A scream from the back of the boat, the scream of amazed pain. Now follow loud cries as Toby’s face rises above the transom. Tears stream down his face, uncharacteristically pale. At the point of his chin a gleaming carbuncle of deepest red rises to a meniscus, then overflows. Brilliant red drops appear on the white deck, tracking Toby’s path to adult rescue.
I apply my nearly clean handkerchief to the wound. Toby darling, press this hard against the cut. Very hard.
I’m sorry, Saba. I’m sorry.
No need to be sorry, Toby – just press.
I’m sorry. I’m very sorry…
My bottle-green hanky is turning red. A quick peek underneath shows a deep and gaping gash. The wound is irregular; it will need meticulous suturing to minimize the inevitable scarring.
Before we arrived in Metung I commanded the kids: NO RUNNING ON THE BOAT, NO JUMPING ON THE BOAT.
I’m sorry, Saba, I won’t do it again.
Pablo scoops his son into his arms and we run to the car. The patient, cocooned in his father, is stowed in the back. We drive into the little town to look for the doctor’s premises: the Village Store, a hardware and fishing tackle shop, the pub, a real estate office, a few coffee shops – these account for one half of the Central Business District; a u-turn brings us to the post office, a laundromat and a petite pharmacy. The pharmacist, a lady of my years, petite like her shop, is sympathetic. She advises, Yes, there is a doctor in town… every Tuesday morning.
Hmmm. Do you have surgical glue?
I don’t think so. I’ll look…
The search doesn’t take long. No glue. We settle for some stout Steri-strips, a gross of sterile gauze squares and a gallon of Savlon.
Across the road the door to Hardware and Fishhooks is locked. It’s only four PM, Friday. The sign reads, Open 9.00-5.00, M-Thurs. Fri 9.00-1.00.
The Village Store stocks food, suncream, the dailies, the Metung Meteor. Unless it’s a condom or a painkiller I seek, no pharmaceuticals. Do you have Super-glue? (Super-Glue is identical to Surgical glue; it’s packaged in crushable phials for single use, to discourage germs.) The helpful young cashier leads me to her hardware shelf. No Super-glue but we do have Araldite.
Araldite. I’ve never glued human tissues with this product. Will I try it on my grandson? I call the Emergency Physician in Alice Springs, where ED is full of my workmates. Yeah, Araldite will hold it, same as Super-glue. But it’s thermogenic. In an emergency, better than nothing, better than Steri-strips alone. Translated, ‘Thermogenic’ means the glue will heat the skin.
Back to the car. No doctor in Metung: we’ll have to go to Lakes Entrance. Toby lies quietly, eyes widening as I approach his wound. A wince, a gasp as I peel away my hanky of dark green and dark red, exposing a valley of flesh. Briefly bloodless, the wound fills quickly. Clean white gauze is applied. Toby darling, press again, hard. Here.
The child’s eyes follow me anxiously as he anticipates the uppance that surely will come: I’m sorry, Saba. I won’t do it again.
Driving back through town I wonder about the boatyard. They repair boats there, they must glue things. The Boatwright is helpful: Sure, Howard, we should have Super-glue somewhere.
The tube is not new. They have no other but needs must…
Pablo and I remove the patient and lie him on a picnic table, Pablo cradling the child’s head. Darling, we are going to put some glue on your cut to close it up. First I’ll wash the cut with this yellow stuff. It will be quite quick.
A splash, a yelp, a bit of quick mopping and a flow of fresh blood. It is quite quick – and quite hurty.
Now I’m going to squirt some glue onto your cut, Toby. It will be quite quick.
Pablo, pinch the skin edges closed… like this.
Pablo pinches – which hurts – as I peel away the gauze – which hurts. Toby’s eyes widen in fresh surprise, he releases a single gasp, half rises, then subsides. He takes deep breaths, slow breaths, as I squirt the glue – which hurts – and Toby breathes on. Through the following three minutes, Pablo pinches the skin edges – which hurts – and Toby, calm in his self-mastery, gazes trustingly into our close faces.
A few Steristrips bridge the narrow ridge of pink that was a cleft moments before. The wound is closed, and dry, more or less regular, messy in its scatterings of dried blood. It will heal and eventually scar.
Toby kisses his torturers and thanks us: You’re the best father, Papi. I love you, Sabi…I am sorry.
Postscript that might have been a Prescript: readers of this blog might recall an earlier, very lengthy post, titled ‘Toby’s Fingers in the Bath Hole’. A year after the Fingers in the Bathplug Story, we had the Batteries in the Ears story. Toby spent an afternoon in hospital for removal of hearing aid batteries trapped in his ear canals. Once in-situ, batteries create an enveloping oedema of the canal walls, a watery swelling of the flesh that neatly encloses the little discs. Toby is not deaf (not yet) and has no need of hearing aids or their batteries. But the batteries he found were just the right size, so…
Additional Postscript: Toby’s cousin Noah described the accident: Toby tried to get from the back of the boat onto the pier but his life vest caught on this wire and he fell when he jumped.
“When he jumped”: that must have been what Toby’s “sorries” were for. Not a forbidden jump at all, this was a jump from the boat, not on it.