28 December 2007

Better now

The slide into inevitability was slow.

In January, the son and another boy fell over each other playing basketball. The other boy, a slight child who might be five feet tall, was fine. The son, a lanky near six-footer, dislocated his patella. I picked him up from school and drove him straight to the pediatrician, who x-rayed him, immobilized him, advised me on follow-up care, and sent me home with a kid on crutches. After rest, followed by physical therapy, life returned to normal.

Until the son took a swing at a pinata on Fourth of July.

The pediatrician gave me the name of an orthopedic surgery group. Of course, the first available appointment was when I was in Toronto.

I was standing in the hotel lobby when the spouse called me.

"Surgery," he told me.

The pediatrician had been of the opinion that surgery wouldn't be likely, but he wanted a surgeon to take a look at the son to see exactly what was going on. What the surgeon saw was pretty much the worst case scenario.

"What do they have to repair?" I asked.

"Not repair," said the spouse, "replace. There is nothing holding his kneecap in place. They have to replace the ligament in his knee."

The son wanted surgery done sooner rather than later. The surgeon said it could be done at Christmas or Summer 2008. We opted for Christmas. Surgery was scheduled for December 28.

This morning as we rode up the elevator at the hospital, the son slumped against the wall.

"Now I'm nervous," he told me.

Young teens are at such an odd place in their lives. Like a half-grown tomcat, the son looks so close to manhood, but at the same time he's still just a child. Standing in the pre-op room in an enormous hospital gown, clutching his adult-sized clothes and his father's old leather jacket, he looked more vulnerable than I've seen him in a very long time. In the bed, IV stuck in his hand, he was content to watch cartoons on the Disney Channel for the first time in years. We sat quietly, not talking much, and my usually gregarious boy was silent, allowing me to navigate the discussions with the nurses and doctors. I saw the son's facial expression alter only once. The anesthesiologist was extremely patronizing, and I nearly bit my tongue in half trying not to bite his head off. The son seemed lost between laughter and panic as I struggled to contain my inner virago.

My children do not suffer from separation anxiety, but I do. Every new parting from them is a uniquely painful experience...first day of school, first overnight, first trip away from home. Watching the nurses wheel him away toward the operating room was gut wrenching. Every child's autopsy report I'd read at work, every set of medical records detailing a child's death in a hospital haunted me.

But I knew that fear and random accident aside, I had it easy. The son was in for a long surgery and a long recovery, but he doesn't have cancer. His injury isn't life threatening, just inconvenient and painful. He will carry a piece of another person in him for the rest of his days, but I bless the generosity of the person who allowed the body s/he would no longer need to benefit others.

The waiting room was freezing. I huddled into my chair, yanking my jacket around me, and stared at the hideous industrial carpeting.

Three hours later, the surgeon appeared. He looked happy and smelled of cigarette smoke.

"It went great," he said, and without looking at me once, went into excited detail about exactly what he'd done. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that like engineers, surgeons have no social skills, and I practiced patience.

A few minutes later, I was called to the recovery room. A very sweet and very enthusiastic nurse greeted me. The son lay completely unconscious on his gurney, looking for all the world like a passed out frat boy. I couldn't help but grin at him, and the nurse laughed happily, "He snored just a little."

Which had been the son's biggest fear.

We got him home, and after consuming several large bowls of rice and some chocolate and a slice of cherry pie with whipped cream, he sat comfortably on the couch and laughed his way through "Mr. Bean's Holiday." When I asked him how he felt, he said enthusiastically, "I feel great!"

I know it's the painkiller talking, and for tonight, that's ok. He has months of recovery before him, but we jumped the first hurdle today.

Go listen to some good music: "Better Now" from the album Youth by Collective Soul.

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