I had a feeling it would happen sooner or later. I’m not careful, and I always try to do ten things at once. Our basement stairs are scary. There is no railing, and the bottom step is solid concrete. Actually, our whole basement is scary. It’s cold and dark and damp. I envy my friends with their carpeted finished “family rooms.” The main purpose of our basement is laundry and storage. I try to be in and out of it as quickly as possible, which is exactly why I fell.
I could have made two trips-one for each laundry basket, but no. I decide to balance a basket on each hip. And then about halfway down, it happened. I would love to say that I tripped on something-a toy, some clothing-but I can’t be sure. Likely it was the result of poor planning and clutzy DNA.
It makes me cringe to think of the way I landed, with my left foot folded underneath me in a weird angle, on the cold concrete. I didn’t cry. Not at first, even though the pain was immediately excruciating. I took deep breaths, and tried to calm the rising wave of panic. I willed my foot to not be broken. I told myself to walk it off. Then I tried to stand on it, and the panic wave crashed over me. The sickening realization that my foot was likely broken began to dawn on me. All the implications of being incapacitated while being a stay-at-home mom to two toddlers were too much to bear.
Somehow I managed to crawl up the stairs to the kitchen where my three year-old was waiting. “Mommy, did you fall?” “Mommy, why are you crying?” “Mommy, are you hurt?” I can feel the fluid building up under my skin pressing against the confines of my boot. I know I need to take my boot off, but I am scared to see what is inside it. I’m brave, because I have to be with my toddler prodding me with endless questions. He is almost as panicked as I am. I can see, even through my sock, that the swelling is impressive. I get my phone and make several calls and manage to reach my best friend, my neighbor, and my husband, in that order. No one is readily available. Every man for himself. I manage to stand on my good foot and hop to the freezer for ice, then sit in a chair and elevate my poor bulging foot. My sweet son offers to kiss it and make it better, and asks me if he can get me a Band-Aid.
One by one, people come to my rescue. First my neighbor, the paramedic (YAY!), then by best friend, and then my husband. My neighbor stays with my children while my husband drives us to the urgent care center.
I see a doctor who quickly glances at my foot and tells me, “We need an X-ray.” Duh. Then, after what seems like hours, she returns with my X-ray results. “I don’t generally like reading x-rays, because I don’t feel like I’m very good at it.” Uh, OK. “I don’t see anything obviously broken. There is a lot of soft tissue damage and there is a bone that looks like its out-of-place. But I’m not sure.” I decide right then, that if I, or any other member of my family has a potentially broken bone, we will not be coming here. She has the nurse put my foot into a soft splint and advises me to see an orthopedic doctor ASAP.
One sleepless night and an obscene amount of ibuprofen later, I am at the orthopedic doctor, who assures me there are no bones out-of-place, and also none broken. He gives me a hideous boot contraption to wear for a week and tells me to stay off it. Obviously he doesn’t know what I do for a living.
It’s a hard week. My husband takes a day off from work, but then I am on my own, mostly at my own insistence. It’s exhausting work just using crutches, let alone going up and down stairs for naps, bathing, etc. My one year-old who normally jumps at the chance to climb the stairs once the safety gate is down, seems to have abandoned the idea completely. So I’m forced to half-crawl, half-scoot, holding him on my lap, up the stairs to get him to nap. Luckily my three year-old takes on the roll of administrative assistant, acting all too happy to fetch whatever I might need.
Then it’s a week later. I am back at the orthopedic doctor for a follow-up x-ray. He is impressed by my progress, and by the ugly bruises which cover my foot from heel to swollen toes, and span the entire rainbow of colors. He tells me I can lose the boot, and slowly return to normal activity.
It’s a few weeks later. The bruises have mostly faded. It hardly hurts at all. My son has taken up a crusade to save me from myself. He locks the basement door because he says he doesn’t want me to fall again. He constantly reminds me to “be careful,” and to “pay attention.” Words I so often say to him now coming back to bite me in ass…or the foot.
Officially his name was Franklin, but we never called him that. I would sit in the veterinarian’s office and stare blankly as they called “Franklin?” several times. Finally, “Um, Mrs. Wohlander? Do you have Franklin?” Oh, yes, you mean Dick.
It wasn’t his fault. We messed him up, adopting him so young and then abandoning him soon after for a two-week honeymoon in Hawaii. He snapped. It was evident in the destruction he caused in our absence. Shredding paper and wrecking plants. He made his utter dissatisfaction with our behavior blatantly apparent. He was never the same sweet little kitten. He became a total dick. My poor elderly morbidly obese cellar-dwelling cat never got a moment’s peace after he came. No one was safe walking by the bed or the couch. He would attack. I was sure he was trying to sever my Achilles tendon more than once. For a few years he ruled our house. Forget trying to keep him off counters or the kitchen table. If he had fingers, I would have lost count of the times he would have flipped me off. My husband and I repeatedly said “You’re such a dick.” So much so that it became his name. My three-year old has no idea who Franklin was. He only knew Dickie.
Then Max came and the extended hospitalization. Again, no one was home with Dick for days at a time. My husband called me one night at the hospital to tell me that, when he went home to get clothes, he found my elderly cat dead. It had been a few days since we had been home. Our neighbor had volunteered to keep an eye on the cats. There was no way for him to know that my agoraphobic portly old man cat with a congenital heart defect had finally kicked the bucket in a quiet corner of the basement. In all my time to think at the hospital, I couldn’t help but reflect upon how long had Dick been alone with his dead friend. If he wasn’t messed up before, he would be now.
When we finally came home, with Max in tow, Dick decided he had had enough of being an indoor cat. At first he intermittently got outside. He never strayed far, but my son would cry for his Dickie nonetheless. Eventually, it got to the point that no one could open the door in my house without him darting outside.
One morning, I returned home from the gym to find he had been hit by a car. He was still alive, but in rough shape. His jaw was dislocated and he seemed to have severe neurological damage. I panicked. Having worked in the veterinary field for 13 years, I did not have much hope. I rushed him and my baby and my sobbing three year-old to the vet. I was resigned that I would not be coming home with Dick.
As I listened to my veterinarian talk to me about his prognosis, I couldn’t take my eyes off my son. I had no idea how attached he had grown to this cat until that moment- that moment when he was gulping and crying over and over, “My Dick! I want my Dick!” Before I could even think about what I was saying, I heard myself say “Do whatever it takes.” And so $500 later, Dick was home with a newly aligned jaw and a few staples.
However, being the consummate Dick he was, he decided to go ahead and get nailed by another car a month later-this time for good. Despite our best efforts, he refused to remain confined to our home. Who could blame him at that point?
How could I make this make sense to my three-year old? I thought about those moments at the veterinarian. How upset and inconsolable he had been. How he wailed when we had to leave Dickie at the vet for surgery. But, as he often does, Sam surprised me with his resiliency. He didn’t even seem to notice that Dickie was no longer with us. I was sure that his innocent mind had glossed over the reality, much the same way it had when our other cat passed.
And then we were in the parking lot of the grocery store. Sam decided to wander as I was getting his brother out of the car seat. There were no cars and no impending danger, but I panicked nonetheless. “You could’ve gotten hit by a car,” I yelled. “Like Dickie,” he asked. Yes, like Dickie.
He asks about Dick more and more lately and I am honestly not sure what to tell him. Mostly he remembers that Dickie is no longer with us because he didn’t pay attention in the road. As we were eating dinner recently, he said “Mommy, Dickie doesn’t live with us because he didn’t pay attention to cars in the road.” I am not sure if he understands that Dickie isn’t simply no longer with us, but no longer at all. Dick is now a cautionary tale in our house. And if that’s all I got out of all the years of his being a total dick, well, then that was more than enough.
I hate that the pain is always what I think of first. How could I not? It’s 2am and it wakes me from the first sound sleep I’ve had in the whole of my incarceration. I call it incarceration because that is what it felt like. Not hospitalization. No, you may not leave the ward. No, you may not walk down the hall to get some ice. No, you may not go outside and breathe fresh air. Any finally, no, you may not get out of bed for any reason other than to use the bathroom. Isn’t that sort of the same as prison? At least prisoners get fresh air occasionally.
I digress. It was the sort of pain that makes you gasp. Twisting and spasming across my low back. I try breathing evenly because I know that holding my breath only makes it worse. As the pain starts to subside, I get my bearings. I am still in this hospital room, in this bed. Now, on top of everything, I’ve managed to throw out my back. I manage to stand up slowly. The pain is gone. Maybe it was a dream. I use the bathroom and get back into bed. I manage to fall asleep only to be awoken by the same sharp sensation about an hour later. I lay perfectly still. It subsides quickly as it did before. I lay there breathing evenly watching the clock. Five minutes pass and the pain returns right on cue. I can feel the panic rising my chest. This is not a back injury. These are contractions. Too early. Five weeks too early.
I press the call button and the next hour is a blur. Monitors beeping and phone calls to my husband. I am in labor. Mentally I am preparing myself for coming attractions. The impending birth of my baby and his impending stay in the NICU. I am standing on the precipice of a full-blown panic attack. The pain is so intense bearing on my low back that I am sure my baby is trying to burrow out the wrong way. There is no way to lesson it. I turn, I breath, fast and then slow, deeply and shallowly, and nothing works. Worst of all, my doctor informs me in the three hours since my contractions started, my cervix is refusing to dilate. “You’re not in labor,” she says. “This is false labor. It’s like practice for the real thing.” WHAT??!!! I don’t need any f@#%king practice. I’ve already done this once.
She pats me on the arm and tells me to try to relax. She tells me it will likely subside soon. “When is soon?” I ask frantically. “Well, probably by tomorrow.” Oh God, she is so funny. She is so funny, I want to bludgeon her face with my I.V. pole. She must see the desperation on my face because she adds that it may be real labor starting. Maybe. But probably not.
So the day continues on, marked in agonizing five-minute increments. This pain is so punctual. By three in the afternoon, I tell my husband to leave. If it’s not real labor, there is no point in him seeing me at my lowest, holding my hand through this farce. No, he must drive across the entire state to pick up my older son who is with my parents. He agrees and leaves, and I crumble. It’s too much. Two weeks here and I’ve had enough. If I can’t have my baby, can I at least have a Valium?
It’s six o’clock, and the nurse is checking my blood sugar. “Sit up, please,” she asks. As I pull myself up I feel the most beautiful sensation. A glorious release of pressure. My water has broken. I am vindicated. My moment of euphoria is short-lived as I realize I am about to actually have a baby. The nurse, however is unfazed. “Yes, I see your water broke. Would you like to take a shower?” Is there time for that? Oh, yes, she tells me. Plenty.
She’s right. I call my husband who is just pulling out of my parents’ driveway over an hour away with my son. I am transferred to labor and delivery. I am given an I.V. containing magnesium to help stop seizures caused by my ridiculous blood pressure. It makes me feel like I have the flu…times ten. ”Would you like an epidural?” Hell, yes. The anesthesiologist is a dreamy man. Maybe its his dark hair and tan skin. Maybe it’s his drugs.
He’s a fake. I should have known with the way the events of this day have unfolded. I feel no relief, unless you count my left leg being numb. It’s all coming at me now. The pressure of my baby finally ready to make his entrance, the ominous group of doctors from NICU hovering, the imaginary cotton that is filling my mouth and threatening to choke me. There is no way out of this pain except through it. So, I push, and finally I hear crying. It’s mine and his. He’s screaming so loudly, and its the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. I don’t even realize what unfolds in the next few moments. All I can focus on are his screams. All of the agony of the past two weeks has been worth the ecstasy of hearing his perfect screams. They are taking him away. But for one precious minute they place him in my arms, and I believe in love at first sight for the second time in my life.