I slept poorly last night. Three times I nodded off while reading my book, set my glasses and novel on the night stand, then promptly popped right back into full consciousness. That hazy space between barely awake and bizarre dreams was highjacked by mom guilt, until mental exhaustion finally won out around 1:45 or so. If cerebral activity could be measured in distance, I probably mentally marathoned last night. Maybe ultramarathoned.
The kids went camping, cabin-ing to be precise, with my super cool friend whose bravery is a blog post all her own. She drove her son, my two and two other boys to a riverside cabin in south central Wisconsin. Being the “I love not camping” girl I am, I not-at-all subtly avoided volunteering to go with them. My husband got stuck covering second shift, and I was looking forward to some Saturday evening alone time–a little Meijer shopping junket, Orange Is The New Black (My heart is still not 100% into the fifth season though I really want still to loooooove it), and a dinner of popcorn, ice cream, and Blue Hawaiians. My friend Jane texted me as I browsed health and beauty, did I want to hang out? I replied with my dinner menu, confirming that I was entirely serious about “dinner.” Unfazed by my blatant disregard for nutrition, she drove over anyway.
Chatting outside on our patio late Saturday, solving the world’s problems in the cool, evening breeze, Jane heard our landline ringing. “Is that your landline?” she asked incredulously, like, “it’s cute you still have a landline” and I was like, “Oh, it’s 10:00 and our phone is ringing? That can’t be good.”
I then grabbed my cell phone, which was set to Do Not Disturb mode, and noticed a call from the same number. I didn’t want to be one of those, “Did you call this number?” people, because wrong numbers happen, you guys, but with a call to both my cell and home phone, I thought I’d better do some investigative work. I called the number back. My son answered, frantic.
They had been playing Ghost In the Graveyard, he whimpered. “What I didn’t see was the tree stump” over which he tripped and was propelled into a tree. It hurt really bad, and he had to stay inside while the other kids were sitting around the campfire making s’mores. In perhaps my single worst parenting decision ever, and folks, there are several on my highlight reel, I asked if he was more hurt or disappointed. I honestly believed he was more sad not to be in there with the rest of the guys, that he felt excluded, and that disappointment was more painful than the pain.
My son’s pain tolerance approaches the preternatural. Muscular dystrophy means he falls a lot, crashes into things–walls, furniture, all of the things–more than your average klutz does, and he never complains. I’ve seen him crash hard, get up and dust himself off, and keep plugging. Thinking about how bad those incidents have to hurt makes me feel like I have to vomit sometimes. It’s that kind of pain I see him endure with regularity.
I cried along with him on the phone, angry at muscular dystrophy for making him less agile and nimble, for taking away his ability to maneuver at speed of life. I agreed, it sucks, kid. It’s unfair. No argument. I talked him through some deep breathing via telephone, believed that hearing his mom’s voice and a few ibuprofen were calming enough to get him over the hump. I did ask if he wanted me to come pick him up, which he considered then declined when the rest of the kids came back inside from the campfire. Watching Ghostbusters, the original one, and receiving a s’more another kid made for him, was medicinal enough.
My friend got on the phone, confirmed that he could move his arm, and agreed with me that some of his pain could have stemmed from not being in there with the rest of the guys. NOT that he didn’t smack the living hell out of his shoulder, ’cause oh, did he ever! But did I need to come retrieve him? Probably not. I agreed.
My husband and I go pick him up last evening around 7 PM. He’s clearly favoring his left arm, proceeding gingerly, but slings his backpack over his right shoulder, grabs his pillow, and lurches over to our car. He has that boy with bruises/chicks dig scars false bravado, admitting though that his shoulder does hurt. At home, I help him remove his shirt to get a look at the abrasions and bruises. We–my husband, son and me–decide to call his pediatrician first thing in the morning. The bruises are gonna be spectacular! But then we notice a slant, real asymmetry in his shoulders, and I see his scapulae are not even. Not at all. “Did you brush your teeth today?” I inquired. “No? Let’s go do that.” Less than an hour after his return home, we cruise over to the emergency room. They can take my $100 co-pay and tell me he’s fine, but I think he’s maybe less fine than I initially hoped, and I thought he should have fresh breath for the occasion.
I cannot say enough about the emergency medicine department at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. We were the fourth family in line when we arrived to sign in last night. In classic I’m such a jerk form, I texted my husband, “F-word. There’s like 4 families ahead of us just to check in. We won’t be out of here til tomorrow.” The ER is where many uninsured families wind up for routine or urgent care needs. A sign posted at the ER’s entry states that every child and family has the right to emergency care, regardless of ability to pay, insurance or Medicaid status, so the kids in front of us with maybe ear infections and coughs would be sure to get the care they needed. Underserved and underinsured children populate probably 80% of the school district in which I work, so I understand how so many sick kids wind up in the ER rather than at a pediatrician’s office. I don’t want to make any assumptions, but you can’t help but overhear the answers to the intake staff’s inquiries: stomachache, cough, “not herself” were mentioned. Urgent care issues to be sure. But this is not a treatise on the status of health care inequities in the US. Many more learned people are writing about that very thing all over the internet these days. Read those; they’re better.
I believe we’re in for the long haul–we brought books, phone chargers, and Tom even packed us snacks and sandwiches for our ER picnic. But then I become reacquainted with the term triage. Though I was unawares, the medical staff knew when we walked in what his diagnosis was; in hindsight, I recognize how they hurried us through. From start to finish, we were in the ER for 75 minutes. From “Date of birth, any allergies?” to “Your pictures are in. Your clavicle is broken in two places” to “Call your pediatrician first thing in the morning” took only over an hour.
Broken bones put you ahead of ear infections in the triage conga line. It’s really the only time you hope, but you don’t really hope for something more serious. My son’s collarbone is broken in two places. When the x-ray came in, I pulled a total Wendy: “Holy crap, kid!!!” And I got the giggles telling him he did a real number on his shoulder, all right, as we viewed his insides. The breaks were unmistakable. Unmistakable. Like tectonic plates shifting up creating mountains unmistakable. He laughed looking at the image too, but pretty quickly acknowledged, “I don’t know why I’m laughing.” I believe we call it “nervous laughter” kid. Funny/not funny/need a release/yeah, that’s it.
Though I didn’t relish the thought, I had to tell my friend that his collarbone was broken, and I knew she’d feel terrible. She does. It’s not her fault, not her anything, and she has always had a very squishy spot for my kid, for them both, which I love. There ain’t no way I’d have taken four boys camping, and I am so happy she included mine. Because kids love camping. Me? I love not camping.
He made it thirteen-and-a-half years before visiting the ER, so hey kid, thanks for an amazing run! It will be some time before I allow myself not to feel guilty for not hopping in the car Saturday night. I apologized to him over and again as we walked back to the car from the ER–I should have intuited. Aren’t moms supposed to sense this stuff? How did I NOT know? I would have driven to the ends of the earth to come and get you if I’d known it was a broken bone. It will be some time before I figure out just how this immobilizer thing pieces together. They don’t cast clavicles–so your ER visit is brief by comparison, but I have to assemble this contraption for him. I’m terrified. I can’t even wrap a gift decently, and I have to wrap up my kid’s arm and shoulder to protect him. Aaaand I’m pukey again.
This kid? He’s so tough. He is tougher than you, I bet. This pain should have just about knocked him out–it would have taken me down. He told several ER staff what happened–they do that, several people ask several times to check for consistency of stories–and the crash went down exactly as I had imagined it did when we spoke on the phone Saturday night. But I had no idea, NO IDEA, how much badass that kid had inside him. He’s a rock star.
He’ll need some help, but it’s already been inspiring to watch him triumph over this immobilizer. He works so hard when he is made to, and I never caught this perseverance in him until the MD diagnosis. Today it’s all I see: strength over adversity. I’ll probably have to help him shower, which he’s not super looking forward to, but we did share a little Barenaked Ladies moment over it: “You think you’re so smart, but I’ve seen you naked, and I’ll probably see you naked it again.” He laughed, maybe a little nervously, but genuinely too, which hurt him and stung me too. The line is a lyric from the song Blame It On Me, and friends, I own that blame.
Broken hearts (mine) and broken bones (his)