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"On TV They Don't Have to Wait Two Hours!!"

My goal for my first year as a parent was, I thought, medically modest: to make exactly zero visits to the emergency room. We made it, despite two calls to poison control, one when my wife reached down to pick up what she thought was a recently made bottle of formula that turned out to be three weeks old, and another when my daughter decided to taste-test a black magic marker.

Year two passed, and while we watched ER religiously we managed to keep our visits fictional. This is not to say that our pride and joy was injury-free. Quite the contrary. For months her cute little head bounced off nearly everything in our house. She seemed to have some kind of homing device that enabled her to hit her head on the corner of our living room coffee table, even if she began her fall in the kitchen. We bought those plastic corner protector things, but she promptly ate them and went on bonking her head. It was like living with Wile E. Coyote.

For about a year she looked like we had tossed her into the dryer every time we did a load of laundry. I learned the joy of watching people's expressions change from the "Oh isn't she adorable" smile to the "Should I or shouldn't I call social services?" scowl when they got up close and spied her latest cut or bruise.

She also has this uncanny knack for getting body parts stuck in odd places (although for the life of me I can't think of any normal places to get body parts stuck). Usually it's fingers, but once she got her head stuck between bars of a railing. Fortunately we were able to extract her without having to butter her ears. Then last week we were standing outside chatting with friends when her little face got very sad then burst into tears. I bent down to discover that she had gotten her finger stuck in the hole of the part of the seat belt that snaps into the buckle. We lucked out once more as this particular model of car came equipped with a bottle of moisturizer.

The little tyke doesn't just sustain injuries, she inflicts them. Nobody talks about parental abuse, but every time my daughter climbs onto my lap she finds a new spot to damage. She can throw an elbow that would make Charles Barkley proud. Or she'll be sitting on my lap listening to some pastoral tale of bunnies and wildflowers when, in the interest of getting more comfortable, she slams her head upward into my chin, causing me to utter phrases rarely found in children's literature.

But I digress. What was the point of all this anyway? (Sleep-deprived parents need conversational bookmarks.) Oh yeah, emergency rooms. We were closing in on the completion of year three when the bottom dropped out: two visits in four weeks. Visit one came when the poor kid landed on, and subsequently cut, a very delicate part of her anatomy while playing on the jungle gym at pre-school. Since her pre-school is right across the street, the hospital is two blocks away and our son was only a few weeks old we made it into a family outing. Popped everyone into the double Graco and toddled off to the emergency room, where the couldn't-have-been-nicer Dr. Day attended to Alison's wound with tender loving care and stickers.

Our second visit was considerably less recreational. I had just arrived at my mother's to pick Alison up from her weekly visit when I heard her crying on her way down the stairs. I thought at first she'd been painting her face until I got close enough to realize that it was in fact her own blood that had soaked the collar of her dress and formed little pools below her eyes. To my credit I neither passed out nor panicked, but was able to find the source of the bleeding--a small but productive gash just below her hairline--and get it stopped in fairly short order. For those of you who've never had the pleasure, head cuts bleed like crazy.

By the time we got into the car she was sort of her old self again, and was able to tell me that she'd been jumping on the bed when she found herself on the losing end of an encounter with the corner of the television. Still, a head injury is a head injury, and somewhere amid the whirling fear of that 10-minute drive to the hospital I was struck once more with how hopelessly, helplessly I have fallen in love with this little person.

We reached the emergency room, and she played with toys while I bounced around like a maniac trying to impress upon someone the seriousness of the situation. They were having none of it. Adults with bandaged thumbs were being seen while I was being asked to remember my wife's Social Security number. It was nearly two hours before I was able to get an actual medical doctor to assure me that since she hadn't passed out or thrown up that there was almost no chance of internal damage. I had conducted my own informal neurological exam on the way to the hospital, featuring the classic: "How many fingers am I holding up?" and the neo-classic: "Who lives in a trash can on Sesame Street?"

Two hours, four stitches, and several blood-curdling screams later we went home, shaken and stirred but with spirits largely undampened. The resiliency of the human toddler is appalling. Her cut immediately turned into the focal point of excited conversation--in person, on the phone, alone in bed at night. The stitches are now gone, and there's almost no scar-- on her. Me, my heart has now blazed a trail running to my throat and back down to the pit of my stomach.

But I still watch ER . Just not alone.

© 2005 - 2012 Hal Levy and the above captioned author.