Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Father's Day Break

Father's Day weekend in New York this year was just beautiful, all early summer sun and soft breeze, some of the city's best days. The grandparents (my mother and father) were in town to see Q and The Boy going about their usual business; being half the U.S. away has meant that my parents haven’t just been around our kids that much in a non-holiday context.  It was a good time for them to come:  We had much on our usual schedule, including the culmination of The Boy's big second-grade project on birds,* Q's final gymnastics class for the summer, and The Boy's last baseball game of the season.  And since this was the wrap-up weekend for gymnastics and baseball and (more or less) school, there would be medals and trophies and a much higher tolerance for holding still and smiling for photos.

We managed almost all of that — until The Boy broke his arm for the third time.

Okay.  I was across the neighborhood with Q on the Saturday before Father's Day when I got the call, but here's what apparently happened: The Boy was riding his new bike in the park, the one with a larger frame that better fits his larger frame.  He’s fast on this one, but he knows the area well, so we let him speed up ahead and circle back. The park paths were full of pedestrians, and when he came up behind a large group of them, he rang his bell, but they didn’t make room.  The Boy swerved onto the shoulder to go around them, but the wide-set bricks caught his wheels and channeled him right into a lamppost at pretty much full speed.  He tried to catch himself on the way down, as anyone would, and snapped the big bone just above his right wrist.  Things could have been worse, of course.  He could have fallen into the street and a passing cab, could have had an end of bone jutting up through his skin.

When Q and I arrived running from the playground, I could see the fall in his wrist.  He could see it, too, having had some experience in this area,** and sobs of pain and knowledge were roaring out of him.  This was obviously emergency-room worthy, and my wife and Grandma took Q and The Boy’s bike back home while I flagged down a cab to New York Presbyterian Hospital, the one with the Best Pediatric ER according to a few Important Industry-Related Magazines.  The Saturday evening traffic was light, thankfully, but the pain and our thoughts of the coming cast made the ride seem interminable.  Having become a part of the story, even the driver tried to console The Boy as he ached out of the cab at the ER entrance.

By the time The Boy had made it through the paperwork and diagnostic X-ray phases of the ER, my wife had arrived.***  The grandparents were looking after Q (or perhaps it’s better to say that she was looking after them) so that we both could be with The Boy.  In a sense, I suppose, they got what they came for—to help mitigate the unplanned jags of life.

The fall had kinked his arm, and the pediatric orthopedist needed to set it straight.  The nurse first aimed two light doses of morphine at his pain while we waited for the on-call doctor.  Then for the procedure itself, a doctor informed us in calm tones (and asked us to acknowledge via signature of being so informed) that they were going to “moderately sedate” The Boy, which, worse case, might cause him to “lose his will to breathe.”****  We were also informed (this time in a signature-independent way) that though he wouldn’t remember anything, he would still be somewhat awake and might very well cry out when the bone was maneuvered back into proper position.  Given the option to stay for the screaming or step out, my wife and I decided that we’d look over the bulletin boards in the hallway and start thinking about ways to shift much of our summer around his cast.

It didn't take long.  By the time we successfully distracted ourselves, they had The Boy's reset arm hanging by his thumb and were wrapping it in quick-setting blue fiberglass.  He was still sedated, head and eyes rolling.  He didn't seem to recognize us or even know we were there, though later he would report seeing his mother and two of everything else.  There wasn’t much to do but watch everything work on him, and since it was getting late, I offered to go home to put Q at ease and to bed while my wife saw the visit through.

My first Father's Day in 2003 wasn't supposed to be my first Father's Day. The Boy entered this world a perilous two months early at New York Presbyterian and then kicked himself into a hold on life at its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. That first month my wife and I walked 68th Street so many times, as often as we could, new parents to a strange being with a confounded future. I was surprised to find how much that same trip back downtown, eight years later, felt like walking on a bruise.*****

The Boy returned home from the ER with drugs still lingering in his blood.  Q, worried and sleepless, went with me to meet him and my wife in our building's lobby.  He hadn't eaten for more than nine hours, and he had thrown up in the cab the little bit of ginger ale given to him by the nurse.  He wasn't walking well, and I carried him, wet and unexpectedly stiff, from elevator to home.  I hadn't held him in that way for some time.  We wrestled off his shirt for a quick bath; he still had a monitor relay stuck to his chest.  He hadn't come back into himself yet, his body unable to remember the step into his own bathtub.

As I helped him dress for bed that night, his new right arm heavy and foreign, he said, “Sorry, dad, you have to do everything for me.” I can't think of a more unnecessary apology; I would make myself a house around him.

It's been five weeks since the break, and his arm will return to him in two days.  We have a trip to the beach already set for the coming weekend and still over a month of summer left to use any way we choose.  I tell this story not to demonstrate that Every Day is Father’s Day or that fathers are made by their sons, though both may be true.  I tell it only to cast these days right, to fix them in the proper shape.

I hope you all had a happy Father's Day.


*I always found birds boring until The Boy brought home all his fine work. Now, I must admit, I'm slightly more interested.

**Did I mention this is his THIRD break?

***Funny story.  The hardest part of an ER visit, I think, is always waiting for the hospital to cycle through its procedures, and I was doing my best to be supportive and comforting and to speed things along.  Luckily, The Boy was moved through the early steps and rooms fairly quickly, including radiology — the cold, cavernous room with the amazingly articulated ray gun.  So we’re there, and the tech gets The Boy positioned as best he can given the pain and current range of mobility, and then the tech and I stepped behind the leaded glass for the zap of radiation.  Just as he moved to take the picture, I leaned back against the wall, accidentally hitting a red muffin-sized button reading “EMERGENCY SHUT OFF,” which killed the giant machine and the controlling computer.  The tech said he’d never had this happen before, and he had to go get help to reboot the room, unsure of how long it would take.  There was talk of moving The Boy elsewhere for x-rays, given what could be a long wait.  I wanted to page a specialist in stupidity to give me a huge shot of something painful right in my eye.  After just a couple of minutes, though, they were able to get everything up and running, and I managed not to get in the way for the rest of the evening. Well, it's a funny story now.

****Possibly annoying note: For us (and not for, say, dolphins), regular breathing arguably doesn’t depend upon the will.  Sure, I can hold my breathe (will myself not to breathe) and can breathe more deeply or faster if I choose.  Just plain breathing, however, requires no willing on my part. Losing the will to breathe, then, sounds exceedingly ominous to me, something super important but poorly understood.  Yes, I’m deflecting here — even now — in my own way.

*****I also was to leave for a week-long conference at Harvard the Monday after Father's Day, which meant taking the Amtrak to South Station in Boston, and then the Red Line in to Central Square, a groove I wore smooth over ten years ago when I was commuting weekly, alone and lonely, to a Harvard teaching job.  The whole thing was like going down a memory lane of misery.

1 comment:

teahouse said...

Wow, what a weekend you guys had. I'm glad everything turned out ok for the Boy. As you say, it could have been a lot worse!

You are such a great father.