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Friday, February 24, 2012

Coping

Three weeks ago, my son was hit by a car.

Nearly every parent I know personally, on hearing the news, called or emailed or hugged me and offered some version of a horror-struck observation, "that is my worst nightmare." All I could do was nod dumbly, and then nod again, take the proffered hug and clutch it to my heart like a lifeline.

Often I would try to respond, but it is very hard to know what to say. He survived. In fact, he survived miraculously intact. His only injury was a broken leg. A barrage of possible responses, all focused on the ultimately positive outcome, would come bubbling to my lips: doctors tell me he will be running around again by June...I am so grateful he had on a helmet...there were no other marks--not a single injury on his lovely skin--apart from the faintest of pink smudges on his collar-bone...his brain is fine... his internal organs? fine...today he was laughing and giving me sass from the couch...he should be able to play on sports teams again in the fall.

With every positive statement, I would see a mother's shoulders relax, a father's jaw slightly unclench. I would feel a palpable relief, hear a sigh over the phone. Thank God. Thank goodness. Thank every power in which you believe that is higher than us. Thank you. He is alive and will recover.

And yet, every time I said those things I knew dispelled that nightmare, I also felt like I was lying. Or like I wanted to scream out the other side to the story. The story I saw.

Yes, I wanted to say, he only has a broken leg. But have you ever been walking down the street with your dog and your children, happily enjoying an unseasonably warm winter's afternoon, watching them circling cul-de-sacs gleefully on their bikes or scooters, and then stunningly, horrifyingly, unexpectedly, watched a car plow into your child? Have you ever seen what it looks like to have your eight-year-old first-born plastered to the front grill of a gold-tan minivan and then drop to a heap on the street? Have you ever, I wanted to shout at the top of my voice, have you ever sprinted shrieking and hysterical down the street to gather up in your arms your precious, only-oldest child--not knowing what you will find when you arrive by his side?

Yes, he was talking. No, he had not been knocked out.

But in those endless, racing, hideous moments before finding that out, when your heart was bursting and your legs felt like they were moving without even touching the pavement, have you ever known the fear of the very real possibility that you may not find your child alive at the end of the longest short run of your life?

I could not and did not say any of those things to people who offered immediate condolences and aid. And yet, I could not bring myself to say either, "he only has a broken leg." Because the fact was, I felt like so much more had broken that day.

My most regular gesture towards getting rid of that "only" was to explain that he'd had surgery to repair the leg, to say that I was so deeply grateful that we live in proximity of one of the best children's hospitals in the country, to mention with some wonder that he'd been hit around 5pm and was in surgery by 8:30. Most parents can imagine that icy clutch of worry over the idea of their child in emergency surgery. In fact, it's far easier to imagine than is the horror of witnessing what I saw. Mentioning the surgery, the morphine, the two nights in the hospital, became my default way to indicate the seriousness of the accident without delving into my own sense of trauma--which, I felt, might have been a burden and also might have seemed like a kind of melodramatic excess. He is, after all, expected to recover fully.

My closest friends, of course, know that I've been struggling myself. They know that I spent the first two weeks after the accident sleeping in my son's queen-sized bed with him. I had to wake him every four hours to take pain medicine.

But I have not much said aloud that I also needed to reassure myself--at least every four hours--that he was still breathing. That he was sleeping peacefully, soft, warm, calm. That his thick, dark hair, long overdue for a cut, was still falling in locks over his eyebrows; that his body, miraculously, was lying there next to mine. When he was just coming out of the post-surgery anesthesia, groggy and floppy, with a raspy voice and little control over his limbs, his first sentence after holding out his arms for a hug was, "I need to see my leg." It made so much sense to me, over and over, in that first week, that he would need reassurance that the leg was not lost.

I needed the same reassurance about him.

After the first few nights, I stopped seeing the accident every time I closed my eyes. But it took more than a week before I could fully believe the many doctors and nurses who had told me there was nothing else wrong with him. When he got headaches and dizziness from one of the pain medications, I felt a chill horror again: had they missed something that was really wrong with his head?

They had not.

It was not until they changed the medication, and the dizziness went away immediately, that I finally began to think it was possible that somehow he really had come out of this with only a broken leg. After his first check-up, two weeks after the surgery, when I saw the x-rays (he has two internal pins, each the length of his entire femur) and heard the surgeon exclaim, "this looks fantastic!" I finally began to relax.

I have been tremendously lucky throughout all of this. Those first anguished nights in the hospital, social workers and doctors and friends and family all reached out to let me know that I was supported. A grandmother I didn't know, and saw only that once, stopped in the hallway to give me a long hug and reassure me that "we've all been there" as I sobbed quietly outside the door of my son's room, loathe to let him know the depth of my own fear. Her grandson was a long-time resident of the oncology ward, and I felt humbled and incredibly fortunate that my own child would be leaving the hospital so soon. So temporarily injured.

The outpouring of friendship within our town has been incredible. My son has received nearly a hundred cards--most of them handmade--from classmates, kids who ride his bus, neighbors, kids who play with him in after-school care, and relatives. People have shown up unannounced on our doorstep with pots of chili, homemade pasta sauce, muffins. All have come bearing sympathy. One mother organized classmates to drop by every afternoon to cheer up the long hours. Another came over with her dog, so that I would have a companion on that first, difficult walk that I would take again with my pet on a leash through the neighborhood. Close friends scooped up our daughter and kept her for more than 24 hours when we were first in the hospital, entertaining her with trips to the candy store and a hundred other fun moments.

It turns out that this accident, while awful, has not been a parent's worst nightmare.

My child is in physical therapy, slowly recovering his flexibility and strength. He still cannot lift his own leg an inch off the couch. But last week, he could not move himself into a sitting position without help, and today, he looked at me with a withering glance when I asked him about setting up an aide to help him to the bathroom when he returns to school on Monday. "I can go to the bathroom by myself," he said, a new-found confidence in his voice.

When he stumbles on his crutches, he panics, and I can see flash across his face all the terror of the most recent, shocking time he was knocked over. I can relate. A few days ago, I drove by a neighbor boy's scooter lying abandoned in their driveway and had to fight back waves of my own panic and nausea at the sight of an empty, fallen scooter on blacktop.

But we are coping, both of us.

Every time he stumbles and rights himself, he gets stronger. Every time I walk the dog, am passed by a car, and nothing bad happens, I breathe a little easier.

And every day, the tremendous community in which I find myself so fortunate to reside reminds me of how lucky we are. We have knit ourselves into a group of friends that are dear, but we have also become members of a far larger community of an elementary school and a town that looks out for each other. Parents I know only in passing have reached out with genuine kindnesses. Ones I knew only a little more have become friends.

I am thankful every day for the knowing looks and follow-up calls and emails from mothers who really have tried to imagine those awful first moments, and who have done their utmost to heal my spirit just as my son's leg is healing itself.

They have all made me realize that coping is a process best undertaken with the help of many many outstretched hands. I will be eternally grateful for the ones they have extended.

27 comments:

Tara R. said...

When my son was six months old he was severely burnt. I call still remember that day as if it just happened. The mad drive to the hospital, the ambulance ride to a burn center 50 miles away, the surgeries... all of it. He will be 19yo in June. You learn to push those memories to the back of your mind. My son says he remembers none of it. You do learn to cope, and each day it gets easier.

I am so glad your son is recovering quickly and fully from this accident. Remember to take care of yourself. This was also incredibly traumatic for you, make sure you recover too.

AnnetteK said...

Oh my god. Oh. My. God. I wish there was something I could say to make it better. I think only time can do that. Sending you many good thoughts and virtual hugs. xoxo

Molly said...

Holy crap, honey!!! HUGS.

Don't hesitate to talk to someone about this if you or the kids need to!!

Sending you love and hugs and prayers and chocolate....

Lise said...

Oh, God. I'm so sorry. I truly understand what you're going through. Nine years ago my then-17-year-old daughter was hit by a car. She also broke her femur, badly bruised her arm, skidded on her temple, got two black eyes, and left a big dent in the hood of a Suburban.

I wasn't there when she was hit and can only imagine how horribly traumatic that was for you. Just seeing my daughter on the street immediately after the accident was awful enough.

She was lucky - she had no internal injuries, only spent four days in the hospital and a week after the accident she was back in her college classes in a wheelchair. And I was lucky - one of the people who stopped to help after the accident was an orthopedic nurse. She was able to explain to me what was happening, and even drove me to the hospital. Because of her I knew what surgeon to request, and he did an amazing job.

But the problem with a serious accident is that it shatters our illusion that if only we work hard enough as parents, we can keep our children safe. I felt a whole lot of (misplaced) guilt, couldn't get the images of the accident out of my mind, and couldn't sleep.

As Tara said, you learn to cope and it does get easier. It won't always feel so raw. What helped me the most was talking to a policeman a few weeks after the accident. He explained to me the physics of the accident, and what would have happened at a higher speed. That helped me realize how truly lucky my daughter had been. He gently asked how I was doing, told me that p.t.s.d. was common among parents of children injured, and offered to put me in contact with the police chaplain. Just hearing that what I was feeling was normal helped me to work through it and put it behind me.

One thing I wish someone had told us: Make sure the physical therapist is evaluating both of your son's knees. A blow hard enough to break a femur is also hard enough to damage joints (depending on his position when he was hit.)

Hang in there. It will get better and easier.

MommyTime said...

Lise,

Thank you soo much for your kind words and the information. I will indeed have the PT check out his knees (perhaps also ask the orthopedist at his next follow up whether they checked knee joints on x-ray at all yet).

You are so right about the shattered illusions. I keep thinking about that as I wonder how and whether I will be able to keep them safe as they continue to grow. I was WITH him, and this still happened. That does make it hard.

I was also warned about p.t.s.d. by the social worker in the hospital, and I have made sure to seek out some help for myself too. I clearly needed it, though I am glad to say that three weeks in, I am doing better.

I appreciate your sharing your story. I know it must be hard. But it really does help to know that I am not alone in these types of struggles. So thank you.

And thank you, too, to Tara, Annette and Molly, for the support and your own stories. All of this is so very helpful.

kelley @ magnetoboldtoo said...

please look after YOU.

You have suffered a trauma too.

Sending much love across the ocean

Fawn said...

I can imagine, and yet I can't. If I really tried to, I know I could work myself into a frenzy. I feel for you. So glad you are feeling so much support. It's so amazing to realize when you have the power and love of a whole community behind you. XOX

(P.S. I never noticed that "Sing it, sister!" caption above. Now THAT made me laugh!)

Sending love. XOX

Julia Magnusson (It's not like a cat...) said...

I found my way here through Halushki's blog. I cannot imagine how utterly terrifying that must have been and must still be. I am glad you have such a wonderful community and continue to recover.

anymommy said...

You took me right there and it is a terrifying place to be. I am so very, very, very glad he is recovering from the accident. Sending you love and strength, but I wish I could come over and take you out to dinner.

BusyDad said...

Wow, Andrea... although this has thankfully never happened to my boy, I could feel my adrenaline surge when I read your account. That panic adrenaline. Those few seconds between the impact and you getting to your boy must've been the toughest few seconds of your life. So glad to know he's healing up and you all are feeling the love. May the Force be with him.

MommyTime said...

@Kelley, Fawn, Julia, Stacey, and BusyDad -- THANK YOU. Seriously. Every comment, every xoxo, every bit of support from afar is so helpful in letting me know that I will get through this and can cope. There is so much healing power in feeling part of a community, and I really appreciate the kind words from old friends, and new (special shout-out to Julia!).

Suburban Kamikaze said...

What a poignant and painful account. I hope someone is spoiling you both.

SK

Heather said...

I wish you the best in your and your son's recovery. Please take care!

Adventures In Babywearing said...

Oh my goodness, I know so much of this from my own personal nightmares with my oldest but I don't want to make my comment about me. I understand, and I pray that you can keep closing your eyes and rest in comfort. I am so sorry it happened to you, and from your words you are handling it with so much grace. Bless your heart.

Steph

Adventures In Babywearing said...

I find myself coming back here to check on you. Hope you're doing well.

Love,
Steph

Marinka said...

I am so sorry for the hurt, the fear, the terror. It is every parent's nightmare.

the mama bird diaries said...

I'm so sorry for everything you and your son have been through. xo

Kate Coveny Hood said...

I can't believe I missed this! I'm weeks behind on the blog posts piling up in my reader - but I wish I had seen this when you wrote it.

My brother was hit by a car with miraculously few injuries at the same age. It was terrifying - but I can only truly understand what my mother went through now - having my own children...watching a friend lose her son in a tragic accident 6 months ago... The uncertain future is a constant source of anxiety for me - but this story is one that I'll hold close as real and possible. And I'll add my "thank God" to the chorus of others as I wish that you didn't have to see that - live through it - even if it will all be okay.

Much love and healing to you and your family!

Reiven said...

I followed you here from Marinka's blog... I'm not a mom and normally don't read "mommy blogs" but I couldn't stop reading this. Your vivid writing skill had me seeing and feeling everything, you had me captivated and in tears. I'm so happy for you that your son is going to be okay. I hope that you continue to write, you have an amazing gift.

Ann Imig said...

I'm so ashamed it took me this long to come here.

This is a phenomenal post b/c it sums up the terror and the gratitude without apologizing for any of it.

The complexity you've shared here helps us understand and empathize (and how) but also helps us know how to be better friends and support.

Thank you and huge hugs.

I'm sure you know this and everyone's told you, but don't be surprised if you have some PTSD symptoms after witnessing something so terrifying. It might affect your sleep or cause you panic feelings--I'll stop but just so you know. xoxo

Amy said...

Wow. Thank you for writing this. It's so true- the trauma that a mother feels after a true emergency with one of her children goes on long, long after everyone else says "Phew! he's fine!" and goes home. Thank you for putting it in words so beautifully.

doseofreality said...

The power of your words was overwhelming. Amazing post. I am so incredibly glad your son will heal, is healing and that you are, too, but I would imagine you both have a long way to go. Thinking of you.

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog said...

Honey, I am so sorry for the late comment. I missed this entirely...

I am SO GLAD he's going to recover. And I am so glad that you are surrounded by people who will help you through this time. Both of you guys went through something traumatic and, even though the outcome is remarkable, it will affect you for a long while. Take care of yourselves. Remember that there is NOTHING you could have done to prevent it. Life is messy and painful and fragile. It sure does suck when its fragility is shoved right in our faces...

Joanie said...

I can certainly sympathize with you. Nineteen years ago,almost to the day, my 5 year old son was.hit by a car,only I was the one driving. He took off his seatbelt and got out of the car as I was backing up, and I ran over him. He was airlifted to Children's Hospital, and thank God he only needed some stitches. It could have been so much worse! My husband stayed st the hospital with him, and I.waited all night for the police to arrest me. (They did not) To this day I have flashbacks to the horrific event. My son is now 24 years old. He graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2009, and is now in grad school. I still shudder to think how close we came to losing him.

Joanie said...

I can certainly sympathize with you. Nineteen years ago,almost to the day, my 5 year old son was.hit by a car,only I was the one driving. He took off his seatbelt and got out of the car as I was backing up, and I ran over him. He was airlifted to Children's Hospital, and thank God he only needed some stitches. It could have been so much worse! My husband stayed st the hospital with him, and I.waited all night for the police to arrest me. (They did not) To this day I have flashbacks to the horrific event. My son is now 24 years old. He graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2009, and is now in grad school. I still shudder to think how close we came to losing him.

The Empress said...

Speechless. That's what your writing has done here.

You put me right in your place, and my heart is in my throat.

I cannot imagine. Seeing this, I cannot imagine.

Forgetting I ever saw this, I cannot imagine.

And holding my tongue while people sigh, "oh, good" at your news of only a broken leg.

Hard to imagine.

Thankful he is better, but, yes:I'd lay awake at night with that image playing over and over and over...

SUEB0B said...

I had a freeway crash last year. My car was totalled but I was ok - just banged up and badly bruised. It was weird how emotional the next few weeks were. All of these things that didn't normally bothered me got to me - I was kind of a wreck myself.

There's something about seeing your normal reality shattered right in front of you that is like a wound to your soul. Even if the physical damage isn't huge, that psychic injury hurts in its own way.

Sending good thoughts for healing and a return to normal.

 

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