It is Restaurant Week in DC. I hadn’t seen my friend Saleela since her birthday back in May. When she emailed to propose lunch, it sounded like a perfect plan, even though today was a wretched rainy day. Hey, wretched rainy beats the godawful dense heat we’ve been having for weeks. We scored a reservation for unlimited Restaurant Week tapas at La Tasca, and at about a quarter past noon, I grabbed my umbrella and headed out to Chinatown to meet her.
It wasn’t raining. It was wet out, but not puddled. It was, however, slippery on the drainage grates that punctuate the DC sidewalks. I found this out the hard way when my left foot slipped sideways underneath me, leaving several dozen freshly-gained pounds of pregnancy bulk to come crashing down HARD on my right knee.
Oh, how embarrassing. The big unwieldy pregnant lady took a spill. Now get up, crack a joke, make sure you didn’t scrape yourself and go meet your friend for lunch. I sat back onto my bottom on the wet sidewalk grate, took a moment to collect myself, and then went to stand up.
“Are you all right? Ma’am? Are you all right?” two or three different people asked me.
I looked down and saw a rivulet of blood running down my leg. And then another. A red stain was flowering on my black-and-white skirt. I moved the skirt aside, took one look at my right knee, and immediately lost all thought of making it to lunch. That knee was not going to let me stand up. That knee was unrecognizable, sliced into thick fleshy ribbons by the crosswise blades of the sidewalk grate.
“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.” Any hope of cracking a joke immediately went the way of my coherence. Strangers helped me to my feet, helped me into the adjacent Burger King, helped me into a booth and handed me a wad of napkins through which I promptly bled. I was shaking and stammering and getting blood everywhere, dripping onto the floor of the Burger King, pooling in the sole of my sandal. I had to call Saleela, I had to call &, I had to call the office and let them know what had happened.
“Do you need someone to call 911?” a woman in a security guard uniform asked me as my shaky fingers skated unsuccessfully across my cell phone keypad.
“I’ll call 911,” said a man in the booth next to me, setting down his half-eaten hamburger and picking up his police walkie-talkie.
“You should take a picture of that grate,” said the fellow who had helped me into the booth.
I didn’t get to take any pictures. I wasn’t about to try to walk. I didn’t suspect that I’d broken anything; I wasn’t feeling any of the woozy nausea that usually signals a broken bone. Still, I was bleeding (and shaking) too much to attempt to move. I managed to call Saleela and text &, who wondered whether he should meet me at the hospital. I had no idea where I was headed next, so I told him to sit tight until he heard from me again.
Apparently shaky-shock crosses the placenta. Right there in the Burger King, while I bled out and people around me continued eating their lunch, Mayhem started dancing a jig. This reassured me immeasurably; by the time the EMTs arrived, helped me up onto the gurney and loaded me into the back of their ambulance, I had recovered my sense of humor. Sort of. In a stammer, at least.
“Where do you want to go?” the EMT asked me, then tried a better question: “Do you have a doctor in a hospital around here?”
“Um,” I managed, “my obstetrician is at GW.”
“OK, that’s where we’ll take you then.”
I had never before ridden in an ambulance, nor been to an emergency room except to accompany someone else. I also had never before squawked “I’m six months pregnant” whenever nice people asked me if I had any medical conditions. This alone, apparently, was enough to get me wheeled straight through the emergency room and straight up to the maternity ward, where my bump was promptly fitted with a fetal heart monitor. “There you are, sweet one,” the nurse cooed as she found Mayhem’s heartbeat.
I could’ve told you that, I thought as the kid started kicking the fetal monitor. But I shut up, because I was not about to interrupt obstetrical professionals paying more attention to Mayhem in the space of one hour than she’d had in the past three months. When the chief resident booted up the ultrasound machine, I almost squealed in delight. You mean we’re getting blood work, uninterrupted heart monitoring *and* a sonogram, all at once? This is better than Christmas! I forgot all about the wad of bloody Burger King napkins still stuck to my mangled knee. There was my daughter, my kicking pixellated blurry little girl, high on her mother’s adrenaline rush and showing off her moves for the camera.
“What’s that, there?” I asked the chief resident, indicating several moving circles high in Mayhem’s tummy.
“That’s her heart,” he told me, and grinned when I gasped at the unfettered magic of my daughter’s beating heart, all four chambers of it, right there on the screen in front of me. For months I’d wished I could see this. It was perfect, just as I’d hoped it would be.
“Is she measuring up to size?” I asked, suddenly dying for a full account of Mayhem’s progress.
“It’d take me about a half hour to do a full measurement of her,” the chief resident told me, “and we need to get you downstairs.” He gestured to the bloody napkins on my knee.
Oh, of course. I still needed stitches. They hadn’t brought me to the hospital in an ambulance just to see how cute Mayhem looked on an ultrasound. But it was delicious to learn that our lovely posterior placenta and nicely-sized bag of waters were online, fully functional, and undisturbed by my tumble. And getting to see Mayhem, even for such a brief glimpse, sure did make the rest of the afternoon go a whole lot faster.
Fortunately nothing in my knee was broken, twisted, or torn, other than all of the layers of skin that the med student had to quilt back together. The most painful part of the entire afternoon was the numbing: repeated shots of burny lidocaine, all around the shredded zone on my kneecap. I huffed and puffed, thought about anesthesia during labor, and decided that I was wholeheartedly in favor of it.
Four hours, twelve stitches, one leg splint and one cane later, & escorted me out of the emergency room and down the block to his parked car. “It’s not often that people get to do a dry run of the hospital before they go to have a baby there,” he remarked. (I think he was a bit disappointed to miss the sonogram, but I’d told him not to bother skipping out on work since the baby was fine, he needed to save up his paid leave, and nobody wants to watch someone else get stitches anyway.)
In two weeks the stitches come out. In the meantime I am not allowed to swim, drive, or even bend my knee, which is immobilized in a splint lest I forget. Suddenly Mayhem’s kicking feels ironic: at least one of us can move her legs however she pleases.
Right now, I couldn’t be gladder that she’s the one who can.