Monday, August 1, 2011
I knew Sunday would be a crazy day, but I had naively assumed the craziness would be related to the fact we had a house showing at 11 in the morning, and the only people home (to clean up the house) were me and my youngest son, Sam. We got up early, then scurried around picking up trash and dishes, wiping down counters, putting away laundry. We’re living pretty streamlined these days. Half of our stuff is in storage. But the daily living stuff can really add up.
Especially when your only helper is a ten year old boy.
We flew out the door just as the potential buyers were pulling into the driveway. During our wait, we drove over to pick up his teenage brother, who had been camping with a friend. We waited patiently for the hour to be up, then drove back home and stepped back into life. I pushed the two of them out the door, saying, “Go play outside. You need the fresh air!”
Ten minutes later they were back. I heard Sam sniffling as he came in the back door and one look at him revealed why. He was covered in road rash from a skateboarding crash. But even more concerning was the red smear on his forehead that seemed to be swelling by the second.
As I put a cold cloth on it to clean it off, the words that freeze a mama’s heart came out of his mouth. “What happened? Where am I? How did I get here?”
Now we’ve gone through a lot of medical stuff with our kids. Mainly the boys, but even their big sister broke her arm sledding in Utah, bad enough that she had surgery and 8 weeks of casts. We’ve had many broken bones, dozens of stitches, plenty of blood. We’re no strangers to boo boos. But this was my first real head injury.
And it took all the courage I had not to fall apart right next to my boy.
I have a good friend who survived a traumatic brain injury. They’re not something to take lightly. Suddenly the red angry scrapes all over his body, and the very sore arm that may or may not be broken, didn’t seem to matter. I needed to get my son to medical treatment as soon as possible.
With a few deep breaths I went into action. I called the local urgent care center, just down the street, to find out if they were open on Sundays. I set up my teenager by the phone, in case his dad called from Colorado and wanted an update. I gathered up my boy and we headed for the car.
On the drive over to the clinic he kept asking me the same three questions over and over. It reminded me of the Alzheimer’s patients I used to work with. I would answer the question and ten seconds later he’d ask it again, not remembering my previous answer. It’s very unsettling to have your usually bright, happy go lucky boy be so confused.
Several times he’d ask me if he’d just woken up. He had no memory of going out to skateboard with his brother. He had no memory of the accident. He didn’t even remember getting into the car. I tried to force myself not to burst into tears right along with him.
A kind nurse ushered us into the exam room and a doctor quickly followed. He did a variety of tests to check Sam’s mental capacity. I explained the confusion I’d been witnessing. There was no question, as the doctor put it, that my boy had ‘gotten his bell rung pretty hard’. With a diagnosis of concussion, we were sent to the ER for a CAT scan.
Again, on the drive over, the questions started. “How did I get here?” “Did I just wake up?” “What happened?” Deep breaths. Deep breaths and patient answers.
Once we did our obligatory time in the waiting room, where Sam continued to whisper questions to me, and occasionally sob out of pure weariness and frustration, we were sent back to an exam room.
Another doctor did the tests, physical and mental. We walked down a short hallway to the CAT scan, and then an X-ray on a suspiciously sore elbow. More waiting. Then another X-ray on his wrist, that had suddenly stopped working too. After four hours we were finally headed home.
Just the fact we were headed home gave me great joy. My boy was going to be okay. A specialist will set his broken wrist this week and I will do my best to keep him ‘calm and quiet’, as the doctors ordered, so his brain can heal from the concussion. We escaped the big stuff. This time.
Laying in bed with him last night, after we’d finally uncovered all his oozing road rash wounds and put antibiotic cream on them, and set his temporarily casted arm up on a pillow, I finally breathed my sigh of relief. He was joking with his siblings. He had his sense of humor back. He was even working on his accident story, feeling like ‘a skateboard accident’ didn’t sound nearly as fun as ‘a bar fight’.
And I was reminded again about the importance of helmets. Sam is never allowed to do any sport without his helmet. Skateboarding, biking, skiing…no sports without head protection. In this case, it might have saved his life. I will go out to buy him a new helmet this week. His old one is pretty chipped up. But I don’t mind. It’s a pretty small price to pay for my boy’s future mental health.
As the seasons change, and skateboarding boys begin to mountain bike on Colorado trails, then ski on Colorado slopes, I will continue to insist my boys put on their head hear. It’s a non negotiable in this house.
As it should be in every household.
Trust me, your child’s brain is worth it.
Follow up: Two hours after I wrote this column, I was once again back in the ER with my boy. After having a very 'normal' morning, he suddenly started shivering, got very lethargic, and couldn't seem to stay awake. We spent the next three days in the hospital, trying to figure out why his temperature kept spiking, and he couldn't manage to eat anything. They were suspicious that he had internal injuries that we just couldn't find.
It was decided that he had picked up a virus from somewhere, and it hit just 24 hours after his wreck. So the symptoms from both were mixing together, causing a mystery that included many CT scans, ultrasounds and blood tests to figure out.
The doctors were pleased as he began to show signs of recovery, and even more pleased that he had been wearing his helmet. Once he's up to it, we're headed to the store to purchase a new one.
In the meantime, he has a new, bright green cast, and will get it changed in ten days, the day before we drive off to Colorado. Then I have to dig up an orthopedic guy out there to continue his healing process.