Even though it happened over twenty-seven years ago, the moment is seared into my memory indelibly.
He was only one and it was his first birthday party. Adults were in attendance, as well as other one year-olds staggering around unsteadily on short stubby legs that were not yet sea-worthy.
I stood in in our house's great room watching the compact kitchen area, on the living room side of the breakfast bar, sealed off from the kitchen space by the six-foot long porcelain counter top. Entry into the kitchen was four feet to my right where the portal area was, which gave access to the refrigerator, stove, dishwasher and sink all lined up, left to right, across the six foot wide tile floor.
I was alert as any parent with toddlers would be, a sense of awareness further heightened by the fact that I was a State Patrolman at the time, fully used to analyzing situations and subconsciously rating dangers and mulling options every single waking moment. My child was in the crowded kitchen by the fridge, wandering around in tiny circles. I had my eye on him, although he was a few feet beyond my immediate reach, and I was habitually scanning the kitchen area even as I spoke with our guests, several of whom were milling about in the kitchen.
Also in the kitchen was the child's Grandmother, who was preparing an adult appetizer. The cake and ice cream for the toddlers would follow later, after the presents were opened.
The Grandmother, who hadn't supervised young ones in decades, had her back to me as she bent over, opened the stove, removed a dish from within and took a step to her left to place her burden upon the counter top just past the stove top burners. I couldn't see that she had a potholder in her hands but I instantly saw the unattended stove door that she had left down.
"Grandma, is that hot!?" I immediately asked, starting to move to my right. "Oh no, dear, it's not even warm," came the reassuring reply.
I relaxed slightly and my continued movement into the kitchen lost its quick urgency. But I was talking about the open stove, and she was talking about the contents of the casserole dish that she was removing.
Upon such miscommunication catastrophe can ensue. The child, seeing something new, tottered over to the open stove door and placed his left hand upon the low horizontal surface. And instantly bellowed in pain.
I died a little as I hurtled into the kitchen and swept him up and away from the hot surface before he could put his right hand down upon the stove door too. I really don't think I could have reached him in time to prevent the accident but the Grandmother's bland, unconcerned assurance that "it" wasn't even warm had made my rescue pace fatally deficient and quelled any urge to stridently yell, "Look out!" Adults do keep prepared foods in cold ovens sometimes, to bring out at the propitious moment, but I had allowed myself to be lulled into a false sense of complacency by the Grandmother's sang froid which masked her grotesque lack of adult awareness.
I was an EMT at the time and I knew that clean cold running water was the only palliative at that moment and I forcefully held the child's hand open under the open kitchen faucet for several minutes, pouring cold water over his palm while he screamed and cried. Then it was off to the ER where they bandaged his fully blistered palm, which fortunately contained no charred skin. This was followed by several visits in the ensuing fortnight that included a couple of debridement procedures.
The pain my poor boy endured was surely intolerable. His hand recovered fully but he always had a redness thereafter to his left palm and fingertips. I blame myself for allowing another adult's soothing but hugely mistaken "sensibilities" to interfere with what should have been my intolerant bull rush into the kitchen, bowling over adults as I went.
Young man whom I haven't seen in ten years, I am so sorry, and I love you now as I did then.