I am up watching him sleep
in the glow of the streetlamp shining through his window. I don't see his chest rise and fall, I don't hear his breath, I momentarily panic, irrational fear leftover from fitful dreams. Hand reaches out to below his nostrils to feel his breath, faint, warm. I relax. I rest my hand against his brow, stroking back his hair, like I've done a million times since his accident. Light perspiration, he is hot. I adjust his sheets carefully around him. I see his chest rise and fall, slightly, now that I am fully awake. His brow is furrowed. It hurts him to breathe
, in his sleep he can't hide this. He doesn't have his tough guy mask
on. I stroke his hair, he relaxes.
"How is he?"
"He is sleeping, I was just watching him"
"You checked to see if he was breathing didn't you"
It was more of a statement than a question. I don't answer, just snuggle deeper into bed.
Another injury. I should be used to these by now. He is a risk taker, no fears. He pushes his body to the limits. I've ridden to the emergency room several times already with this child, the last time three years ago. My mind travels back to how still his body looked, how white the edges of his mouth were, how scared his eyes were peering out of the football helmet.
"Mom, my neck is numb"
Concerned coaches saying things over him, not realizing he is listening. Don't move him or he could be paralyzed for life. Fear in his eyes. Team mates hushed. Head securely fastened tight in his helmet onto the board. His body and arms strapped down. He is immobile.
"Mom, is this what it's like paralyzed?"
"No, dear, shhhh, don't worry, it's just precautions, you'll be fine"
Stroking hand sticking out from the strap, willing myself not to think of the negative possibilities.
Waiting in the emergency room, listening to the screams of people in pain, he shaking and scared. Me, hiding my own fear to calm him.
That time it was a sprained neck. He was lucky. He healed quickly. He was in a hurry to return to the game he loved. It didn't take away his go full steam ahead attitude.
This time it is different. A worried face pops into the window of our door.
"Hey, D's been hurt, you better come see"
"What happened?" Head turns sharply, full attention on doorway.
"He landed head first and isn't moving" concerned eyes, white face. This is serious. "I'll show you where he is, hurry"
Adrenaline starts pumping, father flies down the road after racing boy, I follow barely noticing the rocks digging into bare feet, grabbing sandals on the way out, but not taking the time to put them on. Fear grips me.
I come over the hill and there is my teenager lying on his back in the dirt, shorts only, covered in dust. His bike is a few feet away from a newly built dirt ramp. "Call an ambulance" I must check him myself first. He is white beneath his sunburn, eyes are bloodshot, but he is not crying.
"I feel weird, mom, I think I broke something." His collarbone looks odd. He is not even. It is pressing out oddly below his neck/shoulder.
"My ear is numb"
He knows enough not to move. He sent his friend to get us, remembering the last time he was flat on his back, numb.
"Will I be paralyzed?"
Another time strapped to a backboard. Another trip in an ambulance to the emergency room. EMTs say it looks like he broke his collarbone, maybe more. He is worried, his heart is racing, I stroke his hair, his fingers. I need to touch him. It calms us both down.
In the emergency room he is hooked to a moniter, blood pressure only but he sees the other lines. Green, blue, lavender lines. all moving left to right, no blips.
"Look, I must be dead, I'm flat lining"
He laughs uneasily at his joke, I laugh with him, knowing he is trying to distract himself with humor. The wait is long. Sounds of a screaming child near us getting stitches. Just one more the doctor says from behind the curtain. "He said that last time" D observes, remembering the time he had to get stitches. "He shouldn't lie to him" He winces as the boy cries out again. D looks older to me, not like a child but a young man. I sit in the chair next to his bed, rest my head against the rail, close my eyes for a moment. I am so tired. My fingers still move against his hair. He leans his arm against me.
"It's ok mom, I'm not going to die"
"I didn't think you would be, I'm just resting"
"It looks like you're praying over me"
Maybe I should be praying for angels to watch over him while he recklessly rides through life, living it to the fullest. I wonder if I should curtail him, but know I won't. It would suck the joy in life right out of him, to be hovered over and worried about constantly.
He is taken away for a while and then returned. His face is white again.
"The X-ray guy said I must be a football player, 'cause everyone else with an injury like mine has screamed bloody murder when he moves them for pictures" He is proud that he didn't cry out.
"Did it hurt?"
Doctor comes and says his neck is fine, his clavicle is a mess. Football, biking, heeling, horsebackriding, anything he considers fun is out of the question for the next month. Two weeks he has to stay as still as possible. He should heal up stronger than before if he gives it time, he'll be back in football soon enough. He straps the boy/man up in a contraption that supports his back/chest, arm in sling, prescription for pain pills. D says he doesn't feel pain, he's numb. "Oh you will", says the Doc. He is right, within a half hour it hurts even to breathe. He puts his "tough guy" mask on.
"Mom, I don't think I'll be able to play football anymore"
"Of course you will, you'll heal up stronger than before, broken bones happen all the time, this is nothing"
"No, mom. What I mean is, I won't be able to play the same. I'm going to be worried about hurting something else now, breaking my neck. I'll be afraid to throw myself into it. I won't be as good now. I don't know if I want to go back knowing I'm going to be worried everytime I go to hit somebody"
Now, it's my turn to be concerned. Football has been his number one passion for years. Something has changed within him this time. He is not the same. The other trips to the emergency room never took his fearlessness. He left those visits still throwing himself 100% into the things he enjoyed. Now he is afraid. Maybe this is just part of growing up. Adolescents are supposed to think they are unbreakable, that they will live forever. He is aware of his own mortality now. I would have preferred he stayed a kid a few more years.