When my son Sawyer was four my wife and I decided to enroll him in a summer day camp. He was significantly delayed in his language development at that time, but he knew enough to tell us, “I don’t want to go.” But children say these sorts of things all the time, and his older brother had said the same thing, and summers were long. He would learn to like it there. Sometimes, however, I would drop him off at the community center and he would seem so lost toddling into that crush of children that I couldn’t actually imagine how he would fit there. I pushed these thoughts out of my mind because summers were long and he would learn to like it.

Soon bruises began appearing on his arms. Children get bruises all the time, but these were always on his arm. We asked him if he had been grabbed or fallen down? No, he said, but again, it was hard to tell in those days what he understood and what he did not. One night he got up to use the bathroom. There was a bruise on his arm that hadn’t been there when we’d put him to bed. It was decided I would take him to the emergency room.

Despair crept over me as I sat in the Children’s Hospital examination room with Sawyer. I didn’t think anything was wrong with him. I didn’t know why these bruises kept appearing, but I didn’t think there was anything wrong with him. But how could I know this? I’d heard mysterious bruises were a sign of leukemia. Did I want to take that chance?

The doctors came and drew his blood and told us to wait some more. Now I began to hate the hospital. I did not think that there was anything wrong with him but I hated that someone could poke him with a needle and tell me whether or not I actually knew what I was certain I knew. I felt like I knew he wasn’t sick the same way I knew if something I had written worked or did not—but this was silly. This was not the way you think about your child’s health.

The tests came back inconclusive but the doctors felt he should return for more tests. My wife brought him back for the test but still nothing. Our pediatrician was not satisfied. She felt more tests were the safest idea.

But one night before the next set of tests we heard Sawyer playing in his room when he should have been sleeping. When Jen went to check on him, she saw a new bruise. I don’t know why she finally thought to ask this, but she did:

“Sawyer?  Did you give yourself this bruise?”

Sawyer looked down at the bruise and nodded.


He demonstrated sucking on his arm.  He has been giving himself hickeys.

Our pediatrician wanted to continue testing him.  She wasn’t entirely convinced the bruises were all self-inflicted.  We had a different solution.  We quit sending him to the day camp.

The bruises never returned.

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