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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Holding Back

In the longer-term aftermath of the accident, we suddenly find ourselves having to put on the brakes and consciously hold back on things that feel like recovery. It's more than a little disorienting to want my son to get better more slowly.

At this point, he is so emotionally done being broken that he just wants to act as if he is completely whole. The leg may not be perfectly healed, but he has had it with being slowed down by that fact. The weather is has been unseasonably lovely this spring, and sunny days beckon him outdoors. He wants to be running and kicking and throwing and batting and tumbling and tackling and volleying. And so, he tries.

The amazing thing about a surgical repair to a broken leg is that femur-length pins provide a tremendous amount of stability--so much so, in fact, that nine weeks after the accident, my son feels capable of trying to do all the things he used to be able to do. It is hard (and, if you have ever had a sports-addicted eight-year-old boy, you will easily be able to imagine how hard) to keep him down.

Of course, it was hard to keep him down as a toddler as well. At eleven months, he dragged a chair across the kitchen, climbed onto it to investigate what was on the counters, and proceeded to drop the coffee pot--SMASH!--onto the tile floor. At fourteen months, he began climbing out of his crib and making his way downstairs alone in the dark, so we had to move him to a bed. At four years old, he climbed a forty foot pine tree to the very tippy top and nearly gave half the neighborhood a heart attack at the Halloween cookout.

So it is perhaps not surprising that at eight, now that he can (mostly) walk again, he is ready not simply to be done with the crutches for good but to begin playing flag football. Immediately. His left leg is not nearly as strong as his right. The foot flops awkwardly as he reaches somewhat tentatively out to kick a soccer ball. He can hobble pretty fast, nearly jog, but no one would really call his gait a run just yet.

More importantly, his physical therapist has told him that he is to do nothing where he has to block, or plant his foot and twist, or dash after a ball to catch it. Nothing, in short, where he can really move. Nothing that opens up the possibility for him to be knocked over or fall down hard.

He can be outside, but he has to be safe. Not sedentary. But not really active, either.

This, as you might guess, is nearly impossible. Allow him to play catch, and pretty soon two or three other kids want into the tossing action. Get four or five kids tossing around a football, and you have a game. Seamlessly, the gimpy kid goes from playing catch to being in the midst of a full-on game.

He came home yesterday complaining that his friend was refusing to play carefully enough with him -- that said friend kept on blocking him and trying to steal the ball in their basketball game. Pressing him for more information, I asked precisely what he had told the friend about what he was and wasn't allowed to do. Well, he said, he kept trying to explain that he wasn't supposed to be blocked, but his friend just kept getting in his way, and ... "and, I suppose some of it was probably my fault too..." he trailed off.


Of course it was. It was his fault because he was trying to be eight years old and play basketball with his friends, but every time he got a little nervous that things might be getting too rough, he suddenly wanted them to back off. Of course they didn't know what the rules were.

And of course he was having a hard time following the rules himself.

The majority of his exercise comes in the form of dully repetitive exercises designed to rebuild the strength in his hip and, ultimately, restore his gait. These are so boring that he has taken to counting them in exponential units just to keep himself going. Today, he did 120 billion box step-ups, for example.

Quite honestly, I'm pretty sure it feels to him like he's actually done that many.

So it was hardly a surprise that this afternoon, he came home and proudly told me that he was able to do the drills in gym class that involved running half the length of the gym, picking up a bean bag, turning, and running back. "I did it in eighteen seconds!" he announced with glee.

"That's very fast," I said. "But didn't Mike [his physical therapist] tell you this morning that you aren't supposed to run yet?"

His face collapsed in sobs. I felt as if I'd punched him. All I could do was hold him tight and tell him I was not mad at him, and say that I know this is really hard, and promise to call the surgeon's office tomorrow and see if she had some other guidelines or more relaxed restrictions to offer. Realistically, she may not.

There is "nothing to do" at recess on a sunny day if you are eight years old, and have narrowly escaped devastating injury being hit by a car, and now can manage something approximating a run. You must, from sheer joy of motion, you must RUN.

Every time I see his tousled hair and gleeful face when he manages a physical feat that makes him feel normal again, I understand that joy. My heart leaps for him. I, too, feel a surge of happiness when I see him move in a way that nears effortlessness.

In fact, the greatest effort now lies in holding back. In being careful. In exercising caution and putting on the breaks and not pushing himself. These are less painful than February's excruciating stretches of his tightened-up knee. They are less physically difficult than re-learning to walk. But they are as emotionally painful.

All he wants, I can see in his face as he cries over the devastating success at gym class, all he wants is to race across that shiny wooden floor, pick up a bean bag, and race back, grinning, to his waiting friends.

All he wants is to be eight years old and whole again.

My heart breaks for lack of the ability to give that to him.


Tara R. said...

Oh my heart breaks too. It must be so hard for him to to be able to enjoy this great weather, not understanding all the whys attached. Hopefully he will continue to recover and grow stronger every day, and he will be running down that gym floor before he knows it.

Fawn said...

So tough!! Wish I could do more than sigh sympathetically, send healing vibes, and virtual hugs all around. Probably this is a good growing-up life-lesson kind of thing, right? :P

anymommy said...

Healing is such a slow, slow miracle. Thinking of you.

Lise said...

What a tough situation for both of you. Thanks for the update - I think of you often and have wondered how the healing process is going.

The Empress said...

Oh my gosh, but I couldn't even make it through 3/4 of this...the tears made everything so blurry.

I am so sorry.

My heart weighs a thousand pound for him.

You see it so differently from the way he does.

There is no way he'll understand yet.

Not till he's older, but now: this is HIS world.

So much love to that little guy. I have one the same age.



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