Baby eating a popsicleMy story of 9 stitches, 2 parents who feel as deflated, flat and small as the bottom of your worn shoe, a near 3-year-old boy, and 1 orange Popsicle.  This is about our mistakes and the dangers of the events that followed moving day in my world, October 31, 2009.

But let’s go back in time; history is supposed to be one of our most sage instructors.

Circa 2003.  I took care of a 3-year-old girl in the ER at Children’s when I was an intern (my first year as a physician, while training in pediatrics, after medical school). In medical training, there are certain patients that stick out, jump off the exam-room-pages, of the hundreds of patients you can see in a month’s time.  I know some will stay with me forever. Often it’s because of the lesson the patient teaches you, or with children, their ridiculous charm.  Or it’s because of a mistake in their care. Or because of sincere satisfaction, the true joy, in being able to help them.  Or because I came up with the proper diagnosis swiftly and without any invasive testing.   Or because of what a colleague or fellow doctor taught me during the course of caring for them.

The stories that stay with me in medicine are diverse and wholly unpredictable.  There is no formula.  Like so many things in life, it’s about chance, timing, and fate.  Sometimes the children are really sick, sometimes not sick at all.  Sometimes I remember them because they were the first (or only) patient I was able to care for with a particular diagnosis.

The 3-year-old from that summer day, early in my pediatric training, got logged near the top of my long-term memory storage not because she was sick, not because I did much to help her, and not because I made any mistakes.  It was this:

1 her story.  2 her unique, beautiful French name. 3 the peaked, terrified look on her mother’s face.

1Her story and the reason she was there: her family was moving that day.  And she was a toddler.

While packing, she got into some pill bottles that were out of the locked cabinet in easy reach, sitting in an open, cardboard moving box.  Her mom found her putting various pills in her mouth and panicked, called 911 and was directed to go straight to the ER.

The reason this is relevant today, is that we moved last week.  I was thinking about her constantly.  Trying to do well in the face of the lesson she taught me.  Two boys under the age of three in my life, caught up in the winds of the move in the midst of a busy life, while launching a blog, and seeing patients in clinic, terrified me.  As it turns out, it should have.

2 Her name.  It’s been my #1 girl name since.  I’ve shared it only with my best friend from college and my husband.  Both of who endorse it.  Trouble is, I had two boys.  I would tell you the name but I can’t.  Both in an effort to maintain patient confidentiality and protect my favorite girl name.  But trust me, it’s darling.

3 The look on that mother’s face.  A collage of fear-dread-guilt-stress-angst-terror.  It was memorable.  And until I was a Mom and until last weekend, I don’t think I really understood.

The punch line–we spent Saturday night in the ER at Children’s and I got an undesirable anatomy tutorial of the deep muscles in my first-born’s hand.   A very skilled and very nice team of doctors and nurses stitched him up after making sure his hand still worked.  We failed him during our move, as it turns out.  Our ultimate task, keeping the boys safe, went askew.  And my lesson from that dear 3-year-old girl back in 2003 didn’t carry me as far as I’d wanted.

Laceration repair

The F (my little boy) story: one week to the day after we moved in, F and his near-3-yr-old best friend ran downstairs to play.  In a matter of minutes, before the adults made their way down the stairs, F had apparently fallen, open-handed onto the edges of the furnace filter.  Blood was gushing, my dear boy screaming in pain. I quickly realized he had sustained a deep 3-inch laceration (cut).  Mama terror.  We headed straight for the ER.  Miserable reality.  He was stitched up and put back together again in about 3 hours.  F got an orange popsicle at the end.  It sustained him.  But, my husband and I remain a bit fractured.

The thing is, all the medicines were transferred, cleaning supplies put away, hammers, scissors, nails, tacks, open stairways, and toxins were accounted for. We had pushed

Laceration repair

the last, collapsed box out the door.  I had breathed a huge sigh of relief. Literally. We’d done it; the house was done.  Except, we’d left that filter for the furnace lying out on the basement floor, drying after being cleaned.

Like so many children that I have cared for who have sustained an injury, it’s not what you’re thinking about that puts kids in danger, it’s what you’re not thinking about.  Duh.

Learn from my poor execution, despite good intention.  Help your friends with their move.  Change this for others.

SeattleMamaDoc’s Tips For a Safe and Lower Stress Move:

Ways to be the Martha of Moving for your Kids

Before You Move:

  • Prepare to safe-proof the new home.  If you can get access to the apartment, condo or house you’re moving to prior to move-in day, do!  Bring a measuring tape, notepad and pen.  Make measurements, take notes, and make lists of safety supplies you’ll need like door locks, outlet plugs, safety corners, and baby gates.  Go and buy them.  After you finish the official move of boxes, etc, do those things FIRST before unpacking your favorite shoes.
  • Clean all the windows, windowsills, floors and bathrooms before the moving boxes and furniture arrive.  Not only for germs, but for possible toxins, lead paint dust or debris (if an older house) and allergens.  Babies who crawl and explore, pretty much lick the floors, so make sure that is one safe slurp.
  • Figure out a safe place to sleep between the day(s) you move-out of your old home and move-in.  Ask for help from friends and family to put you up.  Everyone has moved and knows how stressful it is; count on them.  Or book a motel or hotel room if you’re up for it and can afford it.

While You Move on Moving Day:

  • Make a plan for childcare for the day of and the day after you move.  If Grandma, your best friend, babysitter, or neighbor (new or old), can care for your young children, you’ll be able to unpack without the worry of risking your child’s safety.  Don’t think you can do it all (i.e. move, provide child care and safety and deal with the stress of the move all by yourself).  I don’t think you can do it all.

After You’re In:

  • Clean the floors again.  All the pitter-patter (or thuds!) of those helping you move brought in a bunch of junk and grime.
  • Learn from me. Never trust that you’re done providing a safe place.  Don’t let out the sigh of relief that I did.
  • Channel your inner baby.  Literally.  Crawl around on the floor and look around from a baby or toddler’s perspective in every room in which your child has access.  Look for cords & strings hanging down, cabinets that open or slide, small tables that can be pulled over and fall, stairs or falling risks, outlets and sharp corners.
  • If you don’t have childcare and you’re still unpacking, cast your mind back to the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s when playpens were the thing.  Put your toddler or infant completely out of harm’s way and occupy them with toys while they are safely in a pack-n-play or gated off area in the room you are unpacking.  Don’t beat yourself up about doing this!  Don’t think you can both provide stimulating childcare and unpack boxes.  You can’t, so let yourself off the hook.
  • Keep boxes that are still full of loose items in a staging area where your children don’t have access, i.e. a garage, basement or room that has a lock.  Don’t stack pictures and mirrors on the floor that could tip over and fall on a crawling infant or toddler.  If you undergo the gradual move, keep your kids out of the boxes so you can all live in a safe environment until it’s done.