By Emily Harrington
This has been the worst summer of my life. For that matter, the worst days of my life.
On the morning of Tuesday, June 26, I was folding laundry upstairs. While I was putting shirts in one boy’s room and shorts in another, I finally caught the end of my phone ringing downstairs. When I went to check my phone, I had missed a few calls. I picked it up as another unidentified call came through.
It was my mom on someone else’s phone. She told me my 5-year-old son was hit by a car. I thought she was kidding. She said “I’m serious.” He got hit by a car, and we think he’s going to be OK. A first responder took the phone. He echoed my mom, and he said he had seen worse. I told them I would go to the Carle Emergency Room. In retrospect, I should have gone to the scene. I didn’t know it would still take them a while. What good does retrospect ever really do?
In emergency situations I shut down, and I get super quiet. My husband, however, gets panicked — freaks out. I called him, and I told him what happened. He immediately wants to know: WHO!? WHAT!? WHEN!? WHERE!? WHY!?
I DON’T KNOW. DOES IT MATTER!? GO. GO TO THE ER.
We both arrived at the same time. Parked. And stood there like idiots waiting for our son to arrive. A few minutes later he did. On a stretcher, in neck traction, covered in road rash, blood, dirt and grass.
He was scared. Shocked. We were too.
They wheeled him into the trauma area. Medical professionals swarmed him while performing orchestrated protocols, each one having a specific job to do. All I cared about was that his brain and spine were OK. Everything else could be fixed. We saw his toes move. The body scan showed that everything looked OK. Except his leg. His left femur.
He asked for a hug.
I got the full story later. My son went across his usually sleepy street to “chase bunnies.” Damn that “Peter Rabbit” movie. My mom and other son were in her front yard. My mom saw the car coming, and she yelled at him to stay put. He was moving from the front passenger side of a van to the front of the van. It was parked on the side of the road. He couldn’t see the car, and the driver couldn’t see him. He was yelling at my mom in excitement to show her something, “Mimi, Mimi!” She was yelling at him to stop. The driver, a young woman going about 20 mph, turned to look at my mom. My son stepped out from the obstruction of the van.
The perfect storm.
My mom retells the story over and over. You see, my mom will be the one with the permanent injuries. I didn’t have to see him get hit, and I didn’t have to pick up his limp, pale body. I didn’t have to make the call to his mom.
My dad came to the ER. He was sick with worry. He headed home to be with my mom and toddler after the scan was clear. My husband went home to pack a bag. We were headed to Peoria’s OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois — in an ambulance. His break was so close to his pelvis that special surgery was needed. A pediatric orthopedic surgeon was necessary.
By 7 p.m. that night he was under anesthetic and under the knife. Screws and a plate set his femur. They will need to be removed at the end of the year. Growth plate issues and arthritis at age six are the next hurdles to clear. All looks OK now.
Insert ramps, wheelchairs and plastic commodes/urinals. His head, hands and back had the worst abrasions. Because he was forced to lie on it, his back sore was so slow to heal. For the first week, he refused to have one of his injured hands uncovered. This was only one of his demands. He was difficult, sad and grouchy. I teetered internally with being angry, upset, frustrated and just sad. How can you discipline your son after his entire world has been turned upside down? I even told the nurse, I wish you knew him before this. He was not his happy self. I worried his personality was forever changed.
A walker and the support of furniture, family and friends gave him the literal support needed to learn this skill we take for granted. I thought he would just take off. I was very, very wrong. He was so weak. Picture Bambi.
As if I didn’t have enough anxiety about kindergarten, I’ll have to worry about his mobility, too.
My son is the kind of kid who will have quite a few trips to the ER in his lifetime. He is 5, and he’s already broken his left tibia and femur.
What are the lessons here? What did we all learn? What, if anything, can we gain from this experience besides a better parking space?
- There truly are accidents in life. Sometimes, as much as you want to, there is no one to blame. Timing and circumstance were simply not in our favor. My mom kept in touch with the driver. I never met her. The police, however, told me she vomited from worry. She will also forever have the image in her mind. People punish themselves enough — even if it’s not their fault. I have no ill will toward anyone involved. Accidents happen.
- You can do anything for a short period of time. (This I borrowed from an old friend. Her daughter has a congenital heart defect. ENTER PERSPECTIVE.) As much as our backs ached from carrying him up and down the stairs and lugging that unwieldy wheelchair around and propping him up to use the toilet — we didn’t have to plan a funeral. And as fast as it happened, it’s almost over. This godforsaken summer and all its challenges are almost over.
- Look both ways before you cross the street. I suppose it can’t be said enough. Teach your kids, and you should keep in mind as a driver.
- You have more friends, family and support than you realize. I couldn’t believe the outpouring of support for our family. Cards, gifts and visitors steadily kept up our spirits all summer. Past co-workers, former teachers, old camp counselors, even passersby reached out. I couldn’t believe how much people genuinely cared. When you feel like you are in such an isolating spot, it makes you feel not so alone.
- And finally. **** summer. I’m ready for the fall.
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie. She left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in communications so that she could be a 24/7 mom to two busy boys. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Emily usually finds herself engulfed in balls, blue and belly laughs.