We moms know that raising kids will inevitably lead to some hair-raising moments. My son, Ben, has emphatically proven this on numerous occasions. So many, in fact, that my hair should be permanently vertical.
Ben popped out of the womb like Yosemite Sam, packing heat and firing shots into the air to announce his arrival.
In contrast, his older brother has always toed the straight and narrow. A rule follower by nature, Alex was born to be mild. A peaceful, sanity-saving quality I didn’t fully appreciate until the human tornado was born.
Ben has always been a magnet for injury. Not just your usual skinned knee or pea up the nose. But odd things — like mysterious purple spots all over his thighs, for example — that seem to always coincide with the exact moment the pediatrician’s office switches to the answering service. In his seven years, he’s had an equal number of trips to the emergency room. And no — I don’t suffer from Munchausen by Proxy.
Our daily, post-school routine almost always involved a debriefing of his newly acquired bumps and bruises. But despite all the trails we’ve blazed to the ER, nothing prepared me for the giant thud. It was so loud and so hard that plaster fell from the ceiling.
Ben and a buddy were upstairs in his room playing Legos (safely, of course, or so I thought…). “What was that?” I yelled after the sonic boom. I got silence in return. “What was that???” I yelled louder as I took the stairs twenty-eight at a time. Silence. When I got to his room, Ben was lying on the floor, face up, like he was sleeping. Which means he was knocked out. O-U-T. Like, unconscious, out. His friend was so freaked, he couldn’t meet my eyes or tell me anything that happened.
It was literally only a matter of seconds before Ben came to, but it seemed to last an hour. He ‘woke up’ crying, unable to tell me where it hurt or what had happened. After a quick scan of the scene, the scattered toys on the top bunk told me everything. Ben had broken the rules. And hopefully nothing else.
I managed to get him on his feet, down the stairs, and on the couch. I was ready to give him the lecture of his life. But as soon as I opened my mouth, his eyes rolled back in his head and he started to fall asleep. On an ordinary day, it wouldn’t be unusual that my lectures lulled him into la la land, but combined with the fall, it seemed like a sizable red flag.
“Ben, look at me,” I said. “Look at me and open your eyes.” I could hear my voice turning from scolding mom to terrified mom in a split second. “What happened?” he slurred. “Am I going to die?”
Now why’d you have to go and ask a question like that? I thought to myself, feeling the water pooling in my eyes. “No. You’re not going to die. But when I know you’re okay, you’re going to be in big trouble Mister,” I said, trying to add a little levity, if only for myself.
I looked at the clock — 4:46. Of course, the minute after the pediatrician’s office switches to the answering service. I left an urgent message for the doctor to call me back.
I couldn’t keep Ben awake. And to add freakiness to fear, every time he managed to rouse, he’d repeat, “What happened? Am I going to die?” It was like Frosty the Snowman saying, “Happy Birthday” every time he put on the magic hat.
In an effort to keep him alert, I tried to get him on his feet, which was about as easy as getting a gummy worm to stand rigid. When I finally got him up, the vomiting began.
This wasn’t the like the other two head injuries he’d suffered from judgment-challenged falls. (Yes, this was Ben’s third head injury resulting in the v-word, so I’ve been dealt this hand before. And let me tell you, this was a whole new set of cards.)
The doctor on call sent us straight to the children’s ER. We live relatively close, so we decided I could get him there faster than an ambulance. Big fat mistake. In the throes of it all, it didn’t occur to me that I’d be caught in awful Atlanta gridlock. I put the hazards on and made bold traffic moves, passing a flurry of drivers giving me the one-finger salute. Ben slumped in the back seat, tilting back and forth like he was on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride — eyes at half-mast and vomiting into an old bucket.
We got immediate attention at the ER. Never a good sign. The attending physician quickly assessed the situation and non-verbally let me know that Ben was in bad shape. Beyond the vomiting, word slurring, and lethargy, his skin was the strangest color I’d ever seen. It looked as if he was wearing some sort of scary gray Halloween makeup. The doc ordered a CAT scan and told me they’d be checking for a cracked skull or bleeding into the brain. It would be about a twenty-minute wait before they’d be in to take him for the test. In the meantime, my task was to not let him go to sleep.
In the least shaky voice I could muster, I chatted him up about baseball (his fave), asked questions about his school day, asked what he wanted from Santa (it was only September, but Santa typically gets him going), talked about Daddy coming home from his business trip to Nashville — and through it all, the only thing I could get out of my ashen face love was, “Shhh…Mom…I’m trying to sleep.”
The people in white coats finally came in. I was sure they were there to take me to a padded room, but they went straight to Ben, moving him onto a gurney to take him for his scan. He clutched his blue emesis (vomit) bag next to him like a teddy bear, having no idea what was happening or where he was going.
They placed a heavy protective vest over me so I could stay in the back corner of the x-ray room. They moved Ben to the imaging table where he looked like the lifeless mannequin of a boy who simply looked like mine. I was overwhelmed by how small he looked on the big table. The circular machine began to spin and whir. I was sure he’d be scared. But he wasn’t. He just laid there, eyes shut, like he was a sleeping prince, still sporting grass stains from the playground.
The scanner did its job and I stood helpless in the corner, the weight of the protective vest like a feather compared to the weight on my heart. Without Ben next to me I was free to fall apart for a minute, which I did. When the scan was over, I wiped my face, grabbed his hand and managed a smile as he briefly glanced up at me through his glassy eyes.
We went back to our room to await the verdict. It’s an ugly place to be, awaiting the findings of your child’s fate. It’s a place of pure vulnerability. Where about the only thing you can do is pray. And wait.
The doctor finally came in with a demeanor that told me everything. Ben would be okay. The tests found no fractures, no bleeding, no swelling. He had come out of this awful ordeal without permanent damage. Just a nasty concussion and, hopefully, a newfound appreciation for following the rules.
It’s been a while since the giant thud. I still suffer from post-concussion stress syndrome. I overreact to every fall and would like to insist that he wear his bicycle helmet 24/7. Or at the very least, wear his batting helmet when he’s playing the infield. But that’s not going to happen. It seems my little injury magnet is just a rough and tumble boy, and I’ll have to learn to live with that.
There’s really nothing else I can do. Except pray. And wait.