Friday, August 29, 2008


Little Man: Why can I walk now?
Me: What do you think?
Little Man: Because my knees are all better.
Me: That's right!

Jumping from the arm of the couch into a pile of pillows. Hopping from one foot to the other across the room. Explaining that the reason he didn't fly when he jumped from the second highest rung of the playground ladder is because "I forgot to flap my wings!" Disappearing for a few minutes, and then yelling from the bathroom, "Mommy, I'm pooping!"

I am grateful to be on the road to taking these things for granted again. It's a strange age, 3-going-on-4. He is articulate for his age, but he is still a three-year-old, who doesn't like talking about boo-boos very much, because talking leads to looking, and looking leads to bandaids, and bandaids leads to the horrible taking off of bandaids, which is best avoided. He will answer differently at different times, because he lives zennishly in the moment; so, in the morning he will say "I'm not standing because it hurts" and in the afternoon he will say "I'm not standing because it feels weird, but it doesn't hurt."

All of which brings to mind the time I had him in the doctor's office with some minor virus or other, and a trainee doctor asked him whether his ears hurt, and he said "yes" and Dr. Trainee looked at me and asked me, in so many words, whether to believe him or not. I thought for a minute, and then looked at Little Man and asked, "Honey, did you vote in the last election?" and he said with easy-going assurance, "Yes I did!" Language is fluid, definitions are foggy, assurances are creative. This is not lying so much as practicing the grownup art of conversing, as when Michael and I are talking about something boringly grownup at dinner, some kind of long-term financial planning or whatever, and Little Man will pipe up and say something like "I think life insurance is due at the library!"

He wants to be a part of adult conversation, and he's feeling his way, just as he did with learning to walk, or feed himself. It's a beautiful thing to watch, but it makes it hard to judge whether an injury is scary or not. So you develop the ability to wait and watch without panicking. Well, without panicking too much.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


The surreal experience of Little man's enigmatic injury got a little bit worse before it got better. When we finally got to talk to his doctor at 10:30 pm. the day after the x-rays, she said they were inconclusive ("ossification on the patella -- injury to the knee can't be ruled out") and that we should go to a pediatric orthopedist for a bone scan. "Pediatric bone scan" -- not a reassuring phrase.

The next morning, she had her office staff call around everywhere to see where they could get us in that day, since it had already been so long since the fall, and her receptionist called and asked "So tell me, are you on skates?" This was 10:30, and we had to be in Wilmington, Delaware by noon, with the x-rays in hand. We zoomed out the door with uncharacteristic efficiency and were there half an hour early, starving but armed with the box of power bars my husband keeps in his office to stave off hunger pangs. (We each had one in the car on the way. Michael reading to me from the map quest printout: "Was that exit 8 or exit 9? Get into the right lane!" while L.M., chewing, musing: "Ack-chooly, I don't really like these. Can I have another one?")

Little Man got very interested in the huge fish tank in the colorful waiting room of the children's hospital ("Is that big orange one playing hide and seek? What's that big pink thing? Why is there bubbles? Did he just eat a rock? Why did he spit it out?") while Michael and I stood around chewing our nails. Finally we were called in to a "room" which was not so much a room as an area (it was instantly clear this was a hospital and not simply a doctor's office: the weird pastel-striped curtain hanging from the ceiling on little metal tracks was a dead giveaway, plus the shuddering flashbacks I was having to my appendectomy and also my ovarian cystectomy).

The first doctor who came in was very nice, despite looking alarmingly like Doogey Houser, M.D. -- too young and too earnest to actually know anything. He had us go in for more x-rays down the hall and then come back, and when we came back we waited and waited, and the only reason we figured out what we were waiting for was because little chipper L.M. (as far as he was concerned, we were on a mildly entertaining adventure of some kind) got bored and wanted me to carry him around for a walk, where we happened to run into Doogy, who mentioned as an aside that he had called in his boss and was waiting for a reply. Gee, thanks for letting us know!

When at last the long-awaited authority figure came in -- an older tall, thin man with a nearly cadaverous face and owlish wire-rimmed glasses, very grim-looking and expressionless -- I thought to myself, Uh-oh, let's make this quick and get out of here before he scares Little Man to death. But he didn't. He spoke with us quickly, efficiently, and then crouched on the floor to address Little Man directly where he sat on my lap. "So what stickers do you have there?" he asked him conversationally, matter-of-factly, as if he took it for granted that Nemo stickers constituted reasonable adult conversation. Little Man told him a little bit about the stickers the nurses had given him, and answered each question thoughtfully, seriously, backtracking as needed to correct his own statements: "I think this is Nemo. No, I haven't seen the movie but I know about him. He's orange and he's a fish. This other one has stars I think. I think they're stars. No, here's a butterfly. Butterflies can fly but they don't sting." The doctor looked calmly into L.M's eyes and peppered him with questions, and it took me a minute to notice that both of the doctor's hands were gently manipulating and exploring L.M.'s knees with efficient, practiced fingertips, as if he were reading Braille. L.M. did not react to the doctor's fingers except here and there, and the doctor seemingly paid no attention but kept his fingers moving while continually asking questions, "Does Nemo eat fruit? What do butterflies eat? Did you ever see a butterfly that was orange?" And L.M. answered him, responding comfortably to the doctor's conversational tone and respectful eye contact.

I was a little bit in awe. When Dr. Cadaver finally stood up and reported his findings to us ("he's not reacting to any discomfort except in one area of the left kneecap, and there's no swelling or any evidence of a fracture. I think it's a bad contusion, and he's being intuitively careful to let it heal..."), it became clear to me that he had been purposefully engaging L.M's conscious mind in order to gauge his bodily reactions. This is probably pretty standard stuff for a doctor, particularly one who works with kids all day, particularly one who works with kids with broken bones all day -- and it occurs to me that I've probably watched our regular pediatrician do it here and there, but still. What I liked about it was that I came expecting a bone scan with fancy machines and lots of lights and beeps and buttons, and what I got was a sixties-ish guy's skinny hands, massaging my kid's knees while speaking directly into his eyes.

It seemed a very old-fashioned kind of medicine, like a medieval midwife or a tribal healer, and I liked it. His recommendation was that we watch him: "Don't force him to stand, but don't stop him. If things don't improve in one week, bring him back to me." In other words, trust him and leave him alone. Geez, trust the 3-year-old patient? what is this, some kind of voodoo? Michael and I were grinning all the way home.

And L.M. straightened both legs by bedtime, and the next morning tentatively half-stood on both legs. "How does it feel?" I asked him. "A little weak," he said ruefully, and smiled at me. He's still not walking -- and tomorrow will be a week since he fell -- but I am entirely comfortable with it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

In matters of importance

Little Man and I had this exchange this morning.
Me: You're more important to me than anything else in the whole world!
First he starts a little, then a pause, and then:
LM: It startled me when you said that!
Me: Really? Didn't you know that?
Another pause.
LM: [shaking his head in wonder] I really didn't know that.

He's had a weird injury this week. He fell along the cement walkway in the backyard and skinned both knees pretty badly. Not a big deal, I thought, even as he cried and cried. His dad and I got his knees washed, sprayed with antiseptic and bandaged, and then he wanted to curl up on the couch with me and read a book together, which we did. Then he fell asleep, which was odd at that time of day, but not entirely unprecedented.

It's three days later, and he has yet to straighten his legs, much less stand or walk. We've been to the doctor, we've had an x-ray, we're waiting for word. At night he yells and cries in pain, and I give him as much Tylenol as I dare to, but during the day he seems just fine, except for the no-walking thing. He plays, he laughs, he puts dinosaur stickers on a sheet of paper and displays them proudly to me. I lift him on and off the toilet, I carry him from room to room; he stay on the couch or the floor or at the kitchen table for hours. He scoots around on the floor just like The Little Lame Prince, making my heart shrink in my ribs so that it's hard to breathe properly.

The doctor felt all up and down his legs and nothing hurt; she could find no evidence of any other injury besides the surface scrape. The X-ray technician was very kind and patient with him when he refused to straighten his legs because "it hurts!" Bit by bit, inch by inch, she managed to convince him to straighten his legs: "just a little tiny bit more! you're doing great! you're braver than Superman!" And he did, he managed to straighten not only the less-injured leg, but the leg with the dreaded neon-orange bandaid with the more terrible scrape, almost all the way, long enough for four X-ray shots on each leg. He cried a little and clung to me, pulled my head close to his and gripped my neck tightly with both arms, but he did it.

And hasn't done it again since. We're waiting for the doctor to call with the results of the X-ray, and I can't concentrate on anything else, even though school starts in a week and a half and I haven't done my syllabuses yet. What the fuck could it be?