Friday, August 28, 2020

Trials and tribulations

August has not been a good month at Casa Schafer. Two weeks ago, my son had a bad fall at trampoline practice and broke both his arms, the right one very badly.

Trampolining is his passion. He's been taking classes with a coach for a few years now, and last year he began competing. Ever since NZ came out of our original lockdown, he's been training 3 times a week, preparing to compete again.

On that fateful Friday two weeks ago, he was practicing a move known as a crash dive ball-out. The idea is to extend straight out like Superman into a dive toward the trampoline, then at the last minute tuck over to land on your back before doing a flip. The trick went wrong for him mid-dive, and he wasn't able to tuck over. He plummeted down face-first and threw out his arms in reflex. The coach yanked the crash mat under him, but only had time to get it partway. His left arm hit the cushioned mat. The left forearm bones broke, in a straightforward fracture. 

The right arm hit the tramp. Olympic-style tramps have a lot of spring tension to send a gymnast sky-high. That same spring tension means the surface is very stiff. Falling from a great height onto a locked arm was like driving his arm straight into concrete. The forearm bones snapped with tremendous force.

If you're wondering what that does to an arm, it's not pretty. Think horrible, unnatural angles and bloody bones protruding from the skin. The sight will haunt my nightmares for a long time to come. But he was lucky. Circulation to his hand and fingers was not compromised. 

The pain was bad, though. Our area is very rural, so it took the ambulance 45 minutes to arrive. I wasn't there for the accident; I'd arranged for another parent to do pick-up duty that evening. I was cooking dinner, happily considering weekend plans, when I got the call that every parent dreads: Your son is badly hurt. I've called the ambulance, but you should come.  

I got there long before the ambulance. Yet I couldn't go to my son; he was lying on the trampoline, covered by some spare hoodies, the coach at his side. She warned me that any motion of the trampoline (as from me stepping on it) would significantly increase his pain. All I could do was help distract him by talking, and pray for the paramedics to hurry up.

Thank goodness, when they did arrive, they took great care of him. He was choppered to the nearest major hospital, 270 km away in Dunedin. I was able to ride with him in the helicopter. My husband frantically packed some bags and drove to meet us, at "bat out of hell" speed, thankfully without crashing. At the hospital, the trauma team set my son's arms, and scheduled him for surgery first thing in the morning.

The 4 hours he spent in surgery was the longest wait of my life. Happily, the work to repair his arms went well, and he's expected to make a full recovery. 

Post surgery, working on his left-fingered gaming skills in hospital. The children's ward rooms in Dunedin are pretty sweet. PlayStation, TV, bed for a parent, la-z-boy armchair, the works. It doesn't help much in the middle of the night when your child is in pain, but thankfully the nurses are also awesome.

The road will be long. His left arm is in a full cast--he can move his fingers pretty readily, but due to the rigidity of the cast, can't do much with the arm. The right arm has temporary titanium rods holding the bones in place, so it doesn't need a cast. But that arm and hand are still terribly sore while the damaged muscles and displaced nerves heal. His fingers can all move, but they're very weak. He'll need physical therapy once his arm recovers enough to use.

At least he's out of the hospital. But with both arms out of commission, he can't do much for himself. Eating, drinking, bathing, toileting, all of it needs assistance. I'm home schooling him until he has the use of at least one hand again. This is helped by his school having prepared for a potential new lockdown. (The South Island of New Zealand so far remains in Level 2 after the recent virus resurgence in Auckland. Level 2 means everything open, but with social distancing measures in place, and ready to lock down if needed.) Most of his weekly class materials are available online, so I can help him follow right along with the coursework. 

This kind of home teaching takes way more of my time than ordinary remote learning does, since I have to click on things for him, turn pages for him, fill out his answers on worksheets, etc. I joke that it's hands-on home schooling where I am the hands. I'm very fortunate that we're in a position where I can put my contracting work on hold for a little while, and that my husband also works from home.

I'm also incredibly grateful for New Zealand's health system. Injuries from accidents are 100% covered for anyone, whether NZ residents like us or tourists, by the government's accident compensation scheme, or ACC. My son's helicopter ride, his surgery, his 5 days in the children's ward, his follow-up visits and x-rays and prescriptions, all the specialists and therapists who attended him in the hospital, all of it comes at no cost to us. The ACC people even called me up to ask how they can help financially with travel expenses for our stays in Dunedin, or any special devices my son might need for school, that kind of thing. The lady was so kind and helpful I just about cried. I wish every parent with an injured child could simply focus on their recovery without worrying over how much it will cost.

(For comparison, 11 years ago in Colorado when I had my son via C-section, I had to pay about $6,000 in deductible and co-pays for my surgery and 5-day hospital stay. This was with the top level of health insurance from an excellent employer. And no helicopter ride.) 

Our local community has also been wonderful. Friends and fellow trampoline club parents have made meals for us and sent gifts and cards and offered all kinds of help in cheering up my son and keeping him company during his recovery. I can't thank them enough.

Even with all the help and support, it's still a tough road for the kiddo to walk. (At least he can walk! We strap up his arms in slings and go out for a little longer walk every day.) 

On a walk. The pained expression is because his right arm still hurts when bent in a sling. It gets better by the day, though.

We don't know how fast he will recover; all we can do is take it day by day. We do a lot of board games, and family movies, and gentle cuddles. Whoever you are, wherever you are, if you've got the full use of your hands, take a moment to revel in all you can do with them. We take so much for granted. I feel like I never will again.