Today was the only warm sunny day of the week so we parents and kids were out at every park in the area in full force. To avoid the muddy grounds, we chose one that is entirely gated in – one gate is the only way in or out and you cannot climb over the enormously high gate. It is a small playground with swings at one and, a couple of playsets in the middle and a tireswing at the further end. The ground is made of that soft foam material.
My two girls were playing with friends, running around inside the gates, swinging, laughing, having a good time. At 9 and 11 years old they didn’t need me holding their hand. So I just sit on a bench just inside the gate to keep an eye on them.
I was sitting in my parental place when I heard the ‘THUD” and heard the cries of a few children saying a little boy had jumped from the edge of the playset and hit the ground – his head, specifically, had hit the ground and hit it HARD. I ran over to the scene where a woman who had been standing nearby and witnessed the fall said the boy wouldn’t open his eyes at first.
BAD SIGN # 1 – possible loss of consciousness
I looked his head over and saw no obviously knots or swelling or bruising but the child continued to press his hands to the sides of his head and rock his head from side to side rapidly while making whining noises (this child was 5 or older so he could speak but was not)
I looked at his eyes to see if his pupils were dilating but his eyes were so dark chocolate brown that you could only barely make out the iris and the pupil so none of us could get a good estimation on the reactivity of his pupils
BAD SIGN # 2 – possible problems with eyes not responding/not dilating due to changing light
The woman that finally came over after several minutes asked us, the other woman and I if the boy was alright. I told her what I knew about head injuries and what we had been able to discover so far. The woman wanted to sit the boy up and asked him if he wanted to sit up, at which point he vehemently clamped his hands to the sides of his head and whined in an even higher spastic pitch. He had not spoken at all since we had been there despite our questions to him about his head, about any feelings of being sick to his stomach
The woman said this child was not hers, she was watching him that day along with her kids. She decided to force the boy to stand up much to his dismay and obvious pain. They led him out of the park and out to the grass where they had a blanket.
Myself and the other woman in the playground discussed that had it been one of our children – this would not have been open to debate with strangers or even open to waiting for an ambulance. The hospital is just around the corner (this is a small city) and both of us said we would have immediately taken out child to the hospital for assessment.
We were surprised, as the minutes ticked by that this woman, her friend, their children and the boy all sat on the blanket and seemed to be either trying to convince themselves and the boy that it wasn’t that bad, that he was able to walk so it should be fine. The woman was on her cell phone with a grandmother for some time.
Minutes after minutes ticked by as I began to feel that I or someone else should call 911. This child has several signs of a problem, probably not bleeding on the brain but at the very least, a concussion. Not getting him assessed by a professional could cost him his life. I paced. The woman beside me paced. Another woman who had watched from a distance joined our pacing.
Then after around fifteen minutes of pacing later – the sound of sirens were heard in the distance and we all knew where it was headed. Relief was the look on all of our faces. The ambulance came, the paramedics did their assessment and then took him to the hospital.
None of us knew who had actually called 911. It didn’t seem like the woman, who had said she was not the boy’s mother or guardian, was interested in calling. The woman with her made no mention of calling. I did not have my phone. We there inside the playground pacing together shrugged our shoulders and were just happy they had been called. We all mumbled those parental words when it comes to head injuries: “Always better safe than sorry” which every parent knows means when it comes to head injuries – you never take chances – you get them assessed immediately.
There was a slight hint of terror in everyones eyes on this afternoon. Watching the remaining kids running around, some climibing unsafely, running too fast, dangling from the climbing part of the play equipment – terrible things could happen in the blink of an eye.
What’s worse is the boy wasn’t dangling from some high connecting bar, he had actually jumped from a platform about two foot off the ground, caught his foot on the little spinny step in front of it and fallen backwards, hitting his head hard on the ground. He then laid there on the ground, eyes closed and unresponsive to calls by his friends until adults were summoned over by frightened children.
It was a sobering thought: That could just as easily have been one of my kids. This kind of thing could happen anywhere, not just on playgrounds. A slip off the front steps. A fall from the monkey bars. In an instant, life can change forever in unforeseeable ways. Such is life. Normally this chance we all live with doesn’t really come up in my thoughts so often. But seeing that little boy brought it all back to the center of my thoughts.
So I hugged my 9 and 11 year old girls tighter and told them from now on, everywhere they go, everything they do, they will be wearing full plated armor complete with helmet.