“I can’t see”, he whispered as he touched my shoulder.
I jerked awake, not grasping his words, but registering the urgency and fear in his voice.
“What? What is wrong?” I mumbled as I struggled to sit up while reaching for the light switch.
“I can’t see. I can’t open my eyes,” the 14-year-old youngster repeated.
I grabbed his hand and pulled him to the bed, trying to see what was happening, while wondering how he made it to my bedroom if he couldn’t see.
Peering at his closed and swollen eyes, I urged him to open his peepers, but he kept repeating, “I can’t, it hurts, I can’t.”
I untangled myself from the sheets and ran to the bathroom, grabbing up a wash cloth and soaking it with hot water. I gently covered his eyes and forehead with the wet rag, hoping to ease his pain and terror. Or maybe it was my distress I wanted to reduce.
I was in a panic. My husband was out-of-town, and my newly acquired stepson was in my charge.
The steaming cloth wasn’t dispelling the swelling nor the hurting, and my brain was racing to find a solution that would fix whatever was wrong…quickly.
What should I do?
Is he going to be blind for the rest of his life?
Is he going to live with us forever, and I’ll have to take care of him?
Get to a doctor, finally occurred to me.
I pulled a wrinkled t-shirt over his head, instructing him to pull on a pair of jeans I yanked off his bedroom floor while I got dressed, then guided him down the hallway toward the front door.
“We are going to the Emergency Room,” I explained as I maneuvered his unsure steps into the car. “Just keep the cloth over your eyes, and we will be there soon.”
“What did you do?” I kept asking.”
“Nothing,” he continued to answer.
Over and over we repeated the refrains.
I stopped the car in the hospital parking lot, steered him to the reception area, while praying this was not a permanent condition, and blabbing words of encouragement into his ear.
Registering a patient not blood kin proved awkward.
Full name? Didn’t know his middle name.
Address? Didn’t know his mother’s address where he was registered to live.
Birthdate: Not a clue.
Forms completed, a nurse piloted us to a curtained room, where we tapped our toes and drummed our fingers waiting for a doctor to swish in and perform magic wonders restoring sight immediately.
“What did you do?” was the physician’s first question when he appeared.
And from the mouth of this babe came the long-awaited answer: “I think I may have burned my eyes when I was welding this afternoon.”
You were welding?
More inquiries, and the diagnosis was confirmed: Burns from welding without a shield.
Wanting to show my efficiency, I explained I had applied hot wash cloths to the boy’s face.
With a look of disgust and disapproval, the practitioner warned sternly, “I hope you haven’t caused permanent damage to his eyes. You never put hot water on a burn. You must use cold packs.”
Once more motherhood alluded me.