Tuesday, June 10, 2008

How I spent the first day of my kid's summer vacation

Early yesterday afternoon, the house was quiet. Mrs. KintlaLake was at work, and our spawns had just left to visit their grandparents across town. I was working in my home office.

Then the phone rang, and the circus came to town.

On the other end of the line was one of my wife's co-workers, telling me that Mrs. KintlaLake had just left work and was headed to the metro pediatric hospital. Something about our younger spawn, a bicycle, a wheelie and an ambulance.

Grabbing my wallet and keys, I dashed downstairs toward the garage and called my wife for more details. Best she knew, the spawn's hormone-charged BMX wheelie went past vertical and he hit the pavement hard. He was complaining of back pain. Grandparents, neighbors and our older spawn were keeping him immobile, right where he landed, until the squad arrived.

During my drive to the hospital, my wife called me four times -- not about the child's condition (which she didn't yet know), but twice to tell me about the tricky exit off the highway (she got her left and right mixed up anyway) and twice about valet parking at the ER (she paid for me in advance). When I arrived, I tossed my keys to the valet, ran through the ambulance entrance and into the trauma suite.

Seeing someone strapped to a back board is sobering, never mind a scared kid, more so when the scared kid's life is in my care. We got good news quickly, though, when the ER doctor confirmed that our spawn had movement, strength and sensation in all extremities and judged that the spinal cord likely wasn't involved.

He removed the tape, cervical restraint and straps and pulled out the back board. We all started breathing again.

That wasn't the end of it, of course. X-rays were ordered. Two hours later, we got word that the radiologist wanted a precautionary CT scan. We waited some more.

When I say "we," I'm talking about the patient, the patient's brother, the patient's parents and the patient's maternal grandparents. That's six people in an ER exam room, growing to seven or eight when hospital staff came calling. It reminded me of my own days as an orderly, when an entire Amish family would take up residence with their kin on our ward.

When we got bored with the exam room's tiny TV, we amused ourselves by playing with surgical gloves, which gave way to games with the touchless faucet and towel dispenser.

After a couple of hours of that, about the time we were discussing what we could build out of tongue depressors, a neurosurgery resident came to tell us that the young Wheelie King had, in fact, suffered a L-1 compression fracture. Ouch.

He was released to our care, with orders to be fitted with a corset brace to be worn for the next month or so. If there's any numbness in the extremities (etc.) during that time, it's back to the ER immediately. No sports.

Football tryouts or not, that brace virtually guarantees that he'll get all the girls anyway.

So all six of us walked out of the hospital to our four (count 'em) cars for the trip home. I was the first to approach the parking lot's automatic gate -- which refused to open automatically. Four drivers put four cars into reverse and backed into four parking spaces, and I volunteered to walk back to the hospital to ask the security guard to open the gate manually.

About that time, our older spawn happened to mention that his car was overheating -- it had dumped its coolant onto the ground while we were tending to Wheelie King.

Then the gate went up.

Not knowing how long that'd last, six people piled back into four cars and our little caravan -- including the overheating sedan -- made its escape.

Getting from the hospital to the highway meant navigating neighborhoods in which we'd prefer to spend as little time as possible, but we still needed to find someplace selling coolant for our overheater. That we did, in the form of a corner gas station and mini-mart.

For some reason, like women using a public restroom, we all had to do this together. Four cars, six people.

I ducked into the mini-mart, grabbed a gallon of pre-mix, paid for it, came out and filled the sedan's empty reservoir. Satisfied, I slammed the hood and the caravan was ready to get underway once again.

Sort of.

As we were about to leave, the grandparents were blocked in by a pair of motorcycles and a car. Apparently the motorcyclists had a difference of opinion with the driver, and they proceeded to argue their points over the roof of the grandparents' car. (Incidentally, there was a city police cruiser at the gas pumps, but the officers already had two detainees of their own. No help there.) Somehow, the grandparents managed to inch their way out from under the argument, and the caravan was homeward bound.

For me, the last leg of this odyssey was easy -- I'd volunteered to pick up fast food for the family at a local drive-through. Unlike the rest of the day, this went smoothly and quickly.

Back at home, I dropped the bags on the kitchen counter and flopped into a chair while my wife parceled out the food onto paper plates.

After a minute or so, she spoke. "Honey?"


"They forgot your cheeseburgers."

We called the older spawn. He picked up my cheeseburgers on his way home from filling his overheating car with four-dollar gas.

And that's what happened yesterday. Today our Wheelie King is resting on the couch, hurting but fine, text-messaging his way to romance and recovery.

(I would've posted this sooner, but a storm knocked out our power for two hours this morning.)