On this night, twelve years ago, I sat in a hospital at the bedside of my eight-year-old son, holding his hand, crying, trying to make sense of what had happened.
It was the day before Thanksgiving. School got out early that day. Just moments after getting off the school bus S- was hit by car. Thrown some 40 feet. The entire incident witnessed by his grandfather and little sister. My mother called me. I ran out of the house without even stopping to put shoes on. I drove the short distance to where the street had been blocked by fire trucks and police cars. Parked my car in the middle of the street. Running the rest of the way. Pushing my way through the paramedics I find my little boy bloodied, lying in the street. While I was hysterical, he was remarkably calm. In shock. Things at the point became a blur. A flurry of activity. My job: to keep S- awake. Do not under any circumstances let him lose consciousness. Minutes in the emergency room seemed like hours. The doctors told me… he was lucky to be alive. What saved him? Likely the backpack he was wearing. It was the kind with wheels built-in. S- hated it! Doctors said it bore the brunt of the impact and kept him from having serious internal injuries. He ended up with a compound fracture to his femur. A broken elbow. And needing stitches in his head.
The broken femur was the most serious and worrisome injury. Because of his age. We were fortunate to have a great ortho-surgeon. He took great care to make sure S- had the proper treatment to avoid problems later on. S- spent 21 days in the hospital in traction. Another six weeks at home in a spica cast. And another four months in physical therapy.
During his 21 days in the hospital I left only twice. And never overnight. We spent many hours crying together. He was in so much pain. He would get these awful spasms. Sometimes in the middle of the night. The spasms were so bad it would cause the weights on the traction device to swing, crashing back against the metal on the bed, making a loud “boom” that would startle me awake. That was followed by cries of pain.
S- was sent home in a spica cast. If you’re not familiar with a spica cast, it’s a cast that starts at the chest and goes to the ankle, with a stabilizing bar between the legs. Just short of a body cast. This was not a fun time. At least at the hospital I had nurses and other people to help me. At home, I was on my own. I was horrified. I’m no nurse! We were able to get a wheelchair that laid flat, so we could leave home if we absolutely needed to. But getting S- in and out of the car was challenging. Everything was challenging. EVERYTHING!
Then the cast came off and it was time to start physical therapy. I think we all expected the cast would come off and he would jump up off the table and run around! When, in fact, it had been more than two months since S- had walked a single step. His legs were like jello. He was basically learning to walk again. He had a wonderful physical therapist. He managed to make him cry on day-one, before he ever even got out of the wheelchair! The two of them ended up great friends. Challenging each other to duels on the stair-stepper.
Some seven months after that horrible day I looked back on everything we had gone through and I was amazed. Yes, S- suffered the most and did the hard work to recover! But when something like that happens, especially to a child, it really does effect the entire family. It was then that I realized I was a lot stronger than I thought.
At one point during S-‘s three-weeks in the hospital my husband (now ex) told me I needed to come home. He told me my place was at home taking care of him. He told me I didn’t need to stay with S- in the hospital because he had nurses there to help him. I told him I wasn’t leaving the hospital. I wasn’t coming home.
Seven months later I reminded him about what he had said. How selfish it was. And how it spoke volumes about his true character. I told him I was going back to school to finish my degree and that I was leaving him when I did.
It had been years since I had been in school. I had always wanted to go back and finish. Both of my older sisters had gone to college. I had been brought up knowing that I would go to college. I deviated from “the plan” and it pained my parents that I never earned by degree. I had always wanted to go back, but never thought I had what it took. After S-‘s accident I was able to look back on those seven months and realize I had much more strength than I ever knew I had. If I could get through THAT I could get through ANYTHING. I enrolled in school that summer! And the rest.. as they say… is history!
– J. Ela