Bitten Clean Through

I wrote this article for submission to a children’s magazine two years ago. I still haven’t heard back from the them!

I remember the first time one of our children bled. Our son Isaac, not yet one at the time, had bumped his lip and was bawling his little eyes out. We were horrified. We’d never seen our boy bleed real blood and were trembling at the sight of it. As young parents we were as traumatized as he was, our little darling.

Now raising our sixth child, split lips are not nearly as exciting, it’s just part of the process of growing them up. Johnny is two and is at that stage where he has maximum mobility and minimum sense; he has bumped and bitten his lip more times than I can remember. Now it’s his older siblings who rush to the scene with ice cubes lovingly wrapped in paper towels. “Here Johnny, just hold this on your lip.” John loves the attention and lingers in their arms, occasionally reminding them with a whimper that he still hurts, if only a bit.

Today’s lip bleed was a new one for us. Benjamin, our 12 year old, brought John in from the back yard with blood literally dripping from his little mouth. It was all over Benjamin’s shoulders and all down John’s chin; it looked and sounded like something serious. We all got up, especially when we saw that one big drop of blood hit the floor. That’ll get you moving no matter how laid-back you’ve become about childhood injuries.

We leapt into action assuming the worst, only to find that it was just another busted lip. I followed that diagnosis with another proud parental reaction: “Whose fault is this?” I assumed it was Benjamin, but he calmly informed us, “He was just running along when he fell flat on his face.” O.K., that’s reasonable.

Upon closer inspection we found that this particular bloody lip was something out of the ordinary. John had bitten his lip clean through; there were marks on both sides of the lip, inside and outside. This time it was Mommy who picked him up and cuddled him with the ice pressed gently against the sore spot. The kids found it all very entertaining and looked at their youngest sibling with ghoulish fascination. “He bit all the way through his lip. Wow!” John loved it and played the victim well.

But, within half an hour he was up running around blithely unconcerned about the dried blood on his shirt, ignorant of the “close call” he’d had with a lifetime’s cruel disfigurement. Benjamin wore his blood stained shirt the rest of the day as some gory red badge of courage he’d won in the heat of battle.

Recently I asked our pediatrician about treatment for bloody lips. “Most of the time lips heal all by themselves. There are so many veins in the tissue of the face that cuts heal very quickly. That’s also the reason they bleed so much. Kids don’t need any treatment unless the cut goes past the border of the lip and into the skin. Then we’ll suture it carefully so there won’t be a little jagged scar on their lip.

When they’ve bitten it all the way through, which sometimes happens, I just leave it alone unless its big enough to see some daylight through it. Then they’ll probably need a stitch.”

If we’ve learned anything raising our six kids it’s that bloody lips are just part of the deal. Kids are going to fall and they’re going to hurt themselves on their lips and chins and noses. I hate it when they do, but most of the time a little bit of ice and a few quiet moments to cuddle with Mom or Dad, or even an older sibling, is all they really need.

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