Late yesterday afternoon as Isaac ran from our house to the garage, he slipped on ice that was covered with fresh snow. His entire body flew up in the air – and he hit hard – landing on his right knee and elbow. I was glad I was there to witness it because he wouldn’t have been able to tell me what had happened. He began to sob immediately, which is unusual. The kid has a high pain tolerance.
When he was younger and had blood drawn at the lab, the worst part for him was wearing the bandage afterwards. I’m not sure he felt the needle. He fell off a diving board last year and scraped his neck and leg but wanted to continue swimming even though his neck was raw and his knee was bleeding. He’s a tough cookie.
He screamed and cried and carried on while I helped get him inside the house. I took off his blue boots and assessed the situation.
Was blood running down his leg? Was a bone poking through the skin? Could he move his right arm that he was clutching with his left? He began screaming at full volume, which I now think may have been more indicative of his anxiety. These questions and thoughts were racing through his head because he told me so in a few words:
“Bus 34? River Hills?” (Will Bus 34 come tomorrow so I can go to school?)
“Hy-Vee? Let’s go.” (Will we still go to Hy-Vee and buy what’s on our grocery list? We go every Tuesday. Let’s go right now.)
“YMCA?” (Will I go to the YMCA tomorrow after school if I am injured?)
“Pick up Noah up?” (Will we still be able to pick up Noah from his vocal practice at 5:00?)
“Pick up Dad up. Office.” (What time is Dad getting home? I know it’s later tonight because he’s out of town for business. Let’s swing by his office. Maybe he’s there?)
I asked if he wanted to see the doctor, and he said, “Dad.” (I’d rather have Dad take me, thank you very much. Mom, I see you all the time. You’re old news.)
He typed a message on his iPad. Then he put on his boots, hobbled outside, and got into the van. He still wanted to go to Hy-Vee because his world suddenly had been turned upside down. Everything he was certain of suddenly became uncertain.
I have to admit, I felt the same way. How would this day end?
Bus 34 will come. You’ll go to school tomorrow. We can go to Hy-Vee. We’ll pick up Noah. You can go to the YMCA tomorrow. Dad is coming home. I repeated it over and over because he kept asking the same questions. Then I handed him a tissue and told him to wipe his eyes and nose.
I drove to Hy-Vee, and as soon as he saw the building in the distance, he decided we should pick up Noah instead. Based on the time, it was a good idea. Based on his level of pain, it was a better idea.
We drove to the junior high and waited outside for Noah. I phoned Chris to tell him I thought Isaac may have a serious injury. Chris was driving home from a business meeting. Isaac loves country music on 98.5 FM. As I was talking to Chris, Isaac turned up the volume. I turned it down. He turned it up, and then he cried. The lyrics were loud and clear. “God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy.” I felt like I was in a scene from a bad movie.
There I sat in the van with a kid who was crying in pain, another in the backseat who was reading a book about Helen Keller, I was waiting for Noah to come out of the school with a gigantic backpack and a trombone -- and there was no beer in sight. God didn’t exactly seem to be putting His arms around us at that point, either, but I sent up a few silent prayers for the cause. Please send calm and peace and comfort to this boy. Put competent people in our path so I won’t lose whatever sanity I have left. And I don’t drink beer, but a margarita sounds good right about now, I prayed.
Noah finally climbed into our van, and we headed home. Everyone was quiet. Noah and Henry felt bad for their brother. I told the boys I would make dinner quickly and then I’d take Isaac to the doctor. When we got home I pulled a few things out of the fridge, and Isaac put it all away.
“Do you want to go to the doctor now?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. He had tears in his eyes. This was a big deal. He didn’t want to wait for his dad, who would be home in another hour or so.
We drove to the nearest Emergency Room. I never want to be perceived as paranoid or overprotective by medical professionals. I want to tell enough of the story to justify coming to the ER for this kind of injury. This is what I said to the doctor:
“My son Isaac has autism and limited speech. I saw him fall HARD on the ice tonight. He has a high pain tolerance. He cried. He didn’t want to go into the grocery store. He wanted to skip dinner and come to the doctor’s office. None of this is normal behavior for him. His behavior is his communication. He’s not reliable when I ask him what hurts, which is why we’re here. He’s the kid who could be walking around with a fracture, and we wouldn’t know it for days.”
The doctor didn’t seem to question anything, which was refreshing. He thought we were in the right place.
The younger woman who took Isaac’s x-rays was fabulous. I complimented her on the way she interacted with him, and she said she had worked with people who had disabilities at a company that provides respite and other services. She talked to Isaac like he was in the room, like he understood every word, like she cared about him. She was upbeat and asked questions. He stood up a few times and opened the door. She didn’t mind as long as he shut it. She talked about his blue boots. She took several pictures of his knee, and he did great, although at times he was yelling and protesting. She took pictures of his elbow. Several years ago we wouldn’t have gotten x-rays this easily. It would have been nearly impossible.
When we finally went back to our room, he wasn’t planning to stay there long. We waited and waited for a radiologist to read the x-rays. Isaac walked out front by the automatic doors and vocalized. He was talking about going to Burger King and going to school and going home. Everyone was silent. I finally said, “He likes doors, which is why we’re standing here.”
“I bet he’d like to have those doors at home,” one friendly nurse said.
“When we win the lottery and build a big house, we’re putting in automatic doors and an elevator,” I replied.
“You have your coat on. I guess you’re ready to go,” a nurse said and laughed.
“That’s the story of his life,” I replied. “He was born ready.”
After what seemed like an eternity, the doctor surfaced. He said the knee was fine, just bruised and sore. Nothing was broken. He was still waiting to hear about the elbow, but we could go home, ice it, and give some pain meds. I told him Isaac is not the kid who will sit with his leg up on a chair, icing it.
“A lot of people won’t do that,” the doctor said. He smiled and looked relieved things were going to be okay. I guess he may have been relieved we were leaving, too.
“Give me a call please if you need to,” I said, as I walked out. One of the nurses ran after Isaac, who was headed to the elevators. He just wanted to push the buttons. The nurse didn’t know his intentions, and I was grateful for her concern.
Isaac held up his bright orange bracelet that he was given upon admission. I had a hard time understanding his words, but he said, “Garbage.” I relayed that to the nursing staff, who didn’t think it was as funny as I did. What that really meant was “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
On the way home I reassured Isaac he would go to school tomorrow. The bus will come. You will go to the YMCA. Dad is home now. You can watch AFV tonight. You can start the dishwasher.
Isaac ate dinner, started the dishwasher, watched TV, and then like clockwork, he hobbled downstairs to play the Wii because that’s what he does every night at a certain time. He took an ice pack downstairs and elevated his leg on a chair. As far as I was concerned, that was a miracle – an answer to a request for peace and comfort. When I asked if he wanted medicine to make his knee feel better, he answered a loud, “Yes!” Because he can’t swallow pills, I found the liquid pain reliever and a syringe. Even though he slept with an ice pack on his knee, he was glad to be at home in his bed.
This morning I watched Isaac walk to the bus and wave to me. He said his knee hurts. I sent his teacher a note about his injury. Today I’ll go to the grocery store to pick up the items we weren’t able to buy yesterday. I’ll leave the radio on Isaac’s favorite country music station and hope to hear a man sing, “God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy.” Things could have been much worse. Nobody has any broken bones, and my sanity is mostly intact. The sun is shining, and life is good. While I’m at the store today, I’m buying a margarita and a bag of ice melt to celebrate.