This morning, before I even opened my eyes, the searing pain moved through me like a knife jabbing me in the side. I lay there not wanting to move wondering if I could somehow justify staying in bed all day.
Yesterday, as Henry, Mike and I moved the last bits of our immense pile of trash, I injured myself. I don’t know how exactly I didn’t fall. I just think my body finally said “Uncle” when Mike and I were trying to move some tables with chairs attached like at a fast food restaurant into the dumpster.
Earlier, I had pulled and pushed and twisted a couple of smokestacks Henry and I had found. We got them almost to the bin with the tractor and a cable, but eventually we had to muscle them up and in. Actually think I may have cracked a rib. I've never actually cracked a rib before, but I would imagine this is what it feels like.
The pain is blinding and happens whenever I take a breath or move or blink. So after an uncomfortable night’s rest I opened my eyes and saw the now all too familiar frosty blanket covering the pasture and I just knew it was going to be a bad day. Snow? Seriously it’s almost May. I thought it was bad having snow at the end of March, it’s a good thing I didn’t know there’d be snow at the end of April or I’d have impaled myself by now.
As I slowly tried to assemble Henry’s cheese sandwich using shallow breathing techniques left over from Lamaze classes, I realized this might be the perfect reason not to go on the three-day field trip. I considered my good fortune and I suddenlly found myself feeling glum. I started thinking about the trip and all the fun I was going to miss with the kids. I thought about the information I could learn about running a camp utilized by the school district. What is wrong with me? I guess it’s partly because Lisa is working that day and can’t go with me so I’d have to go to Seattle alone. Toby can’t come either because she’s in Canada. Which seems more like Romania at the moment because if she leaves Canada, she can’t go home for six months. It has something to do with her visa, but the end result is she can’t leave or she has to stay in the U.S. for six months. Needless to say she isn’t going to cross the border because I want a night out.
Henry interrupted my thoughts with a pleading look.
“What?” I asked still thinking of Southern Vampires and Canadian Mounties.
He stomped his feet. “Mom, the song. Grandma’s song.” He said pointing at his shoes.
“Oh right. OK." I broke into song which is not pleasant unless you're my child:
“Whenever Henry has his new shoes on, his new shoes on, his new shoes on, whenever Henry has his new shoes on, we will sing a song, it needn’t be too long, whenever Henry has his new shoes ooon.”
Smiling at me, “that’s better.”
I am not very musical, but my mother was big on celebrating everything when I was a kid. We celebrated new shoes and Fridays with the "Friday Song". We got presents on Chinese New Year and Groundhog’s Day. My mother's lesson was not lost on me or Lisa and so we sing the “New Shoe Song” and there are a lot of former 5th graders getting their driver’s licenses this year who used to climb up on their desks and ask for me to sing the new shoe song. I was thinking of little Jordie, who is now well over 6 feet tall as we walked through the slushy snow to the car. I knew it would be gone by lunch, but that didn’t seem to make me feel any better. Of course, I forgot my coffee. Miserable, and uncomfortable we pushed on toward school in silence.
“Mama today is the big day.”
“What do you mean?”
“The day of the THE talk.”
“Oh, the sex class.”
“Yeah, yesterday they started and we all fell apart laughing when the teacher kept saying ‘penis and testicles’. She asked one girl if she was laughing because this was new information, but today is the day when they separate the boys and the girls and tell the good stuff.”
Henry then brought up a language arts test.
“Henry, when you take these essay tests, you can’t use words like big, little, puppy, sad. Those are second grade words and you know it. They want you to write with a vocabulary of a literate person. OK?”
“Mama, I hate to write and if I do it well, then they’ll make me do it more.”
“Henry, you can’t keep doing this. Promise me you’ll do your best.” I thought about his argument a moment as I drove remembering the same tactic. When I started at Rubin Postaer, Larry Postaer asked me to make him coffee. Well, he didn’t ask me in the traditional sense, he asked me in the Larry sense. He, in my opinion, is much like Lou Grant. He’d take his empty coffee cup and set it front of me. I pretended not to notice and he’d bang it down again. He was after all the boss and I was well twenty-something. So I went to the coffee machine and made a fresh pot. I put four bags of coffee in and let it brew. I came back. Larry took a sip and never asked me to make coffee again. Not a story Henry needs to hear.
“You mean instead of mushy you want me to write gelatinous, and instead of purple you’d like magenta and instead of sad, you want devastated?”
“Yes. You big jerk.”
“Mom! I’d rather write “I lost my puppy and I was sad’, than write: ‘My basset hound pulled vigorously on the leash when it snapped and in that moment I wondered if I’d ever see him again as he bounded into the dense forest.’ It takes a lot less time.”
“Henry, if you write ‘I lost my puppy and I was sad’, I’m going to break both your legs.”
“OK, but I get so freaked out. Last year Miss Elberfeld tried to get me to write, but I think she finally gave up.”
We were early for school so I stopped at “IWONAMOKA” on Fairhaven Pkwy. and ordered a coffee. I hadn’t thought this through because when I went to grab the coffee I realized I couldn’t turn in that direction.
"I really want that coffee but I can’t seem to grab it. Can you bear with me a moment.” I tried turning my body, but couldn’t do it. I could see the coffee it was just out of my reach. I thought this must be what Hell is like.I tried again. This time I could just slip my hand around the hot cup. Suddenly, I had a vision of getting one of my sudden painful attacks and spilling the coffee all over myself.
I dropped Henry off at school and drove to Lisa’s house to take care of Winifred and Jack since Lisa, Chris and the girls have gone to Cabo until Monday. One of Chris’ very best friends, Howard (Uncle Ho-Ho) is getting married and they all went down until Cinco De Mayo.
While I was at Lisa’s I did some work until the phone rang.
“No. Lisa’s on vacation, this is her sister.”
“Yes. Oh, we were looking for you. We've been calling your cell. This is Laura the nurse from school.”
“Oh, my sister doesn’t have good cell reception so I turned off my phone. Is there something wrong? Did Henry have another nose bleed?”
“No. Um. He’s been hurt.”
“Well, we think he should go home. He’s in a great deal of pain. And you’ll want to see a doctor.”
“He was hit in the head by a basketball.”
“OK. I’m nearby. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” I thought a basketball, how bad can it be. I know fifth graders and in elementary school- the only one with higher social standing than the kid going to the nurse is the person who takes them to the nurse. I put my things away and was just starting out when the phone rang again.
“Denise? Laura again.” I thought, gosh OK, OK. I can barely move, but I’ll hurry.
“I’m just walking out the door.”
“Well, I thought I’d tell you that on further examination, I’m calling 911. The paramedics are coming. Don’t worry. But his symptoms are consistent with having a cracked neck.”
“Wow. OK. Should I meet him at the hospital? Or come to the school?” Did she say don’t worry and cracked neck in the same phone call?
I got in the car and called Tom, Toby and left Lisa a message as I drove to the school. I simply couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t fathom a basketball could do that much damage. I drove hoping, believing they were overreacting.
When I walked in the door, I searched the room for Henry. Spotting him on a cot, I bent down to give him a kiss and some reassurance I was there. No real response. I stood back as the paramedics streamed in the door. The room was swirling with activity. Paramedics here and there and equipment and all I could see in the swarm of blue uniforms were his new shoes and his orange socks.
Still not too nervous, I stood there with the principal and the office staff watching the drama unfold. They brought in the board and neck brace and strapped him down. Just then my phone rang so loud I about jumped onto a desk. That hurt my rib immensely. It was Lisa. I couldn’t explain what was going on which was too bad because I didn’t want her to worry, but worry was becoming more and more the emotion at hand.
It was when I got in the ambulance that I really began to worry. The paramedic told me, “His responses were consistent with a cracked neck. My partner tested him many different times and different ways because we know kids and drama, but he was reliable in his pain description and we’re concerned enough to not take a chance.”
“Oh.” That was my brilliant response. I couldn’t think anymore.
Being in the ambulance brought back another memory. Ten years ago when my mother died (April 28th) – just after that really on June 16th when I was carrying Henry and looking at houses with Chris and Lisa. And while I was holding him, Henry grabbed some leaves from over my shoulder and as babies do stuffed a few in his mouth. Not much of a problem ordinarily, but these leaves were Oleander. They’re a poisonous plant that can stop your heart. The house was vacant, so we went to the neighbors and called 911. We drove down Topanga Canyon to West Hills Hospital where he had his stomach pumped and was put on a heart monitor. I remember sitting there with the nurse drinking thick coffee that God wouldn’t take my mother and my son. God only gives you what you can bear I thought and that would be more than I could stand. As we left the hospital that day, the nurse said. “You’ll be back.”
I started to worry.
When we got to the room, Henry started to come unglued. He was getting a little claustrophobic from the neck brace I think. And scared all these grown-ups kept telling him this wasn't just another bump on the head. It could be serious. No matter what I said he became more and more frantic. I tried calming him down, but the tears just rolled down his cheeks. Red-faced he kept repeating “Get it off, Get it off” Nurse, Jennifer came in and assured Henry the doctor would b e in soon and he could take the neck brace then. After she left the room the tears flowed and I heard. “This is the worst day ever. This board hurts so much it’s not funny and I missed Puberty class. Mama, I missed Puberty class. I’ve been looking forward to it since I was in third grade in Mr. Perez’s class. I can't believe I got hurt just as it was going to start. Why me? Why is it always me? I was just standing there.”
I called Tom despite the fact you’re not really supposed to use your cell in a hospital, I wanted him to be able to talk to his daddy. He needed his daddy. I took a picture with my phone and sent Tom a pixmessage.
When he finally did arrive, the doctor didn’t mess around examining Henry he simply sent him for an x-ray. Transport arrived and as they wheeled him away I wondered if they’d mind terribly if I just climbed up on the gurney with him so someone could take a quick peek at my rib. My insurance isn’t as good as Henry’s, so I thought I’d better tough it out.
The x-ray came back perfect so we were good to go. Henry was relieved because he wanted to make it to dance practice. I thought he should take a day off. I thought we’d all had enough. During the hour we waited for the discharge papers we started counting how many visits we've made the hospital since moving to Bellingham - between us they're been six. Depending on your point of view, we're either very lucky or very unlucky. Someone once told me if it wasn't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all. But I prefer to think things could have been a lot worse. I think in general, we're very lucky.
We drove home, carefully climbed in my bed each of us with a soothing cup of hot tea. Some days you just shouldn’t get out of bed.
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