The room was purposefully sterile. One window looking out onto the road, a small TV set high up in the corner wall with a fuzzy picture playing cartoons. The bed took up most of the space – pulled white sheets, a chrome rack underneath for clothes and two monitors and an IV station were positioned behind it. A small swivel stool and a hard, undesirable vinyl chair were against the wall for visitors. It was freezing in there, and quiet, but for the occasional beep.
My son looked at me. His eyes told the whole story. He was scared out of his mind, white with the fear of the unknown, and he wanted to leave. Husband walked in. His presence made it more serious. One by one the nurses and doctors came in: the surgical nurse, the anesthesiologist, the pediatric orthopedic surgeon and then the after-care nurse. They wanted to meet my son and talk him through the surgery; he just stared blankly at the Curious George program on the TV, not wanting to engage and not understanding any of their terminology.
Forms, forms, forms. Payment before the surgery was also required which was strange. Then his IV was put in, blood pressure was taken and the risks were read out to us, privately, so as not to freak him out. As parents you’re supposed to be stoic, considered with your words and emotions, stronger than you may feel and not panic. Then it was time.
We walked down the corridor next to his bed, holding his hand as they wheeled him to the surgical room. He looked up at me quickly and tears were rolling uncontrollably down his cheeks. But not a word came out of him. Not a sound. He’s that type of kid. I squeezed his hand and felt him squeeze me back. I smiled with the lump in my throat growing and growing and managed to get out some words telling him we’d be right here when he woke, not to worry about anything, just go to sleep.
We watched him until the doors shut behind his bed, looked at each other, and wept. We returned to his room, now bed-less and uncomfortably empty, and I cried for any and all the parents who go through this for something truly significant. My son broke his elbow and in his world it is very significant. But in the great scheme of life, all should be fine and it’s an important but not life threatening surgery.
I told my husband that I want to volunteer in a Children’s hospital helping the families of sick kids. Having the slightest taste of watching your child have a general anesthetic and throwing all prayer upwards that he wakes up okay, I can begin to understand what it must feel like to deal with truly hideous health issues. Staring out of the window in his cold room felt like being in a prison; watching the world get on with normal life whilst you awaited with the tick-tock of the clock in another universe altogether.
He’s fine now, or will be. He’s got a glow-in-the-dark cast and a lot of attention. We are scarred, though, just that little bit more from the experience, especially after last week’s concussion with my other son. In the last few months we’ve suffered two broken bones, a hit and almost run from a car crashing into my son and a cracked-open head injury. And that is just since summer! I’m seriously considering helmets and body armour at this point.
Unlike the UK’s socialized health care, I know I will be getting endless bills, after insurance decides how little they are going to pay, for the next several months. Which is also scary. Americans have never felt the health system working for you like you experience with the NHS in the UK. I know it’s not perfect and people do die waiting, there. But for kids, to get emergency care straight away, and excellent service, medicine and after-care for your tax money, is seriously gratifying.
I’m putting all the boys to bed after my nephew’s birthday. We sing our goodnight song and the ‘Bear Song’ as our rituals and I close the door part way. As I walk down the hall and scream back at them to stop talking, I can only be grateful, once again, for their health and their safety. If I could roll them in cotton wool (as my sister in law would say) I would, occasionally, just to keep them secure. I suppose part of this letting go that mothers and fathers do is allowing them to fall, literally, and hopefully learn something along the way.
It would be great if my sons learned not to use their heads, and bodies, as weapons of mass destruction.