You can feel it in the air and sense it in the aura that surrounds you. The world has tilted off its axis, the stars are misaligned. The first few mornings you awake to find a pit in your stomach. You soak in caffeine thinking a restless sleep is to blame, but coffee only sits like lead in your gut. Air feels thick in your lungs and an alarm deep inside rings silently. You move forward as if the world is not crumbling down around you because as far as you can see, hear, smell, and taste it’s not. Not yet.
The cursed misalignment of our universe is always in October. That month when ghouls and goblins come out, when witches cast their spells and spirits haunt us all. Maybe the curse is caused by the haunting of our past sins coming back to find us. The ones we have shoved away and hid, the ones that have accumulated. Is it the petance we pay in observance of Yom Kippur? The answers for our misdeeds. It is the end of our soul’s fiscal year and all balances must be cashed out and accounted for. Whatever the reason October is a curse. It is a month that brings with it illness, divorce, goodbyes, destruction.
The curse of October always seems to creep slowly behind us. It slips from our memory each year until once again the subtle cracks in the universe around us start to make themselves known. It will be a still too warm evening, a remnant of lingering summer. An orange hue of moonlight will illuminate the deck set you lounge on with your friends. Sipping wine you exchange stories of husbands, children, work until after her second glass Kate bluntly shares that Dan moved out last weekend. The kids think he’s away on business, they’re telling them on Saturday after soccer. It’s not shock you feel. It’s unease. It’s misalignment. It’s a curse.
This year is no different. Kate’s son is lashing out, Dan’s refusing to pay alimony. Tanya’s sudden health scare from the summer has turned into heart surgery in the fall. Illness will plague someone. It always does. There was the year of meningitis, when a virus attacked my spine, then my brain, and eventually my eyes. The recovery passing from October, through autumn, then winter, and into spring. There was the year of pneumonia when the girls were in the radiology department for chest x rays back to back. Who and what will it be this time? Is there a vaccine we can search out now to shield ourselves?
If I pray hard enough, if I fast long enough will my sins be overlooked this year? Will October still serve to punish? I feel it already, the shift of the tectonic plates, the fractures that are opening all around. Can I see the cracks if I actually find the courage to search them out, or am I willfully blind to them? Perhaps this year I will hold my breath and close my eyes tight. If I don’t acknowledge the curse, do not speak of it aloud, is it still there?
Ah editing. A necessary evil for any published writer. Logically I know what my editors are trying to do. They want to help my writing reach as many eyes as possible. It’s good for them and it’s good for me… but… I write my truth. When I see my words twisted and changed, even if only a few of them, I can’t help but feel at least a twinge of irritation.
Last week one of my articles was FINALLY published on a fairly major online platform. I say “finally” because it took about two and a half months after submission and acceptance for the editing and publishing process to be completed. The email I received stating that the article was now live, viewable for the general public, was both exciting and anxiety producing. I was cooking dinner when I received it. Obviously I had to check my email as soon as that familiar ding emanated from my phone. My OCD can not handle a number showing next to the email icon. I sat eating my salad, sapaghetti, and meatballs with my laptop propped on the table in front of me. I shushed the family repeatedly as I scoured the words displayed on my monitor. I was on a hunt, in pursuit of whatever edits had mangled my words.
In all reality the vast majority of my words were not altered. Of course my original title for the article was changed, that I expected. Overall the article was about 92% my truth. I had written about my daughter the ballerina (Remember my post Grace.) and the realities of what goes into her training. How crazy her life really is. I wrote the article because not a lot of people talk about what families with kids at this level REALLY go through. Probably because it is not a large sample of the population that decides to back their seven year old’s declaration of wanting professional level training. Had it been left up to my husband we never would have gotten this deep into all of this. I’m the intense one. Articles here and there touch on the sacrifices of time, money, etc. made for your kid’s elite level training. However I have never seen an article really describing the world that is our reality. I think it is something that needs to be said, that kids and parents considering going forward with that kind of training need to know what they are getting themselves into. My editors did a good job of keeping my overall message but there was an underlying point that ended up missing from the published product.
Part of the pressures and absurd standards on these girls stem from the studio. Flat out, no candy coating, they want our money. They push the girls to do more and more by pitting them (and their parents) against each other. The director’s wife is well versed in identifying the most competitive in the group. She has created an art out of slyly suggesting that other girls are better dancers and more advanced. Then she slips into her sales pitch about extra training opportunities. It’s an easy trap to fall into. The majority of studios do this, ours has perfected the game over many years of business. After all that is just what it is, a business. When my daughter graduates in five years she will be just another girl that went through the program. A past student that pops into their minds from time to time when they see a similar dancer or play one of her videos to help the new crop of girls learn choreography. Part of the point of the article as it was originally written was that it took us a long time to realize we were falling into this trap. I wanted to give other parents a heads up to look out for similar situations that take advantage of them and their children. This behavior shows up in every sport and activity, it is not unique to dance studios. All star cheerleading was one of the worst we encountered, We’ve luckily moved on past that environment.
The editors also changed wording that made the article allude to the idea that Ballerina daughter was going to stop her high level training. Even the new title seemed to suggest her departure. This isn’t the case. She came home yesterday with knee pain likely stemming from tight hips after a two week break from training (her summer “off” season). She is now in the middle of an intensive that involves forty hours of dance for three weeks straight. I told her to ice, pop some IBuprofen, and mark jumps today if it gets too bad. As my article suggests I am now looking for ways to mediate training so she has at least some time to socialize with school peers. That doesn’t mean I’m pulling her from the program or that I do not understand that for her to reach her overall goal training is going to continue to be intense.
My relationship with the editing process is very love/hate. Like I said, it’s a necessary evil that as a writer I need to accept. One that at times will make me roll my eyes or bitch to my husband. I want eyes on my work though. I can’t achieve that goal without the editing process. Doesn’t mean I can’t set the record straight here.
A sensor in my car’s engine is broken. This particular sensor is supposed to measure the oil pressure in the engine. In the event that the pressure falls too low for the engine to operate properly this sensor sends out an alert to make the driver aware of the situation. This alert consists of an alarm, a series of short relentless chimes played out from the dashboard of the car and a written warning telling the driver to stop the engine. I was turning on to our street the first time the sensor went into crisis mode and alerted me to the predicated impending engine doom. I of course panicked myself and quickly shut off the engine. The car was set for maintenance in a few days anyway, so I left it sitting in the driveway until I could get it to our mechanic.
Turns out nothing is actually seriously wrong with the engine. It is just the sensor that is shot and no longer able to correctly assess the oil pressure situation. It’s a four hundred dollar fix on an older car so we figured we’d just live with it as is for a few months. After all, it had only gone off once or twice, car is totally drivable.
That first assessment of the issue took place about a month ago. Now I am about ready to drive my car into a tree every time the freaking “OIL PRESSURE LOW STOP ENGINE!!!!” alarm sounds. Our mechanic has a waiting list three weeks long for an appointment. This wait list has afforded me plenty of time to pay attention to what may be causing my car this sense of sure catastrophe. I spent a few weeks trying to figure out a rhyme or reason to the alerts, what action actually set off the sensor? At first I thought maybe it was worse when I went over a certain speed. Nope, could be going 10mph could be going 70mph. I thought maybe it was worse when I accelerated. Nope. Worse when going uphill or downhill? Nope, sensor does not seem to discriminate. Worse when letting the car glide, not accelerating? Still no dice. Some days the sensor goes off twice. Others it goes off about fifty thousand times. Sometimes it goes off for two seconds, other times it goes off for about thirty seconds. It can be fifteen minutes in between alerts or a fraction of a minute. THERE IS NO CONSISTENCY AT ALL. The only time I know the sensor will not trigger the alert is when the car is idle. When it sits perfectly still neither accelerating or decelerating. Just in limbo.
I have anxiety. Much like the alarm now plaguing my car it is a constant in my life. There is no real rhyme or reason to the alerts that the sensors in my brain send out. Sometimes I suffer full blown panic attacks because I have too little to do. This stupidity happened last week. Things had finally seemed to settle after a school year filled with constant stress and not enough of me to go around. So of course my brain’s response is to panic. I mean obviously something must be very wrong if my stress levels actually decrease. Thanks subconscious for sending out false alarms! With your help I was able to bulk up my stress level to what (I guess) is, at this point in my life, the new normal!
Sometimes I panic because my stress level hits an absolutely overwhelming point. To me this makes much more sense. My brain recognizes my inability to fully complete the tasks I put upon myself. Failure and rejection are my biggest fears. The alarms in my head makes me acutely aware of the possible consequences that would accompany an inability to achieve the results I expect from myself. This panic creates not only a mental but also physical overload and shut down. Maybe it’s my body’s way of creating an out. After all we aren’t allowed to use emotional instability as an excuse in the real world. Physical signs of weakness and illness are universally accepted as reasons to give yourself a break. Mental health isn’t contagious, the flu is.
The alarm in my car will be an easy, albeit costly fix. The sensor will be removed and replaced. The new one will understand that there is not a problem with the engine. The oil pressure fluctuating slightly will not be a reason to send an alert. My brain isn’t as simple. No matter what I pay I can’t remove the sensors that are setting off the alarms. I can try to confuse them and numb them with prescriptions and wine, but the thing is under that numbness they never really dissipate. I can only ever dull the feeling of anxiety. When the high wears off the torture of living in a constant state of fear becomes unbearable. I attempt the holistic approach, I exercise, I take time to enjoy nature, I loose myself in books and writing but in the back of my mind I am still always waiting for the world to come crashing down. And right there is the problem behind it all. Much like the sensor in my car I am in a constant state of waiting for everything to implode. I am waiting for that inevitable moment when the engine combusts ending in a twisted fiery crash. Why do I live in this vigilant state of alarm? It’s what I was taught, that no matter what the bottom will always drop out.
While I am desperate for contentment and joy in my life, actually experiencing those things is terrifying for me. I find it hard to admit that I enjoy the world around me or show thanks for the good things that come my way. This isn’t because I am ungrateful. I have a deep seeded fear that if I make obvious the things I hold dear they will be ripped away from me. I am in constant fear of the bully of life poised at the ready to snatch away my lunch money and rub dirt all over my brand new dress.
What I want more than anything is to idle. Just for a moment find that spot where the engine isn’t moving. The limbo where the slight fluctuation in oil pressure isn’t causing a sensor to malfunction. I need to just stay still and breathe, without the fear that the breath will be knocked out of me at any second. Every once in a while I find a flicker of that calm. I’ll be taking in the vast openness of an ocean and marvel over the great extensiveness of this world. I’ll find a sense of calm. I’ll understand that my trivial concerns matter so much less than I regularly believe. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll retire one day in a place where I can find this peace. Driving down open roads I’ll gaze at the wonders of nature. If I’m really lucky my car will also find peace on open roads surrounded by the sea or mountain ranges. Both of us having found escape from the spike of anxiety dealt out by “STOP ENGINE OIL PRESSURE LOW!!!”
It’s May. The air is becoming thick with humidity, warmth, and the scent of late spring flowers. The days are getting longer and kids are back out at the neighborhood basketball courts. There is an electric buzz of anticipation around us as long hot days creep closer. Me? I am desperately clinging to any sign of summer I find. I’ve almost gone as far as to ban jeans from everyone’s wardrobes and I’ve already switched from red to white wine in the evenings. It’s all an act though, because it’s not summer yet. Look a little closer, yep see those dark circles under our eyes? See the defeated glances we send as we glance out the window daydreaming about the sunshine? Yep, here we are yet again limping through the end of the school year . Crying a little on the inside from yet another year of soul crushing education (sorry I might be a little dramatic). I saw an article recently about a marathon runner who collapsed in view of the finish line. The runner then proceeded to army crawl the remaining yards just to be able to say they completed the 26.2 miles. That’s us right now, except the finish line is that magical last bell of the school year.
I’m a decade into this school thing from the parenting angle. I remember the excitement that surrounded that first day of school for Oldest Kid. I have these pictures of her with a beaming smile on her face with little pigtails in her hair, dressed in pink, and holding a glittery lunch box with a puppy on it. It was such a big kid thing, going to school, she wasn’t a baby anymore and she was freaking excited. For me it meant a few hours with one less kid hanging off my appendages, a freedom that at that point seemed like a major luxury. Both of us had this fantastical view of school, it was going to be the best thing ever! Obviously I was never one of those moms that cried at drop off on the first day. I was always kind of like, “peace out, don’t do something that’s going to get you expelled.”
Back then I had no understanding of the effect eleven years of elementary school was going to have on me. Just the act of getting these kids to school each morning has been torture enough. Look, I am not a morning person by nature, plus I’ve been sleep deprived since Oldest Kid was born. Waking up at six twenty in the morning for all these years is slowly killing me, I am sure of it. Why our school district feels the need to punish students and parents with starting school at an ungodly hour I will never fully understand. My brother once told me that the number one way to stay healthy and keep your body running at peak performance is to make sure you get plenty of quality sleeping hours. He didn’t have kids yet when he said this. I kind of wanted to punch him. I’ve been told It’s a bad idea to start fist fights with professional athletes though.
So since everyone is horribly sleep deprived our school system has also decided that the end of the year is definitely the best time to dole out standardized tests. Keep in mind the school has also spent the entire year putting the fear of God into these kids over these stupid tests. It starts in third grade, the kids come home in like January with wide eyes saying, “If I don’t pass milestones I’m not going to be able to go to fourth grade!” Yah, it’s a ton of BS. Middle Kid with all her anxiety and dyslexia was a mess the first time these tests rolled around. There was no way in hell she could pass them, especially because spelling is graded on the written content. Her teacher explained how this all actually works to me, if your kid fails you have to meet with a team of teachers and administrators to go over recommendations for the upcoming year. If the option to hold the child back presents itself both the school and the parents have to sign off on the decision. Despite what these kids are being told they don’t just get held back because they bombed a stupid standardized test.
Technically we do have the option to opt out of the test, but that is not exactly advertised. I like to say that I don’t opt my kids out because they need the experience of taking these tests before it really matters, like for the SAT’s. But in reality I just don’t want to be linked with the one crazy “Opt Out” mom. You know, the one that probably spent all of college protesting global warming and mistreatment of refugees somewhere in Africa. She goes all out on her very own “Opt Out” movement, tagging every other parent at the school on Facebook when she posts crazy anti testing articles and meeting with school administration. She’s convinced she’s going to single handedly build an army that takes down the evil standardized testing system. I’m pretty sure she thinks there is some greedy corporate mogul behind the whole thing. He’s tucked away in an office somewhere rubbing his hands together with an evil laugh watching as the profits for his scantron production company go through the roof. You end up blocking her on Facebook after the five thousandth “Opt Out” thing she’s tagged you in and you just tell your kids to suck it up and take the damn test.
Once the testing is over the kids don’t give a shit about what they are being taught anymore. As far as they’re concerned as long as they passed the milestones they passed the grade. Really the teachers aren’t giving so much of a shit at this point either. Neither am I. I’m not totally sure why we can’t just cut our losses and call it for the year. Instead I ask my kids if they have homework when they walk in the door, but don’t actually check their bags when they say no. At this point I just tell them to not fail anything. My A’s and B’s expectations from earlier in the year fly out the window. Just pass your classes, I don’t want to deal with summer school.
On top of school all our end of the year performances for extra curriculars happen in May. So far we’ve gone through the school play, a chorus concert, a piano concert, and a state meet for gymnastics. None of their sports really have much of an off season, and swim actually picks up in June. Middle Kid’s training is revving up for nationals which occur in June and Older Kid starts rehearsals next week for recital. Youngest kids swim team practices start next Monday, I think. Add on to that all of middle kid’s fifth grade graduation events in a few weeks and we have a situation where I am checking schedules day by day just hoping I don’t screw any of it up.
It’s worth it though, the party that’s waiting for us at the end of our sprint is epic. We live in one of those neighborhoods where everyone ends up drinking at the pool all summer while our kids run rampant from house, to pool, to park, to another house. The first couple weeks after school lets out is like a pool party free for all. We should probably supervise the kids a little more than we actually do, but whatever, we know where they are. If someone gets pissed off they know where to find us. At this point they’ve all got iphones with find my friends, and as long as they stick together and don’t go take candy from the back of some guy’s van we’ll be okay. Besides Middle Kid is the one who’s got the biggest propensity for trouble, and I just send Oldest Kid with her as a spy. We’re officially on summer countdown guys, fifteen days. That’s me, over there, army crawling to the finish line.
It was Friday, and I was a little over halfway through my shift. The schools were out for a long weekend and the weather was nice so we were seeing a little bit of an uptick in pediatric injuries. A few stitches, two minor breaks, nothing that a cast or some ibuprofen wouldn’t cure. I was considering eating my lunch outside in about fifteen minutes, hoping for a brief reprieve in the sunshine. My anticipation of the upcoming break was abruptly interrupted by our CB radio crackling to life beeping an alert. The EMT on the line preparing us in a quick debriefing of what was headed our way, “Head trauma, six year old male, bicycle accident. Trauma team needed.” The nurses station that had been relatively quite a few seconds earlier started buzzing with activity. I shared a glance with our lead physician Dr. Morris. Over the fifteen years we shared in this department we had worked side by side to stabilize far too many pediatric head traumas. A silent communication passed between us, recounting the numerous conversations we had had both with each other, and with parents about the necessity of helmets when riding anything with wheels. I shook my head and turned to make my way to the nearby med room ready to grab our needed supplies. Dr. Morris headed to prep the trauma room, sighing and readying himself for what was to come. I wished these parents would just heed the warnings, so many of the cases we saw here could be prevented.
I carefully read off medication names to a younger nurse, double and triple checking I had the right vials and doses for a young patient. She grabbed IV’s and antiseptics. Hearing the commotion of a trauma response beginning outside the room I steeled myself for what was to come. I willed away everything in my mind but the determined focus that was going to be required of me. Quickly I ran through the treatment steps we had taken in previous cases as the younger nurse and I pushed through the door, our rushed steps leading us to Trauma room one. Two hands reached out to my shoulders as the room came into sight, preventing me from continuing my mission.
“Katie honey, you need to stay out here right now. Give the supplies to Molly okay?” My charge nurse Dana said gripping me gently on the front of my shoulders. I looked to her with a quizzical gaze. The young nurse, Molly, gently taking the items from my arms an evident concern showing on her face.
“What’s going on?” I asked Dana studying her. Had I made a mistake somewhere? Grabbed the wrong items? I looked toward the room trying to piece together my confusion. Standing near the wall in front of me, looking pale as a ghost, was my fifteen year old daughter Hannah. I left her at home today to watch her younger brother, their age difference making her a perfect babysitter for him. I took in her shocked look, the makeup and tears streaming down her face, and the blood staining her ivory shirt.
A sinking chill shoot down my spine. The hair on my arms stood up as I looked from Hannah into the little room where Dr. Morris was directing the urgent movements of his team. An EMT held an air pump forcing breath into the small figure stationed in the middle of the sterile white bed. I took in the sandy blonde hair that had been neatly trimmed last weekend but that now stuck up in a wreckless pattern, one side of the little head caked in blood. I took in the old Nike sneakers I had been meaning to replace for the last few weeks. I took in the blue and red striped shirt I had helped struggle the boy into this morning. My mind slipping from my calm and focused demeanor as a flash of a memory rushed into my thoughts. The toothy smile I had seen just this morning when I tickled the boys sides right before grabbing my keys and heading out the door to the hospital. I looked back to Hannah with distraught questions in my eyes. I realized it was my son lying limp in front of us, a team of my colleagues working to save his life.
“We did everything right!” Hannah sobbed, pleading with me to understand, “Mom I swear I made Tyler wear his helmet, it wasn’t loose I checked it! He even had his knee pads and elbow pads on. He fought me but I wouldn’t let him ride without them! He just…he went so fast. He went down the hill and I tried! I tried to catch him but I couldn’t! I wasn’t fast enough. I tried! He lost control and he fell. I don’t know how it happened, he had his helmet on! I watched it, he hit his head on the curb but I thought it was okay, the helmet was supposed to protect him! He wouldn’t move mom, he was bleeding so much, I don’t understand! We followed the rules! We did everything right!” She was in hysterics begging for forgiveness and trying to comprehend the situation.
My clinical calm had been replaced by a numbness that somewhere in the back of my mind I recognized as shock. I watched the team, my work family, hover over my son. My colleagues hooking him to machines I knew would display his vital signs, they would observe the monitors carefully, the numbers telling them the treatment path to follow. I watched a nurse take over pumping the bag of air into his lungs. Why couldn’t I remember what they needed to do next? In my shock my brain seemed to stop, rational thought escaping me. I couldn’t fully understand what was happening. We had always been warned that It’s different when it’s your child in distress. We were told that no matter how hard you try you can’t find the separation needed to objectively provide treatment. It was advice I had prayed I would never be able to explain from first hand experience.
“Vitals are dropping. Prepare the cart,” Dr. Morris ordered, his voice strong and calm. Collected but urgent, he remembered the steps. The only thing I remembered was the one reason we ever used “the cart.” It meant the patient was coding. Coding meant code blue, cardiac arrest. My son was dying and all I could do is stand by and watch.
“Katie you need to go sit down honey,” Dana told me trying to push me backwards. I couldn’t move, the only thing registering in my mind was the maternal urge to run to my child and help him.
“Hannah sweetheart come with us,” she gently called to Hannah who still stood frozen in the hallway, watching her brother fight for his life. Her hands covered the lower half of her face, her tears streaming without control, and her body in shock.
“Dr. Steinburg I need some assistance please,” Dana’s voice called out, a little more frantic than it had been in her previous requests. The young resident had been observing the activity from behind the nurses station, trying to learn from his mentor’s actions. He looked to us and quickly ran to help Dana gently pull me away, my eyes clinging in desperation to the scene in front of me. I was vaguely aware of Hannah being nudged away by a medical assistant who had been waiting in the hallway ready for any direction given. She stumbled over her feet also unable to tear her eyes away from the small lifeless figure of her little brother.
“She knows the patient?” Dr. Steinburg quietly inquired of Dana.
“Her son,” Dana answered her voice tight with emotion. Dana had known my kids for years. She had even watched them for me when Hannah was still young and Tyler was just an infant. She was always asking about their progress in school and chatting with them when they would come in to visit. She was one of their biggest fans and was genuinely excited when I shared recital pictures and news of good report cards. Her children now grown she relived her past years of parenting through my experiences. This was going to be hard on her too, but for right now she was succeeding in keeping her strength, knowing I needed her.
Dr. Steinburg’s demeanor faltered for a split second at her answer. He recovered quickly, his professional mask returning. He understood. This was the worst nightmare of any trauma professional. The fear of having your family wheeled in through those doors. This image at times keeping us all up at night.
We didn’t fight as they lead us into a small room off the front hallway. The innocuous sign on the door labeling it the “Family Room.” In reality it was reserved only for the families of our trauma victims. In hospital planning it was understood that no one ever needed to see their loved one in the process of emergency treatment. Nor did the trauma team need to be distracted by stunned horrified family in the already crowded treatment area. I hated this room. It was closed in by white sterile walls, generic floral prints were hung in a pathetic last ditch effort to make the space seem less daunting. Not that it would matter, no one waiting in this room was ever going to be calmed by any sort of decor. I let Dana lead me to the uncomfortable green couch across from the entrance and delicately sit me down. I stared into the empty space in front of me not really processing the events of the last ten minutes. I understood logically, but in my shock I couldn’t seem to get my brain to fully catch up. I could feel the sense of panic but it wouldn’t manifest itself the way Hannah’s was. I could only seem to shut down and disconnect. I felt as if for sure this was a horrible dream yet had enough wherewithal to understand it wasn’t.
“I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!” I heard Hannah’s hysterics again, I glanced at her red swollen face, distraught with pain.
“I know baby,” I said, my voice sounding foreign and strange. The monotone not holding any of the comfort I had intended.
“It was an accident Hannah,” Dana tried to comfort her, crouching by the chair Hannah sat in and grabbing her hands. “Honey it was an accident. He has the best team in the city working on him right now. I know it’s hard but you’re going to have to stay strong for him.”
I listened to Dana try and comfort Hannah, realizing that those words, words we had repeated to families so many times in this room, weren’t a comfort at all. Repeating this mantra was more to remind ourselves that we really did have the best team around. If there was a fix they would find it. If there was a fix. My only thought, now experiencing trauma from the family’s side, being that the team was only human. I was painfully aware that sometimes humans make errors, even experts aren’t perfect.
I heard my husband arrive before he entered the room. Fathers had a tendency to let their fear turn into anger in these situations. Jimmy was no exception. We understood the emotion, their overwhelming instinct to fix. They were desperate to repair their child but realistically there was nothing they could do. They had no choice but to relinquish control to a group of strangers, being asked to trust that the people taking the control from them were better suited for the job. Many of these fathers tried to control inconsequential things, yelling and throwing items at registration clerks when asked to sign necessary consent for treatment forms. At times the anger was directed at us for not performing our jobs the way Grey’s Anatomy portrayed. They were terrified that we were incompetent. In the end this behavior only hindered the treatment process and we usually ended up having to assign support staff to reason with the distraught parent.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CAN’T SEE HIM!!!! HE’S MY FUCKING CHILD!!!” Jimmy’s voice boomed through the door.
“Jimmy, right now he needs the attention of the staff we have working on him. We are going to let you see him as soon as possible, but for now it’s important that you allow them to do their jobs without interruption,” I heard the voice of Richard our hospital Chaplain explain to him.
“THIS IS BULLSHIT!” Jimmy yelled again as the door to our confining space opened and he was lead inside.
“Katie! Why the fuck won’t your damn hospital recognize a parent’s fucking rights?” He spit with venom. He was terrified.
“Jimmy, please stop,” I pleaded, “You need to let them try to fix him. How are you going to help?” I tried to reason with him, frustrated by his antics.
“I know I can’t fucking do anything! I just… I can’t just wait…” he trailed off allowing the fight to drain out of him.
“Right now we have to,” I croaked out wondering if there was even aid to be rendered at this point. I tried desperately to rid myself of the image stuck on repeat in my head, Tyler broken and bloodied unable to breath on his own, the crash cart being opened next to him.
We fell into a suffocating limbo, the only sound Hannah sniffling in the corner. Dana was back next to me on the couch rubbing my arm in short movements, trying to provide any comfort she could. Jimmy’s pacing making the small room even more claustrophobic. I continued my study of the empty air in front of me trying not to focus on the images of patients I had treated in the past, who had succumbed to similar injuries. Time was passing slowly until Dr. Morris finally opened the door. Now it felt as though not enough time had passed, my heart began to hammer in my chest.
“Alright guys I’m going to go straight into this okay?” He started, “He fractured the lower part of his left zygomatic orbital bone, this part right here. Just below where the helmet would have been able to prevent,” he explained to Jimmy and Hannah pointing to his temple, “This is a particular dangerous area to fracture because of the important tissue surrounding it, obviously the eye being a major concern. However right now we do not think there was any major trauma to the eye, although there may be some bruising that will show in the eye itself,” he paused checking us for understanding before he continued, working up to what I knew would be the worst of the news he had to deliver. I expected what was coming next having experience with this type of injury. My body began to shake in preparation for news that even if my son survived he may never function the same again.
“A major concern with any head trauma is from the intracranial bleeding and swelling that can occur after the injury. In Tyler’s case the swelling was quite acute… meaning there was a fair amount. Edema, pressure inside the brain, can lead to respiratory distress, which unfortunately did occur in this case.” Hannah let out another sob and Jimmy made a noise that sounded as if he was choking.
“When talking about recovery from situations like these a concern is how much oxygen the brain was deprived of. Hannah, you did the right thing by calling 911 right away. Had he not had help breathing his oxygen saturation levels would have been much lower and his risk for long term effects much greater. He also would have likely entered cardiac arrest had it taken even ten more minutes before intervention was taken. We would be having a different conversation in that place.” He sighed and ran his hand over his face the first hint that this case had been wearing on him, his professional mask slipping.
“Right now he is being prepped in the OR. They do need to place a screw to repair the fracture and they will place a stent to relieve bleeding in the cranial cavity if necessary. I am hopeful that will not be needed. However we will need you to sign consent for all procedures just in case.”
“Is he going to be okay?” Jimmy interrupted frustrated with the drawn out explanation he likely didn’t even absorb half of.
“He’s not completely in the clear yet,” Dr. Morris warned, “That being said I feel fairly confident in his chances. We will know more when he comes out of surgery, but as your wife will tell you we have seen many of these cases over the years, and usually in cases like Tyler’s patients prove to recover from the trauma. It will not be a quick recovery, he will likely have lasting effects such as headaches, migraines, light sensitivity, fatigue to name a few. You will need to watch him closely for any sign of clotting especially in the beginning. He will need to monitored with a CT scan a few times as well. He’s lucky to have his very own and very qualified nurse to watch over him,” he said smiling over at me. The relief of having a good prognosis to report evident.
I finally allowed myself a deep breath, hoping to steele my chaotic emotions, images of our past patients filtering into my mind. The children we had treated for injuries like this with similar odds had all walked out of the hospital a few weeks after their surgeries. The human body could be amazingly resilient, especially under the correct care. I felt exhaustion infiltrate every part of my body. My fear and relief now pummeling in like a wrecking ball as the initial shock began to wear off. In that moment I had faith that Tyler was going to be okay. That soon I would be able to tickle his sides and hear his giggle again. That we would laugh over his silly faces and be able to kiss his little cheeks.
“Thank you David,” I stood, the tears I hadn’t yet let myself cry releasing freely.
“Katie I would have done anything for that kid, I am so glad he got to me when he did,” Dr. Morris, David, said his own eyes starting to tear as he wrapped his arms around me. “Take as much time as you need in here. You can wait in this room through the surgery or go to the OR waiting room. It will likely take a few hours.”
“Thank you,” I smiled weakly but with a gratitude that would forever hold a piece of my heart. He nodded his head before returning back to the patients still waiting for his compassion and expertise.
“I was so scared,” Jimmy said sinking to the seat on the couch I had just vacated, his head collapsing into his hands. Dana hugged him to her side briefly before standing and squeezing me firmly against her body.
“He’s going to make it honey, just breathe right now okay? I’ll come find you if I get any information,” she said.
“I know. Thank you,” I replied tearfully. She squeezed my hand and left, allowing us time as a family. I knew it was now vital for me to do the best I could to grasp onto my calm and focus, to provide strength to my family around me. I gently sat next to Jimmy and held him against me.
“I was so fucking scared,” he said again letting me squeeze my arms around his shoulders and kiss his head. I looked to Hannah who still had silent tears running down her face.
“Come here baby,” I requested stretching out one arm and making room for her on the stupid green couch. She threw herself into my open arm.
“I am so sorry!” she sobbed again.
“Baby it was an accident” I worked to sooth her guilt, “freak things happen, no one can prevent it all,”
I sat holding my husband and daughter to me for a long time just focusing on my breathing, in and out, in and out. I was incredibly grateful to whatever force was out there writing our destiny. Our family was one of the lucky ones in the book of life. Our little boy was going to stay with us, his story wasn’t over. With the strength and the support we would provide each other we would all survive.
Remember all that talk about airports and germs from my last post Airplane.? Is it any big surprise that at some point during last week’s travels those nasty little creepers infiltrated my system? It shouldn’t be. This happens literally EVERY TIME I FLY. We have theories on why I am the germ magnet I am. We believe this mostly circles around the fact that I stress myself the hell out trying to get everyone pulled together enough for traveling. By the time I even enter an airport my immune defenses are nearly non existent due to my frazzled mental state. My other theory is that no matter how exhausted I am when I make it to my location I go straight in to vacation party mode. Last week that meant not even considering any sort of time change and partying all night with one of my cousins. She and I both left our kids at home so I convinced her to drink with me at a brewery until last call and flirt with random other pregaming wedding guests. I may be a bad influence on her. She loves me anyway.
Was I shocked when I woke up the morning of the wedding not just hungover but also with the beginnings of some sort of illness? No, I was in denial. I gave that wedding my damn all and did everything I could to get the most out of my time there. Not to mention I really did want to be there for the cousin getting married, so I ended up taking on responsibilities to help her out. For instance since the wedding was outside in a public area I helped control traffic during family photos, preventing the many stoned people of this hippie town from photobombing. To that one lady who had to be a nasty witch about being asked to wait for like ten seconds: I am so sorry for whatever happened in your life that made you this way, but good lord you are an unpleasant person! Seriously, there is always one.
Waking up the next morning congested with crackling in my left ear I knew that flying was going to be even more awesome than usual. Probably just about as fun as it was last year going from LA to Seattle with a double ear infection. Let me tell you guys, freaking agony. I mean the CIA could totally use this as a torture method. Non stop layovers from city to city, they’d have like a ninety nine percent success rate by the third flight. Remember, there’s always one asshole guys. I pounded down the Sudafed and ibuprofen (and the Lorazepam, don’t forget the Lorazepam) and prepared myself for the worst.
Take off wasn’t too bad at least, I sat next to a family that was coming out to Atlanta to house hunt. Dad was some sort of successful doctor so I figured they’d be looking around Buckhead or the northern suburbs. I may have crushed Mom’s dreams when I told her they really didn’t want to live near midtown especially if planning to send kids to public school. You know what, she crushed my self identity by telling me I don’t sound like I am from LA I sound like I’m from Atlanta. I think we’re even. She wanted her husband to have a short commute, yah good luck lady, Atlanta traffic, remember guys?
Anyway it was the landing that killed me. My ear turned into a fiery sun demon with a vendetta against me. I was pretty positive my eardrum was in the process of rupturing. The doctor moving to Atlanta was going to have to perform emergency surgery as we landed. In no way did it help that Hartsfield Jackson was the target of one of those Atlanta rolling storms that lasts for thirty minutes but causes everything to come to a complete halt. There was talk of diverting, then our freaking thrill seeking sadistic pilots were like, “Hell yah!!! Who’s ready for a wild ride? This landing is our bitch!!!” They came on the intercom in that calm put you to sleep pilot voice and said, “Uh, it looks like it’s going to be bumpy going into Atlanta folks. We’ll be landing in about fifteen minutes.” Due to my ear fire and the death defying stunts of our pilots I have chosen to block the trauma of the following fifteen minutes out of my mind. After running out of the jet way (Yep, I figured out the name of the damn tunnel thing) screaming with tears streaming down my face I worked on finding my car. Three hours later I was finally on my way home.
At this point I was clearly sick. Fever chills took over my body and I could no longer breath through my nose. The remainder of my week has been spent in a fog of illness. By Tuesday the ear fire had migrated to my throat and I was living off of Sudafed and ibuprofen. My brain was no longer processing rational thought and my sleep schedule was a complete mess from the time change. I briefly considered going to the doctor but was pretty sure all they were going to tell me to do is rest. You guys I have not “rested” in twelve and a half years. See, I’m one of those “involved” parents. Resting to me is hitting a comatose state at nine thirty at night and weeping silently into my third glass of wine.
Luckily for me this was a less life threatening situation than I originally predicted. As of today I am actually breathing somewhat normally and I no longer seem to have a fever. However it was no surprise when middle kid came in from the bus yesterday looking like crap. I can only assume that my entire family will fall victim to airport plague over the upcoming weekend. Sigh, I should probably just go buy stock in Kleenex and Sudafed now.
I’ve always loved airports. Maybe that’s weird, I don’t know, but I love them. Today I’m on my way back to Cali for my cousin’s wedding. I’m a little giddy at the prospect of having an excuse to make my way through the full airport experience that comes along with cross country travel. It’s the first trip I’ve taken on my own in five years and I plan on soaking up every minute of the freaking freedom. Honestly, I thought we were going to have a slew of weddings to go to over the past thirteen years since my husband and I got hitched, but this is only the third. Most of my cousins either eloped or are not married yet, which seems weird to me. Not the eloping, the not being married. Not in like a what the heck is wrong with them weird, like a what the hell would I do with myself if I didn’t have all these people to take care off all the time weird. I feel like I would accomplish so much if I had that kind of freedom. Man can you imagine? Deciding what I wanted to do with my evenings and weekends. Having a schedule that allowed me to take advantage of those airline deals where you can go to Hawaii for like sixty five dollars? Plus I would actually have the sixty five dollars to spend on myself! Seriously though I would probably just waste time and money on getting my nails done and drinking a ridiculous amount of Starbucks.
Whatever I’m getting all ADD, point is this cousin is finally getting married. Which means I get to hit up Hartsfield Jackson, which for me is like an added bonus to the whole thing. For those of you who don’t know Hartsfield Jackson is the massive international airport in Atlanta. Delta basically owns half the place. Which is funny since today is the first time I have EVER flown Delta either into or out of Atlanta. No surprise the entire south terminal is Delta flights only. As I made my way through mid town in rush hour traffic I came to the realization that I have no idea where the parking is for the South Terminal. Nor do I know how to get into the actual terminal to the security checkpoint after I park. The prospect of trying to figure this out induces a mild panic attack, you have to understand Atlanteans don’t do the driving so good. You’ve either got someone next to or in front of you going a nice steady five mph under the speed limit, or you’ve got the next team of stunt drivers for The Fast and the Furious cutting in and out of lanes. Combine that with the giant pickups with camo themed bumper stickers blocking your view, the worst road engineering possible, and the hide and seek sign placement game we like to play and you’ve got driving in Atlanta in a nutshell. So here I am knowing I’ve got to bring my A game to have any chance of not missing my parking exit and having to completely recircle the airport. The sun is totally working with me of course, if by working with me you mean blinding me despite my defensive tactics of using sunglasses and my car’s sun visor.
Victorious I eventually find a spot in the economy lot and look like a crazy parking lot paparazzi lady as I take pictures of all the parking signs anywhere near my car. To be fair the first time I flew back into Hartsfield Jackson I couldn’t find my car and spent about an hour at ten o’clock at night walking through empty economy lots trying to find it. Hopefully we won’t have to repeat that. I know there are no guarantees though. I mean shit like that is just kind of my MO. Pray for my safe return.
I realize that the South Terminal parking is right next to a runway. I can smell the jet fuel as I try to hustle to the terminal. Hustling because, yah okay, I might have left the house like half an hour later than I should have, and you know, Atlanta traffic. Planes are taxiing by and I watch them, kind of fascinated by the huge beasts, until one kicks up their engine. I feel the adrenaline shoot through me at the sound of take off, my brain actually processing that I am going to be in one of these monstrosities miles above ground in about an hour. I said I like airports guys, I HATE flying. Like with a burning passion. I despise flying in an I have to mix psychiatric drugs with alcohol to even step foot on a plane way. So when this stupid plane which is about to take off kicks it’s shit into gear I start to lose it. I think I even started to walk faster to escape the horror happening on the runway, which is such a contrary reaction since I am walk towards boarding a plane. Whatever brain, you just keep chillin up there all fercockt and shit(Yiddish lesson for the day guys). I’ve got lorazepam in my bag, I take note reminding myself to pop a pill or two (or ten) once I make it through security.
I make it into the South Terminal and decipher the signs that eventually lead me to security. I’m regretting my shoe choice now. I’ve walked about fifteen miles and my cute strappy sandals aren’t keeping up. Oh well, fashion bitches! They’ve got the dogs out which makes me weirdly happy. I love these security dogs. They are the goodest of boys you guys (Reddit for the win). This is where we get to the point of why I love airports so much, no not because of the dogs. I love airports because I love watching people, and what better sample of the human population do you encounter than in an airport. I love imagining up people’s backstories and putting them in their character category in my mind. I speculate on where their heading and what their actions say about them. I decide this one guy I keep passing in the snake like security line has got to be an athlete. He’s tall and lean but still built, traveling light with kick ass headphones. He reminds me of my brother, therefor I have dubbed him an athlete. I see a couple of kids in line with their moms. I have to refrain from making some sort of mom power arm signal to these women. Trust me ladies I’ve been there, solidarity. When one of the kids passes by me with his finger stuck up his nose I have to stop myself from knocking his hand away from his face. Mom instincts, they replace all social norms. I see a couple of asian girls snapping away pictures on their phones. I text husband and ask him if he thinks I should start taking selfies from all angles while I wait in the security line. I REALLY want to but I decide I don’t want to upset fido’s bomb sniffing groove so I refrain.
I make it through security only getting minorly annoyed with the couple in front of me. Alright, for those who do not know here is the proper security line etiquette: DO NOT take up the majority of the baggage belt by separating every bag, jacket, and electronic you own. About three hours later I finally reach over and grab my shit. I move quick while carrying my laptop in my arms until I make it to a bench, I will not be the slow person. Now it’s plane train time peeps! Hell yah! There’s nothing better than the flu infested plane train!!! Now you can catch everyone’s germs before you even board the plane! Except I realize as I go to board this thing that I have no idea what gate I’m headed to. I scramble to find Delta749 on the monitors and am glad to see that my gate is the first stop for the train. Less germ exposure and I can hopefully finally get some coffee.
It wasn’t really my fault per say that I was running behind schedule this morning. I had to get kids fed, packed, and ready for school and say lengthy goodbyes before I left the house. Husband was especially helpful today, standing in the kitchen making repeated half jokes about the plane leaving without me. Then actually starting to panic that I was going to actually miss my flight. He panicked, not me. I’m starting to wonder what he has planned this weekend that he was that freaked out about me sticking around. Remind kids to spy on dad. Really though, his barrage of criticisms on my time management was super helpful. I mean way more so than packing a lunch or two. Thanks sweet cheeks! Kisses! Needless to say in my rush I left my sweet sweet morning crack elixor (coffee, I’m talking about coffee guys) on the counter. I realized it about three minutes into my drive and burst into sobs much to the amusement of the commuter next to me. They may have been taking pictures. You know what, anyone would react this way with the journey I was about to endure! Atlanta traffic and Hartsfield Jackson without caffeine. Balls.
Once I peaced out from the plane train I made it my mission to find some damn coffee, oh and water and gum. The latter two being more easy to come by. Although the woman behind the counter at the marketplace store was probably literally half my height (homegrown amazon here) and couldn’t reach all the way over the counter. I have the fine motor skills of a chimpanzee so it was an awkward exchange. Now it was crunch time. Coffee. I was going to start taking people down soon if I didn’t get a hit. About halfway to my gate I find a Dunkin with an acceptable line length. I won’t have to shive other patrons in line to get my order in faster, hopefully. I bee line over cutting off a group of weary travelers on the way, I’d apologize, but I’m not sorry. Sorry.
To make my wait more bearable I watch what other people order, I wonder if they usually eat breakfasts like this or if their orders are enhanced because they’re traveling. Now don’t get me wrong I am in no way in the shape I should be, or have been in the past, but I also am not a big donut or morning carb person. I’m thirty five guys, not twenty two. I had a Yoplait at home, so really all I want is a damn cup of regular coffee. I notice that they are displaying a spring themed donut topped with sprinkles and a full sized candy peep. Yah, you know those marshmallow ducklings? They put one on a donut. To each their own but I’m pretty sure I would go into diabetic ketoacidosis if I tried to eat that thing. They end up putting the cream and sweetner in my coffee themselves and it tastes like syrup instead of coffee. I made myself drink half of it just so I was at a functioning level before I board the plane.
Sipping my cup of sugar I realized I still haven’t taken the lorazepam. All ninja like i try to dig my prescription bottle out of my bag, then sort through all the pills to find one of the tiny white dots of wonder. I know I’m not supposed to combine all my drugs in one bottle, but I like to travel light and I don’t like sounding like I’m walking around with a pharmacy in my backpack. I mean I’m not selling the shit, I don’t want to share. I haven’t had alcohol yet though, it’s only eight forty five in the morning. Like I’ve said before, I have standards. Besides I’m pretty sure they sell hard liquor on planes. I’ll get drunk after boarding.
Since a lot of the traveling I’ve done over the past few years has been for competitive sports trips, yah we’re one of those families, I’m used to traveling on base fares with the lightest luggage possible. I learned last night that the way Delta has their base fare set is to not give you a seat assignment until you show up at the gate. Meaning I have no idea where I’m sitting and I’m one of the last people to get on the plane. While I wait husband is texting me to annoy me about being late for the flight again. Seriously, what the fuck does he have planned??? He sends me a find my friend image showing me at the gate. I consider turning around and heading home to make sure he isn’t running a cult out of our basement. Pretty sure middle kid would be the leader of it if he was. I decide I don’t want to know what is happening in our basement, plausible deniability and all, and stay at the gate. I’m meeting my mother in California and she is seriously about to combust with excitement. Not over me, over the whole wedding. I’m not that exciting I promise. She is one of two people I know who don’t drink, she should. I may spike her soda at some point this weekend if she can’t calm her shit down. Right now she’s texting me asking if I’m at the gate yet, oh and also SHE CAN”T WAIT! I haven’t had enough coffee yet to deal with this level of crazy so I ignore the text and instead send one to husband asking if I should respond to her saying, “ I’m just parking but I’m so excited!!!” She has my flight schedule, I regret that decision now. she knows when my plane leaves. I think her brain would break if I sent her that text. She doesn’t get jokes.
After basically everyone else has boarded I finally get my seat number. I am just hoping it’s not a middle seat, I have about 40 pages I want to try and edit. This task is going to be really difficult without being able to move my arms or if I think someone is reading my seriously crappy rough draft over my shoulder. I get 19A, I can work with that, A is usually a window seat. I make my way brutally slowly with the heard of passengers down that tunnel thing, you know the tunnel thing… it make you go plane inside(I honestly don’t have a clue what that thing is actually called). Some guy in front of me really needs to brush his teeth. It’s gross. I text this to husband and then ask him if I should act like one of those super friendly bubbly people and offer everyone around me a piece of gum, you know, for their popping ears!
I finally make my way down the aisle. Businessmen who are clearly tragically optimistic that the free seat next to them will not be filled look at me with both resignation and hope in their eyes. No worry good sirs your plight will carry on, for I have procured myself a window seat… in the exit row! Leg room baby! I send husband a selfie and say, “Guess who’s in charge if there’s an emergency????” He texts back saying that we’re all doomed. I text the same thing to my mom, she tells me to have a nice flight and she’ll see me at the airport! I told you. She doesn’t get jokes.
I’ve gotten my Lorazepam and Caffeine fix so I’ll probably survive, for now. I plug in my ear buds and listen to “On A Plain” because I mean, come on. I watch out the window as we taxi to the runway calmer than I would be, but still kind of jumpy. Then that sound of the engine revving hits me and I know that’s it. There is no turning back at that point. It’s funny because even when I’ve flown sans chemical assistance I always resigned myself to the fact that after take off that’s it. If you’re going down you’re going down. You’re stuck now bitch, hahahahaha!
Well whatever. I guess I’ll enjoy my high, maybe get some questionable editing done and start drinking heavily if we hit turbulence. I mean it’s a wedding weekend right? Let’s get this party started! How early is too early to order tequila?