One month from today, William will take on the world in Birmingham, England.
An edited repost of
Sometimes They Fall: a Story of Courage
April 24, 2007 was the last Tuesday in April. I know this because my book club meets the last Tuesday of every month. It was going to be a big night at the track. The weather was beautiful and the track was pristine. The BMX dads had a fish fry planned. I opted out, choosing instead to discuss Out of the Flames with my book club ladies. Vann took the boys to practice and join in the fun.
My phone started ringing during our heated discussion of Michael Servetus, and his gory demise at the stake. I'm never interrupted at book club. I answered. The voice on the line was forcibly calm, hiding panic. "William is hurt. I need you to come to the track now." I began spewing questions, but the only response was, "Get here NOW."
I left abruptly, trying to control my speed, all the while wondering why on earth I wasn't meeting them at the emergency room that I was driving past. The drive seemed too long. I hurried. The phone rang. Hurry. Hurry.
I saw the ambulance first.
After a full night of practice, followed by a race, the kids ate dinner and continued to ride. It was almost time to leave when William was hit. The other rider didn't see him. I was told that William cried out and went silent. When they tried to lift him, his left femur folded, and the ambulance was called.
William was sprawled on the track, the color gone from his face. He wasn't crying. He was loaded into the ambulance with me beside him. He was immediately stuck with an IV and given the maximum dose of morphine a 55 Ib body can take. The pulse in his left foot was checked repeatedly for signs of a severed femoral artery. We looked like a parade arriving at the hospital, with everyone from the track following behind the ambulance.
"Only three visitors allowed", we were told, as all but Vann, Wyatt and I dispersed. William's pants had to be removed for the x-ray. When the technician began cutting his pants, William began to cry. "I know it hurts baby", I soothed. "My new pants!" He sobbed. They were brand new red Fox racing pants. Then he turned to me quietly and asked, "Mommy, will you please get me some boxers in case this ever happens again?" Apparently he picked the wrong night to wear his Darth Vader drawers.
Watching William's face during his x-ray was torture, and I wanted to borrow his morphine drip just to get through it. The technician summoned us to the screen. It didn't require a phd to see that William's left femur, the largest bone in his little body, had snapped like a twig. In my nauseated stupor, I asked, "Is it broken?" (The image shown is a week after the accident. It's probably a good thing that I couldn't locate the emergency room x-rays.)
We were informed that the pediatric orthopedic surgeon had been called, and was on the way. When he arrived, he quickly explained that William would be prepped for surgery, and surgery would be performed immediately if the bone could not be set externally. It was past 11:00, and Wyatt was asleep in a chair. Vann needed to get him home, and was forced to leave with all the uncertainty looming. Soon after, I was introduced to the team of surgeons, orthopedists, nurses and anesthesiologists who had been assembled to put our son back together. When it was time, I kissed William, and held his hand for as long as they would let me, as they wheeled the gurney to the O. R.
William has been the cause of the longest hours of my life: first, his laborious natural birth, then, this. Time stood still as I fidgeted restlessly and made necessary phone calls.
After three hours, William's chief orthopedist, Dr. Fahey, materialized in the waiting room. The cast application had been successful, and the bone had been set externally. William had been placed in a spica, which you really have to see to believe. I was led to recovery, where William was just waking up. He looked down. "Oh God", he muttered softly. I held his hand again as we were checked into our room. Drowsy from morphine and anesthesia, I thought William would sleep. Instead, he cried softly the rest of the night. I cried too, because I didn't know how to help my son.
After, well, the worst night of our lives, William finally slept. Visitors and nurses came and went. Vann arrived after taking Wyatt to preschool, and we were informed that William would be discharged that afternoon. We were scared, but relieved that he would be home with us. Vann sent me home at last to shower and try to gather myself before collecting Wyatt.
My phone was ringing when I arrived home, and it was Kim from my book club. "What happened? How's William?" I'm sure she wasn't expecting the earful that she got. Then she asked, "how are YOU?" I looked down at myself, in the same clothes from yesterday, now dirty and smelly from the bmx track and the long night in the hospital, and all I could do was blink away tears. "Oh, I'm fine." Right. I'm really glad she didn't fall for that one, because she immediately gathered the troops and lined up our dinners for the following three weeks. If you don't go to church, I highly recommend joining a book club.
Vann arrived home with William a few hours later. We were given no instructions on how to care for him. We had no clue how to carry him, put him in the car, or wash his hair. Leaving the hospital, Vann was given no assistance putting him in the truck, while poor William was crying in pain. The nurses in the hospital looked at William as if he were an alien, and it had taken three of them to figure out the best way for him to go to the bathroom. How were we supposed to do all this at home?
The first week was terribly difficult, as William was still in a tremendous amount of pain. Vann and I took turns sleeping in Wyatt's bed to be near William, and Wyatt would bunk up with one of us. William had always slept on his belly, but now had to sleep propped up on pillows, with more pillows positioned under his knees. Full of pain and frustration, he didn't sleep much.
William spent his days in a chair in our living room where he was most comfortable. He would doze off while reading BMX Today or BMXer, dreaming of getting back on his bike. It didn't take long for overwhelming boredom to set in. The following Tuesday, William announced that he wanted to watch bmx practice. On that first night back at the track, I think everyone wondered if he would in fact return to the bike. Our big burly track director, David Shields, held back tears, and had to turn away so William wouldn't see. What no one seemed to realize was that the thought of not returning to bmx never entered William's mind.
Three days after the accident, William's kindergarten teacher, Ms. Kenton, came to visit. William still had one month of school, and we weren't about to let this hold him back. She convinced William of how much the class missed him, and that he should come back when he felt up to it. We made arrangements for Wyatt to go to preschool five days a week, and I accompanied William to kindergarten for the remaining month of school. I'll admit, sitting in the cafeteria day after day with a bunch of kindergartners who couldn't open their milk cartons was a little trying, but I was so happy that William could still participate. His classmates were wonderful, and would take turns throwing the ball with him at recess.
Still, William suffered continuously from the frustration of being immobile. His dad, brother and I were constant cheerleaders trying to lift his spirits. After a couple of weeks, I was beginning to feel quite sorry for myself. Having William in that body cast was like having a 60 Ib baby that could bark out orders. My back ached from lifting him and his equally heavy wheel chair. My mind was numb from attending kindergarten. I was pathetic.
One particularly rough day, I dropped into bed exhausted, questioning again how we were going to get through this. Now, you may or may not believe me, but my dead grandma has a weird way of popping up when I least expect it. That night, her voice loud and clear in my head said these words:
You can not change what has happened.
You can decide whether to be weak or strong, or negative or positive.
I sat straight up in bed and vowed right then to end the pity party.
On Mother's Day, William received the best surprise. We were invited to watch Ricky Carmichael practice on his local track. Ricky and his buddy Ben Townley jumped high and did tail whips, and generally did a marvelous job of showing off. William loved it. Best of all, Ricky was the first to sign William's cast. We still have it, and it looks like a strange, headless body.
William's 6th birthday rolled around, and he chose to celebrate at the track. Originally, we had made plans to surprise William with a trip to Disney World. Just so you know, even if your child has a major accident and is in a body cast, that stupid mouse will not refund your deposit. We made the most of it just the same, and had a good night at the track. The boys pushed William around, and threw the football with him. (Pictured: William with his friend Keagan.)
Time dragged on, and after seven weeks the big day for cast removal finally arrived. William couldn't wait to ride a bike, and I couldn't wait for him to take a bath. We quickly learned that things don't always go as planned. William's leg was healing at an angle, and we held our breaths as Dr. Fahey debated surgery once again. Because William was growing so fast, he gambled, betting that William's growth would ultimately correct the problem. The decision was made to remove the spica and put William in a long leg cast.
William was glad to have one leg free, and quickly became somewhat mobile again with the help of a walker. He would practice in the yard where it was safe for him to fall over. I taught him the classic phrase, "I've fallen and I can't get up!" Being able to move around a bit helped ease the disappointment of still being in a cast.
When the day came for him to return to the track, everyone paused and watched as William, limping severely, but fearless, walked up the starting hill,
and rode again.
William has been searching for a BMX nickname. We tested out "Will the Thrill", but that is commonly used by A PRO rider William Grant. We've been through them all, including the Shakespearean notion of "the Immortal Bard". That one was quickly rejected. As it goes, William came up with a name himself, and shared it with me last week: