I’ve thought quite a bit about if and how to share the story of Max’s accident and the subsequent trip to the hospital here on The Shopping Mama. It was an extremely upsetting and stressful experience for our entire family and I still have a pit in my stomach when I think about it. While it feels a bit private, I think it’s worth sharing because we learned some valuable lessons. I know we’ll be more prepared next time we travel and I hope that, in sharing our experience, some of you will be, too.
In early April we traveled to Italy for a week-long vacation with our family and my husband’s parents. We spent an uneventful night in Lucerne, Switzerland and one in Florence, Italy before heading to Rome. We were staying in Rome for three nights so, instead of hotel rooms we booked a two-bedroom apartment in the heart of Rome that would accommodate our entire family.
As soon as we arrived, I noticed the apartment was NOT kid-friendly or baby-proofed at all. I didn’t expect to find an apartment with covered outlets and a lack of breakable items, but I was definitely surprised by the shear volume of breakable things. There were knick knacks and tchotchkes everywhere. (Think large vases on the floor, shelves of ceramics and unsecured electronics.)
We had a great view, but there was some major foreshadowing when I captioned this photo on Instagram.
Truthfully, I was worried that one of our kids may break something. I didn’t, for a second, consider what actually happened as a possibility.
Lesson Learned: Before reserving a privately-owned apartment, ask specifically about how kid-friendly the property is.
When we were browsing apartments online I immediately ruled out some that were obviously not kid-friendly based on the photos, but to great extent we had no idea what we would get until we arrived. They knew we were a family with children, but next time we will be explicit in our need for a child and baby-friendly property.
While the adults (all four of us) were finishing breakfast, picking out clothes and planning the day’s events, the kids were hanging out and just… being kids. I wasn’t watching Max so I don’t know exactly what happened. (And, yes, it haunts me that I wasn’t watching Max and he got seriously hurt.) From what we can gather, he pulled himself up on / pulled down a light open planter shelf sort of thing in the kitchen that had multiple breakable ceramic planters and such on it.
I heard a horrible crash. I heard Max crying. I ran in, found him under the light shelf and surrounded by broken pots, plates and various small breakables. I scooped him up and tried to comfort him. And then I saw the blood. It took a minute to figure out where it was coming from and by that point everyone was gathered in the kitchen to check on Max. I realized the blood was coming from his finger, and the instant I saw it my heart sank. I knew it was badly hurt and that he’d need medical attention. I told my husband to call for help.
As my husband tried in vain to call an ambulance, I sat on the floor of the kitchen trying to comfort Max. I made the mistake of looking at his finger a second time and I lost any shred of remaining composure. I really tried to keep my cool so my other children wouldn’t freak out but I just couldn’t. I was growing more and more anxious by the moment as the severity of the situation set in with the realization that my child needed help and I had no idea how to get it for him. I kept screaming for my husband to dial 112 (Germany’s version of 911), but it wasn’t the emergency number in Italy.
Lesson Learned: When arriving in a new country, find emergency phone numbers and identify local hospitals.
Days later, when the madness had passed, we realized our travel book had emergency phone number information in it. It even mentioned some hospitals and how the local medical system worked. Admittedly, we usually flip right past those pages in the travel books, but from now on? We’ll highlight and circle the info. At a minimum, we will always know how to call for emergency medical help.
When my husband realized he couldn’t call for help, he left the apartment to look for aid on the street. Thankfully, he quickly encountered an incredibly kind man who offered to drive us to the hospital when my husband told him of our situation. We were so helpless and this man truly came to our rescue. He also served as a translator when we arrived at the children’s hospital. In another stroke of luck, we happened to be only minutes from the largest children’s hospital in Italy with a fabulous reputation.
We were rushed through the waiting room and into an ER room almost immediately. The gentleman who drove us wasn’t permitted to stay so we relied on lots of gestures to communicate with the hospital staff. We don’t speak Italian and they didn’t speak English. It’s simply not realistic for us to learn the language of every country we visit here in Europe, so I don’t think the language barrier portion of our predicament was avoidable. But, let me tell you, it sucked. No one at the hospital spoke English. It made a very scary situation even more uncomfortable and unsettling.
As we settled into the reality of our situation, we knew we needed to call our insurance company. Of course, we didn’t know the number. It’s on the card which I keep in my wallet, but I left our apartment with literally nothing but the clothes on my back so we didn’t have it. Truth be told, even if I had my wallet, I don’t think we would have been in the frame of mind to check for my insurance card.
Despite living in Europe, our cell phone plan makes using the internet or making phone calls very expensive when outside Germany. Obviously, though, we had to break our no data usage rule to google and find our insurance’s emergency phone number.
Lesson Learned: Program important insurance phone numbers into your phone.
It takes, literally, seconds to program the insurance emergency phone number. But, as we learned, the last thing you need in a highly-charged, stressful situation is confusion about what you’re supposed to do and who you’re supposed to call.
Our insurance company was amazingly helpful and supportive through the entire hospital stay in Rome, from the initial phone call through helping clear the finance department of the hospital for discharge. Shout out to Tricare Overseas for military families!
When we were in the ER, the pediatric plastic surgeon cleaned, evaluated and dressed Max’s finger. He told us very matter of factly that Max required two surgeries. In the first he attached Max’s middle finger to the palm of his hand. The point is to regenerate skin on the tip of his finger in an attempt to save some of the length of the finger that was, essentially, accidentally amputated. The second surgery, a few weeks later, separates the finger from the palm. (If you have a tough stomach and want to google for more info, the procedure is called a thenar flap. But, consider yourself warned: it’s totally gross.)
Max was insanely tough and brave and remained in good spirits throughout the entire ordeal. It was devastating for my husband and me, but our little man’s smile was incredibly reassuring. Kids are seriously so resilient. Beyond my wildest imagination. He was back to his smiling and giggling self the day after each surgery.
The past few weeks were traumatic and difficult and stressful and sad. But, I am so thankful for many things along the way, like the man who took us to the hospital, the care Max received in Rome and, above all, that Max wasn’t hurt more seriously.
At this point we wait for his finger and the incision on his palm to heal. We don’t really know what to expect. We don’t know how much length he actually lost, if his fingernail will return or what his finger will look like as he grows. In the scheme of things, these are seriously minor concerns, and I know that. It just breaks my heart that, at only a little over a year, Max was broken so seriously and that it was avoidable. The guilt is a bit unbearable so I just focus on the fact that he is, and will be, just fine.