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On the Tip of My Tongue

When the top of my son's head hit the bottom of my chin, I bit my tongue. Hard. So hard, in fact, that by the time I rushed to the bathroom mirror, blood was pooling in my open mouth.

A flap of skin about the size of a large, sharp tooth rose from the surface of my tongue.

I was speechless. Even my kids were quiet.

I pressed a wet washcloth against the wound and waited for the bleeding to stop, or at least to slow down. After a few minutes, the kids and I examined the injured muscle more closely. The bottom surface was unscathed, but the top left much to be desired and was beginning to throb.

A nurse answered the phone on the second ring.

"Emergency room. How can I help you?"

"Ah bih mah hung!"

"Excuse me?"

"Ah bih mah hung an ih woh hop bweehin."

"Well, put ice on it."

"Hank you."

I gingerly balanced an ice cube in my mouth. The kids read their own bedtime story.


Three hours later I called the nurse again.

"My hung woh hop bweehin."

"Keep ice on it. It'll heal in a few days."

"Hank you."


Five days later I called my dentist.

"I bit my tongue on Thaturday and it'th thtill bleeding."

"Can you come in at noon?"


Dr. Picone poked and prodded at my tongue's new tongue, grimacing and shaking his head.

"You really should have called us when this happened."

I gurgled in agreement. He poked a little more.

"If I sew it up now, it might get infected. If I don't sew it up, there's a good chance it will heal partially open and interfere with your speech and chewing."

He sighed and put down his instruments.

"I'm going to place a stitch on either side. That way the middle can drain if it needs to."

He held my tongue with a piece of gauze and sprayed on a topical anesthetic. He then injected Novocaine three times around the gash, aiming for what felt like a giant nerve. Finally he took a curved needle and some black suture and sewed the flap of flesh into place.

"I left the knots a little loose to make them less irritating."

I sat up and looked in the mirror. The tip of my tongue was a swollen, mottled mess. Two black ropes lay thickly on the scene of the disaster, their knotted ends scraping the roof of my mouth.

I was tongue-tied.

"Here is my home number. Call me if you have any problems. I'll see you back here on Monday. And try not to play with the stitches."

Play with the stitches?

"Hanks, Hocter Picone."

It was impossible not to play with the stitches. I rubbed them on my lips. I tapped them against my teeth. I showed them to my coworkers during lunch.

To make it worse, every time I spoke or swallowed, the tip of my tongue slapped around my mouth, pulling and tugging the dark threads and loosening the knots.

That evening, right after dinner, one of the sutures disappeared down my throat.

Doctor Picone and his assistant met me at the office. The dulling spritz of anesthetic, three more shots of Novocaine, and I had my stitch back.

"Try not to talk. And eat only soft food. Soup and yogurt and ice cream."

I nodded my head.

Early the next morning, after a bowl of hard, crunchy Cheerios, I noticed that the other stitch was gone.

Dr. Picone ushered me past his patients. I left my coat on.

Squirt, stab, sew. I unclenched my hands and feet, pushed my tongue back into my mouth, and headed for work.

At 4:00 I was back in the dentist's chair with a loose suture.

Dr. Picone apologized.

"I was trying to do you a favor by keeping the knots small. Let's tighten these up and get you home."

Saturday morning I surveyed my tongue in the mirror. Both of the tight sutures had sliced through the avulsed skin. One was pulling the wound open instead of holding it closed. The other had worked its way to the surface and lay in a small coil, gamely piercing a single taste bud.

Dr. Picone and his assistant greeted me cheerfully as they pulled into the parking lot.

Snip, snip, and my tongue was momentarily free. A wisp of numbing froth, a couple of sharp hellos to my ganglia, and the third pair of stitches took root.

"This time I put them in deep. Notice how it bunches the skin up around the cut."

I noticed.

"Remember. Try not to talk. And eat only soft food."

I tried not to talk. My stomach growled.

For some reason, my tongue was sore all day.

On Sunday morning I found that one of the stitches had again sliced through the flap of skin. Triangular scars were forming in its wake.

Dr. Picone recognized my voice and agreed that I could remove the suture myself.

"Use a small, sharp pair of scissors to cut it, then pull the thread out by the knot." The point of the scissors got stuck under the stitch. I had to yank it free and try again. The black knot made an audible clunk when I threw it in the trash can.

That afternoon at McDonald's I swallowed the last suture while eating my kids' french fries. The tip of my tongue was the consistency of cottage cheese. I was starving. I didn't care.

Monday morning the cut remained closed. I ate a big breakfast and cancelled my appointment with Dr. Picone. He was happy not to see me. My tongue was happy not to see him.

In a week or so I need to start breaking up the scar tissue with my fingers. If I cross my eyes and stick my tongue way out, I can see a pale lump on the tip. It feels like a glob of peanut butter. I keep trying to scrape it off with my teeth. My coworkers avoid me at lunch.

My kids, however, still think its neat. They beg me to show the scar to their friends. And to their friends' parents.

I get embarrassed and feel like telling my kids to shut up, but I don't want to be rude.

So I just smile and bite my tongue.

- Kurt Staven September 10, 2002

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