By Gregory Keer
On a break from jury duty, I pay for a tuna wrap that I’m beginning to regret when I get a text message from my wife. It reads: “In ER. J OK but needs stitches on face. Have an appt with plastic surgeon at 1:00.”
The stomach that sandwich was intended for drops to the floor. I speed-dial Wendy.
“Jacob got attacked by a dog at the animal shelter,” Wendy says, trying to keep her voice steady.
“The dog bit through his cheek and slashed his arm.”
“Oh, God,””I mumble as horrific images twist madly through my mind.
“We’ve been trying to reach you for two hours,” Wendy says wearily.
My head rings as guilt hastens my exit from the café.
“The jury room is in a basement and there’s no cell reception,” I stammer as I head toward the parking lot.
“I’m fine,” Wendy assures me. “Take care of your jury duty. Your dad is with us.”
“No, I’m coming,” I say, shoving aside anxiousness about the legal ramifications of shirking civic responsibility. I don’t care. I have to see my boy.
“I’ll put Jacob on the phone,” she says.
I try to breathe, bracing myself.
“Hi, Daddy,” my 6-year-old speaks into the cell. “I’m OK. Don’t worry.”
I squeeze my watering eyes tight, relieved to hear strength in his voice.
“I wanted to pet the dog and he jumped at me,” he explains.
I draw back, as if the animal had leaped at me.
“Who helped you get the dog away?” I ask.
“Benjamin yelled for Angie,” Jacob responds proudly about his older brother. “If it wasn’t for him, I would be more hurt.”
“Were you scared?” I say, poorly focused on driving out of the parking lot.
“Yeah,” Jacob says, “but I think the dog was more scared. That’s probably why he attacked me.”
In the midst of his own crisis, my son has greater concern for the canine than himself. This is why he had gone with Angie, our babysitter who works with dogs, to the shelter so he could pet and feed the lonely creatures.
As I race to meet my family, I am torn up by jagged thoughts. Why did I let him be in harm’s way, even though I want him to care for other beings, even though I do not want him to live in fear? Why didn’t I go with him? Could I have been the hero and prevented the attack?
In the plastic surgeon’s waiting room, I gather Jacob into my arms. His left cheek is heavily bandaged, blood smeared beneath the gauze. His left arm is similarly wrapped around the forearm.
In the exam room, the surgeon gingerly undoes the bandaging. On Jacob’s cheek are puncture wounds from the canine teeth that clamped down on his face. One gash reveals muscle tearing. I wince, but Jacob needs me to look fearless.
After an initial anesthetic shot proves too painful for him to bear, it’s determined that Jacob will be operated on in the hospital later that evening.
A few hours later, we take Jacob in for his surgery. He worries it will hurt. I tell him the Bill Cosby story of “Tonsils,” in which young Bill gets the gas to make him sleep, then awakens to buckets of ice cream. Jacob likes that prospect.
Wendy and I send our little guy into the capable hands of the surgeon. We wait with Benjamin, who has insisted on joining us for every step of Jacob’s ordeal. Our youngest is with my mom, being kept happy on an impromptu sleepover. My dad and step-mom sit with us, providing comfort and food.
More than an hour passes before the surgeon emerges to announce that Jacob did well. He explains that we were lucky the dog opened its mouth before releasing from our son’s face or else the cheek might have come off. I can’t get this fact out of my mind, despite the doctor’s prediction that, as long as infection is prevented, Jacob will heal without complications.
More than a week passes. Jacob has had to take it easy, avoiding his usual running and jumping. His recovery has been enhanced by an endless outpouring of calls, visits and gifts from our family, friends, pediatrician and people we know only a little.
Generally, Jacob is in great spirits, unconcerned about the marks that will require he wear a bandage on them for another eight months then take years and further surgeries to fade. He loves his dog and remains unafraid of other animals, though he won’t volunteer in a shelter anytime soon.
Wendy and I are the ones floating in a strange, achy place, wishing we could have controlled fate. Wendy has cried a lot, unable to sleep for the first days following the incident. I feel a bit dazed at times and hug Jacob so often it annoys the heck out of him.
And yet, we are so thankful. Deeply grateful that our son’s face still reflects the energetic, creative and compassionate person that he’s always been.