ‘Hero in Training’ t-shirt that was several sizes too big (to facilitate Squidge’s boxing gloved sized bandages) and the new toy train that I’d promised him for being such a brave boy.
A week later Squidge’s hands are healing well and there should be no long term damage or even any scarring and I’m slowly managing to silence the internal voices that insist on telling me that the whole thing was entirely my fault.
I know that small children are curious and that they have to have a few accidents in order to learn that some things are dangerous and shouldn’t be touched. I also know that I can’t keep Squidge safe from everything; that he needs the freedom to explore and learn things for himself and that he’ll earn a few bumps and bruises along the way,
But I can’t quite banish the thought that if I was a better mum then this would never have happened.
Bruised knees and grazed elbows are one thing, but this?
I still think it’s my fault.
Louise is a full time mum, a part time neonatal nurse and award nominated blogger who has battled depression for many years but was particularly ill during her pregnancy. She lives with her husband (the Northern One) their little boy (Squidge) and their three guinea pigs who live in the kitchen.
Louise blogs at 23weeksocks (http://23weeksocks.com) about lots of different (and seemingly unconnected) topics that she’s passionate about, including mental health, antenatal depression, neonatal care and baby loss. She’s also involved in #MatExp (https://www.facebook.com/groups/MatExp/); an online maternity experience campaign that was formed to help improve maternity services in the UK. As part of this she hosts the #MatExpHour Twitter chat every Friday and would love to see you there.