I'm looking back again into one of the most traumatic times of my life. This will be a bit long so believe me, I won't mind if you skip over this. I just felt a need to revisit this episode in our family history.
After a year of kindergarten, I sent my son to summer school for a fun science enhancement program. When the phone rang one morning I answered it not knowing how it would affect the next several years.
"Your child has fallen off the monkey bars and his arm needs attention," the school secretary said.
"Is his arm broken?" I asked.
"It does look like it needs attention," she reiterated.
(Jon told me later that the monkey bars rung was loose and had twisted which made him fall. Art and I went to check later and found it was true. Tif observed the school custodian tightening it after the incident.)
Jon had broken his other arm a little over a year before so I was somewhat used to the fact that my rough and tumble son could have another greenstick fracture.
I called the military base hospital about 45 minutes away and asked if I should take him to the nearest hospital. They said a broken bone with no bleeding involved could easily be treated on base so I should bring him up.
I drove to school and saw immediately that his arm was contorted in an odd angle. Jon later told me that his hand was facing the wrong way so he had to turn it with his other hand.
I took two rulers and loosely but carefully splinted his arm with lengths of ribbons and drove him home where my neighbor, Peggy said there's no way I could drive all the way up north in the agitated state I was in.
We gathered our four other children and drove to the emergency room. I assumed the doctors would quickly put a cast on his arm and we could all return home in time to have a quick lunch somewhere.
When we got to the ER, they had me take him up to Radiology myself to get an X-ray of his arm. Nobody seemed overly excited about anything. Remember, this is where I gave birth to Jon in the elevator?
When the first X-rays came in, the ER doctor said it was bad.
"How bad?" I asked.
"Very, very bad," he said gravely. "His arm is broken in three places, above and below his elbow and at his wrist."
"Can you put a cast on it?" I asked hopefully.
"He won't be going home today," he said, "It could be a few days, maybe a week."
I couldn't quite make sense of all this but I asked Peggy to take all the kids along with my 8 year old Tiffany home. Jon and I were taken to a room to wait for the orthopedic surgeon.
After a bit of time, the orthopedic surgeon arrived. She came in, introduced herself and looked at the X-rays. Suddenly, she was yelling at people and perhaps even cursing. She yelled at the corpsmen, at other doctors, everyone. I caught phrases such as, "What the hell were you all thinking?" "This child could lose his arm." "Why is he just sitting here?" "Get out of here. Get me somebody who knows what to do." At one point she was so angry and frustrated by the situation that she slammed her reflex testing hammer so hard onto the counter that it bent.
Lose his arm? What? Tears welled in my eyes.
"You can't cry now, Mom." she said as gently as she was able. "He's going to need you to be strong. You can cry tomorrow. Not now."
She turned to Jon then and said she would need to take a bit of his blood for testing.
"Oh no, not that. I just don't want that," Jon said as steadily as he could after seeing the needle.
"I'm sorry," she said as kindly as she could, "but I have to."
"OK, but do it fast, OK?" his voice quivered. To distract Jon, I showed him some words on my key chain and asked him to try to read it. It worked and he never flinched.
Several times, I've noted in my journal that he tried to smile at me despite all the pain he was in for the five hours before they were able to begin the operation to insert pins into his elbow and repair the damage. It was a long operation and a doctor would come out at regular intervals to keep me abreast of what they were doing. They mentioned possible permanent damage because of the arteries, muscles and tendons that were all affected during the break. The break at the wrist and growth plates might cause his arm to not grow from this point on, they warned.
I remember pacing that hallway back and forth, back and forth. There were no cellphones back then so I called a good friend who worked at E.P.A. with my husband, Art. Bart said he would contact Art who was at an important meeting in Washington, D.C. He assured me that his wife, Diane would come and pick me up at the hospital in the evening.
I was exhausted. After the surgery I'd sat at Jon's bedside and watched him, just amazed at how strong he'd been. He hadn't cried once. He'd allowed the needles, the probing, the pain. Now he looked tired but at peace. At 8:30 in the evening, Diane came and took me home. The nurses all told me what an angel he'd been.
Diane brought Tiffany and me back up to the hospital the following morning. Tiffany kept turning her face away so that Jon wouldn't see her tears falling. The angelic Jon had been replaced by an angry child who awoke to find his mother gone, his arm in a cast and in traction and more pain. Art would return later that evening and some of the burden would be lifted.
Unfortunately, Jon had been given a lot of pain killers so that he couldn't feel much discomfort. He managed to convince all the nurses that the Popsicles they gave him made him feel so much better. Since he was their only patient, everybody had been happy to give him whatever he wanted. When we arrived Tif checked his garbage bin and said in disbelief that there were over a dozen sticks. Thus, he ended up with some sort of frost bite in his mouth which made eating difficult for a while.
All the doctors, nurses and corpsmen were very loving and cared for Jon beautifully. But it wasn't over.
When his arm healed, a large keloid formed that prevented him from stretching his arm out. We went to a couple of specialists and found a noted surgeon at Chicago's Children's Hospital who operated and removed the restrictive tissue.
Jon's arm healed. It did grow although his elbow is a bit hyperextended. But then again so is Michael Phelps'. Jon was a champion swimmer in high school and co-captain of his water polo team. He had several ribbons and trophies for cross country runs and loves athletics. The broken arm was not his last injury. He added a few more scars to the collection he'd already accumulated on his body. He's now a firefighter in New Mexico and though it worries me at bit, I do believe he'll somehow be all right.