Tuesday, April 5, 2011

When a Grandchild Gets Hurt on Your Watch

The visceral scream of a child in major pain is indescribable. We recognize it, even if we haven't heard it before.

I first heard it when my oldest son was five. We were moving, and I was packing up the kitchen. He went outside to play. And then, there was this train whistle of sound as he ran for me, his right arm now W shaped. He had fallen out of a tree, breaking his arm and dislocating the elbow. I was pretty calm. I called the emergency room and told them we would need an orthopedist. I called his dad, in a meeting, asking him to meet us. This was before cell phones, and all calls were long-distance. I mention this because I never dropped a digit.

While we waited for the orthopedist, who of course wasn't contacted till we arrived, I remember my son whispering, " I didn't know my body could break."

But it did, and he recovered.

Yesterday, I picked my granddaughter up from school. She turned nine on Sunday, got a near-perfect report card on Friday (one 88), had her snack, and finished her homework. She said she was going outside, and went out the back door. I didn't worry. There's a tree there she has been climbing all year.

I was going through her binder, checking for news and any other assignments that might be coming up. But the tree had a dead branch and it broke. She fell about eight feet on her back before her head hit the dry, clay soil lawn.

I heard the screams. I didn't recognize them at first. She rushed in, tear-streaked, clutching her head.I checked for blood. None. Checked for broken. None. Pulled her into my lap, holding her tight. She clutched her head. She couldn't tell me what hurt, or where. Except her head, all over. So much pain scared her. It scared me, too.

Later, as the pain in her head subsided, she realized her back hurt, too. I had her take off her shirt and found a scrape on her shoulder. No ribs, no vertabrae, seemed to hurt. Then I called her dad, who was on duty. I put her on the couch, got her some juice, put cartoons on and went outside, where I found the broken branch and realized the fall was only eight feet or so, not higher as I had feared.

Her dad, when he checked her out, found her eye movement jerky, her balance unsteady. She suddenly said she might need to throw up. She didn't, but he called her mother at work, called the doctor, who has started some evening appointments, and coordinated wife, child and his mother meeting at the doctor's office.

I couldn't believe how much better she was an hour later. Her eyes tracked. Her balance was good. Left knee reflex? Not so great, but the rest was good. No diagnosis of concussion. Free to go to school. No restrictions on play. Well, I have some. I'll be discreet. At least, now the trees have leafed out, she will notice the dead branches.

Both of us had a shock, and we need time to recover. Just because it turned out well doesn't mean there wasn't pain and a crisis. She had a lot of pain, We were both very afraid, if only for a short while. So, we will be gentle with ourselves for a day or two.

That's really okay.

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