“Break Me into Pieces” // Chapter I

Southern New Jersey, United States @ Home // March 8, 2013 // Friday, 12:20am

The screaming of my daughter woke me from my slumber. A glance at the clock told me it’s shortly after midnight, and I had only been to bed for thirty minutes, asleep less than that. The screaming cries continue, and I dashed over to the converted crib where my daughter slept in our bedroom. Her name, for the purposes of this story, is Catelyn, and she was two years old.

I am Lavender Wynter, in my thirties, a secretary wife, and stay-at-home mother of two. Any and all calls from my children are my responsibility, so I leaned into my daughter’s converted toddler bed to check on her, my lips making the shushing noises that she had always found so soothing, but it had no effect. I thought perhaps it was a scare from a nightmare as my older son suffered from those when he turned two, so I tried to provide comfort without picking her up and coaxed her to lie back down. “It was just a bad dream, baby doll,” I said to her. “There are no monsters here. Just Mommy and Daddy. Shh, baby doll. It’s okay.”

Nothing. The screaming and crying only got louder when I tried to lie her back down, and after making sure her diaper wasn’t wet, I finally came to the conclusion that my little girl might be hungry and was bulking up for a growth spurt. I picked her up, took her downstairs, and settled her into her feeding chair. I plopped two slices of bread into the toaster, and as I turned back to try to shush her again, to tell her “It will just be a few minutes, baby doll,” that’s when I saw it.

Catelyn was cradling her right arm with her left. Concerned, I rushed over, gently removed her left hand, much to her screaming protests, and gently pulled back the right sleeve of her fleece pajamas passed down from her older brother. Shock wasn’t enough to describe what greeted my eyes.

Catelyn’s elbow was swollen to the size of an ostrich egg, and her arm was bent at an odd angle. Maternal instinct kicked fear and shock aside, and without hesitation, I yelled for my husband, “HONEY! GET UP. GET DOWN HERE. NOW! HURRY!”

The toaster popped behind me, and I ignored it. I yelled a second time, my voice four notches louder than the first, “HONEY! GET OUT OF BED. WE HAVE AN EMERGENCY!”

A thud hit the floor upstairs, and I waited for my husband to show. Bleary eyed, completely disorientated from the five milligrams of melatonin in his system, he appeared at the entryway between our living and dining room, trying to figure out what the commotion was all about. “Honey!” I called, snapping his attention at me, “Look at Catelyn’s arm. It’s swollen.”

Pupils contracted the following second and blue eyes flashed as realization at what he was looking at snapped alertness into my husband and sent whatever was left of the melatonin into the far corners of his personal lockdown. Thank the gods the man was military trained. “What happened?” he inquired.

“I don’t know. Get dressed. Get Adrian up and into a jacket. Bring me a thick blanket for Catelyn. Get everyone in the truck. You have to drive me to the ER,” I requested, and my husband disappeared to do my bidding. I yanked on some clothes, got in a jacket, and then carefully got Catelyn out of her chair, making sure her arm was stable and cradled to me, held her flush to my body all the while trying to comfort her through her wailing. I fought off the first wave of my tears.

I swim and float in an ocean of emotions, capable of empathizing with almost anyone. It is a preferred state-of-being for me, but it can be overwhelmingly debilitating when it involves children, especially my children. Catelyn’s level of distress and pain certainly felt like I had somehow been volunteered for Atlas’ job that night without any consideration whether I was fit for it or not.

My husband reappeared with our son in his arms, bleary eyed and confused, but didn’t fuss. Adrian has always been a blessing in that regard. He never fussed much when he knew something was going on, and he instinctively stayed out of the way if he couldn’t find something he thought he could help with.

It had been clear and beautiful that entire week, but it snowed that night; the flakes big and heavy as they fell to the ground. I dragged myself into our Pilot as I tried to keep most of the snow off my daughter who was dressed only in fleece pajamas and wrapped in a fleece blanket. I kept Catelyn’s tall but small form as tightly cradled against me as I could. My husband climbed into the driver’s seat, helped me pull the seat belt across our daughter and me, and I gave him directions to the hospital I knew of – the place the ambulance took me after I had delivered Catelyn by myself on a cold October night on the floor of my first floor bathroom.

When we pulled into where the entrance was supposed to be, everything was dark. Confused, I was about ready to cry when a horrifying realization dawned on me. We had received word via postal and electronic mail that Virtua hospital had moved to a new location, and I hadn’t the faintest idea where that was. “Are you sure this is the place, Hon?” my husband asked, looking around as I was.

Voice quivering with tears about ready to spill over, I answered “No. It’s not. I forgot they moved. I don’t know where an ER is.” I’m not sure if the desperation I felt was in my voice, but I had to fight falling apart. The clock on the Pilot’s dashboard read 1am by then, and Catelyn, apparently tired and feeling comfortable with how I was holding her, dozed off in my arms.

“What would you like me to do?” my husband asked again. My son was watching the snow falling outside, and I knew I needed an ER for my daughter, but where would we go? What do we do?

“I don’t know. What do you think we should do?” I asked. “Go home? Look up an ER? Dial 911? Catelyn’s sleeping. Should we wait till morning?” My husband was quiet as he thought about what to do. I’ve always prided myself as a logical person, capable of decision making under stressful conditions. What a night to realize that I was full of hot air. It was a sobering experience, but that isn’t going to get Catelyn the help she needed any faster. The snow was falling harder so driving around on slick and untreated side roads with the whole family in tow was also a dangerous thing.

It felt like the cosmos were dead set against us that night.

“Let’s go back home. Get Adrian back in bed. You need rest. I don’t know if the roads are being treated or not, and you’re compromised. Driving around might get us to an ER, it might not. It might land us in a ditch somewhere from slipping and sliding. I’ll take her into the pediatrician first thing in the morning,” I said. To this day, I still don’t know if what I decided was right or wrong, but the decision was made and we all lived with it, for better or worse.

There was one more option available to us, but we couldn’t afford it. The last time I had an ambulance ride that lasted for all of fifteen minutes cost us nearly a thousand dollars. With whatever my husband was making tapped out among a mortgage, a car payment, insurance, and credit card bills, I was barely making ends meet as we had just dropped over ten grand to have all the windows in the house replaced just a month before. Our gas bill in the winter was over three hundred dollars every month, and the children were still freezing in fleece pajamas because the heat was being drawn right out windows that were probably more than a decade old.

My husband pressed his foot back onto the accelerator and the truck moved forward. Twenty minutes later, we were back at our place, the excursion short, and I was about as confused as I could get. I requested a dosage of ibuprofen for Catelyn to help with the pain, and then sent my husband back to bed and to take our son with him. I climbed into a lay-z-boy, propped myself into place with a few pillows and a blanket, buried my cell phone against my shoulder, and held my daughter through the night for as long as I could stay awake so she wouldn’t jar her arm and wake up in screaming pain again. I eventually dozed off just as the sun was coming up and coloring the horizons in shades of pink and orange hues.

*   *   *   *   *

Southern New Jersey, United States @ Home // March 8, 2013 // Friday // 8:00am

There aren’t too many people in the world capable of sleeping in contorted positions comfortably and not move a muscle for the duration of rest required, but I am one of them. The pillows were simply there to make sure I didn’t have moving room and provide support, so when my cell phone buzzed at my shoulder at 8am sharp, I was still in the exact same position as when I settled in. Catelyn was still asleep, albeit sweating a little due to the shared body heat between us. If it weren’t for the situation I found myself in, the morning would have been perfect. There is truly no better feeling in the world than holding those you love as you fall asleep and find yourself holding them still when you wake, be it your child or significant other.

Moving at the rate of a forming glacier, I righted myself, shove-tucked the footrest back against the lay-z-boy, and ever-so-gently moved my little girl to the couch. I needed to call my pediatrician. She settled with a slight twitch, but I kept her arm in place. A two-step dance back over to the lay-z-boy found my cell phone back in my hand, and I kneeled on the cold, unforgiving floor next to the couch. The discomfort of my mind and the barely attached sanity made the cold floor merely an inconvenience that didn’t register with me at the time. I scrolled through my short list of contacts and hit “dial” when the pediatrician’s phone number highlighted. It was 8:02am, and the automatic phone system was still answering calls to tell their patients to call back during business hours. I grounded my teeth hard enough in frustration, I was sure I had cracked all the fillings in my molars. My fingers redialed at every minute, but it wasn’t until 8:16am did the call finally connected through to the answering service. After two menu selections, a woman’s voice answered on the other side. The breath I had been holding exited my lungs in a gush of relief. I could finally get some help.

“Hello, this is Dr. Brooks,” the doctor on-call said.

“Dr. Brooks. I’m Lavender Wynter. My daughter, Catelyn Wynter is a patient there. She has a horribly swollen right elbow, and it’s crooked. I don’t know if it’s sprained or…” my voice trailed off. I couldn’t finish the sentence for whatever reason that eluded me in that moment.

There was about twenty seconds of silence on the other end before Dr. Brooks asked me, “What’s her birthday?”

I provided her with Catelyn’s date-of-birth.

“We have a slot open at 9:15am,” she said, a statement and question rolled into one.

“That will be fine. Thank you,” I confirmed.

“We will see you then,” Dr. Brook replied and hung up the phone. I glanced at the clock. That was less than an hour away. It’ll be enough time for Catelyn to sleep a while longer while I get myself ready. I have time for a shower, and my mouth could use a scrub and a rinse with a pressure washer.

I heard a thud from a blackberry hitting a rug and suspected the phone probably vibrated itself off the nightstand. The sounds of feet landing on the same rug followed. Moments later, my husband appeared on the catwalk of our house, eyes alert and looking at me with questions his dry throat couldn’t give words to. “9:15,” I said. He nodded and then disappeared into the bathroom.

I collapsed against the couch, still on my knees. Fatigue was already setting in. Plagued by insomnia most nights out of a week, I sleep far less than what my body truly needed. The last forty-eight hours saw no more than six hours of sleep combined. I watched the sleeping form on the couch, curled in so much blanket that the only thing showing was that tiny little face framed by an unbelievable amount of hair. Her eyebrows were knitted close together, still in some level of distress, and that effectively kicked whatever exhaustion I felt to the far corners of my mind. I got to my feet, raced upstairs two at a time, yanked some fresh clothes out of my closet, and made it back to the couch in less than forty seconds. I’m fast when I needed to be.

My husband reappeared five minutes later in his own set of fresh clothes and made his way to the kitchen for coffee. “Coffee?” he asked on the way. I shook my head. I didn’t have time for that. I listened to the familiar clanking and rumbles of the espresso machine and counted the quad-shots of espresso coffee that were dumped into my husband’s coffee mug. The steamer kicked on with a squeal to heat the milk, and I waited until another squeal preceded silence as it was turned off. Climbing to my feet, I made my way into the kitchen. We don’t have a big house, two thousand square feet at most, so it never took much to get from one location to another.

I leaned against the refrigerator to watch my husband wrap up his coffee. “Watch Catelyn? I need a quick shower so I don’t smell so obscene,” I asked. My husband poured the warm milk into the coffee, took a sip, nodded, and went to sit next to the bundle of blanket on the couch. We left our boy asleep since we couldn’t deal with everything going on at once.

I disappeared into the bath downstairs and flipped the water on to warm up. I stripped, tied my hair up behind my head, and stepped into the shower as soon as steam formed from the heat. Under the spray of hot water, I washed myself on autopilot, my mind reeling with questions I had no answers to, the first being “what happened?” to “how did this happen?

I thought through the events of the previous night. We had been tumbling around on the master bed, but there had been no rough playing, and I made sure to stop any falling and tumbling since they were still far too young to understand what “dangerous” meant. Catelyn had slid off the bed when a jump didn’t quite land her as far up as she needed to climb onto the footboard of my large Italian-made bed. She landed in a loud thump, and did her traditional cry, more from shock than pain, I had suspected. I picked her up, dusted her off, and checked to make sure she was all right. While she did continue crying, it wasn’t any different from the usual  sound she made on tumbles. After a long hug and snuggle, she sniffed and wiggled out of my grasp. By then, it was time for a bath.

I remembered double checking her again for bruises that might tell me where she had hit herself on the way to the floor, but nothing showed that I could see. Catelyn didn’t act differently from all the other times I’ve given her a bath, all squeals and laughter as she played with the foam in the tub from the bubble bath. The last hefty activity with the children under my belt, it was time to read them a couple of stories, find some snuggle time, and settle them in for bed. Catelyn was, and still is, a fussy sleeper, so I didn’t think twice about how fussy she was being. She didn’t pass out until minutes after ten, and I came back downstairs to join my husband at the dining table as he worked on. When eleven came about, my husband turned in. I followed suit half an hour later, which brought me back to the beginning where Catelyn awoke screaming in pain.

I turned the water off, wished I could stay under the hot spray longer, but I had places to be and my daughter to take care of. I realized after I’ve yanked on some warm clothes that I’ll have to take Catelyn to the pediatrician on my own. We didn’t have anyone we could call to come babysit Adrian. No family and no friends close enough to help, and up till this point, I’ve never used a single baby-sitting service.  The whirlwind that was my life to that point had offered no time for meeting new people. I didn’t have fellow mothers to call upon in times of emergencies. If there was any one time where I truly regretted being so isolated, it was then. The weight of overwhelmed was the beginning of a downward slide into depression.

*   *   *   *   *

Southern New Jersey, United States @ Pediatrician’s Office // March 8, 2013 // Friday // 9:30am

The doctor’s office felt colder than usual. Every second passed as an eternity until the knock came at the door. Dr. Brooks poked her head through. “Morning,” she greeted with a smile as she stepped inside. Two long strides put her next to the examination table, and I stood up to put Catelyn down, much to her protests. “What have we here? What happened?” Dr. Brooks asked over the screams and crying of Catelyn, an obvious mixture of pain and indignation of being removed from the one source of comfort and heat since this all started.

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” I answered truthfully, half-yelling over the perfect-pitch that drowned out all else. It took me some time to calm down Catelyn to a level the doctor and I could talk with one another.

“You said everything was all right until she woke up last night,” Dr. Brooks confirmed, gently touching and moving Catelyn’s arm despite the hysterical crying.

“Yes, and we raced to the ER where the old Virtua Hospital was, only to realize they had moved, and I haven’t the faintest idea where the next closest ER was to us.” This was my fault, and I understood the grave mistake I made. When Virtua had informed us via US Postal Service that they were moving, I should have done what any other responsible mother would do – tack it up on the bulletin board in my dining room, saved the new address in my GPS, and made sure I knew how to get there. But I was negligent, and this was the result. Punishment from the Seven Hells couldn’t make me feel worse than what I was doing to myself. My perception that I was a responsible mother was turned on its axis that day, and I was fairly certain at that point in time, it’s something I will never turn back without a lot of self-flagellation and evidence to the contrary.

Dr. Brooks nodded, but her facial expression never changed to one of accusation that I should have known better. “It is horribly swollen, and without an x-ray, I can’t confirm if this was a very bad sprain or something is broken. I don’t want to move her too much because it might cause further damage. I suspect something got broken, so you need to go to an ER. They’ll be able to take x-rays.”

The particular verdict didn’t so much as stir a reaction from me. It slid off my shoulders as if I had been finely coated in porcelain to land in a puddle of words around my feet as I mentally stared at them. It felt like an out-of-body experience, walking in the eye of a hurricane, while everything else around me screamed absolute chaos. “Of course,” were the only words my brain could come up with where my lips simply formed the shape of the words while my throat gave it sound. I was on autopilot, and words were not being processed past surface understanding.

“Do you know where the Virtua ER is? They have an ER for children,” Dr. Brooks asked as we left the examination room. I shook my head, and she rounded the tall counters where doctors sat to fill out their paperwork for patients at a row of computers that had been incorporated into the system just earlier in the year. I saw the usual doctor my children were attended by, and his facial expression mimicked Dr. Brook’s. It was one of comfort and concern.

“Everything will work out, don’t worry too much,” he said. I suppose in my state, my facial expressions were rather unguarded and worn on my sleeve. “Keep us updated about what happens, all right? Accidents happen. We see so many cases; this is nothing out of the norm.”

Dr. Brooks had scribbled down on a piece of paper the directions to the Virtua emergency room, and I accepted with gratitude. “Thank you,” was all I could manage along with a smile and a nod before near-running out of the complex. When a child is hurt, it didn’t matter if one could run like the wind or wore Hermes’ winged boots. Light speed still felt too slow, and I wasn’t moving anywhere close to that. It didn’t matter how many checkpoints one has successfully navigated. This was all about endgame. The successes or failures to achieve that goal didn’t matter. Until my daughter is on her way to getting better, the process getting there simply couldn’t happen fast enough.

To my dismay, I couldn’t read the doctor’s handwriting. My eyes simply weren’t overly trained to read cursive, and with the modern era being what it is, almost everything I read is in print. The only thing hand-written I ever read is my grocery list and I rarely use “chicken scratch” as a chosen font. As trusty as the GPS unit is in the car, it has a wicked time finding places, and I doubt the moved location had been updated on the unit.

With Catelyn carefully settled back into her booster seat, I climbed into the SUV and leaned my head against the steering wheel. For a few moments, I despised how easy it was to have and keep friends who lived around the world because at moments such as these, I had no one local.

*   *   *   *   *

Southern New Jersey, United States @ Virtua Hospital – ER // March 8, 2013 // Friday // 12:30pm

The winter had been blessedly warm this season, but it was a cold day with ice angels carried in on the current entering the United States from Canada out west just above North Dakota to sweep across the nation and head back home to Nova Scotia. Without the ability to dress Catelyn as warmly as I would like, she was swaddled in blankets and placed in a stroller, thankfully, without too much fuss.

The pediatric emergency waiting area had one other mother there with a boy who looked two years older than Catelyn. Since it was a new building, everything looked as it should – clean, white, and filled with modern conveniences. Two fifty-plus-inch screens were showing cartoons with plenty of bookshelves crafted into space dividers and surrounded by low tables and chairs and couches for both adults and children. Assortments of books for various levels of readers and babies lined bookshelves and tables and the music coming through the out-of-sight musical system was classical in nature. A receptionist who looked perhaps the same age I was or maybe just a couple of years younger manned the check-in station.

Two hours of sleep in the past twenty four had tiredness creeping through my limbs. My mind was clear, albeit frantic, but my limbs were so stiff I felt robotic in movement and in thoughts. I was on auto-pilot, functioning on bare minimum mentally to conserve energy for the doctors, the procedures, and whatever else this situation needed to throw at me. I was not expecting, and in no way prepared, to deal with what greeted me later that day.

I registered Catelyn into the system, and after a few moments, I was directed to sit and wait. I wheeled the stroller towards one of the TV monitors in hopes that it will keep Catelyn entertained while I collapsed ungracefully into the cushioned seating with a prayer that I could at least just rest a bit. With nothing to burn, my body was shifting into the reserves, and I could feel the trembling from low blood sugar appear and disappear. I felt like gelatin goo.

Unable to move, boredom set in for Catelyn, completely uninterested in the shows being aired. My prayers weren’t answered, but I wasn’t expecting them to be at any rate. I collected a couple of books within arm’s reach and tried to read to her, but she was having none of it, preferring to flip through the pages and look at the pictures instead. Three books later, she was done with that activity and the fussing started anew and it echoed within the confines of white, concrete walls. My husband once jokingly described Catelyn’s wailing as a “banshee soundtrack brought to you by THX surround sound on maximum” Despite it being an attempt at humor, it wasn’t any less true. No one glanced at me in annoyance, thankfully, but it didn’t help me feel any better. There is a difference between people not minding a disturbance and understanding one enough to ignore it. As parents, we fall into the category of the latter, and despite the many occurrences I have returned apologies with bright smiles and reassurances, it is quite apparent on either the father’s, mother’s, or in most cases, both parents’ faces that while relieved at the understanding, it didn’t set them at ease.

Eventually, I pulled out the bag of cheddar goldfish crackers my husband packed for her before dropping us off at the ER, and instant silence drowned out the echoes of her wailing. Catelyn was still hungry, and that was to be expected. Between the doctor’s office and Virtua’s pediatric ER, my husband and I warmed up some chicken noodle soup to feed Catelyn as she hadn’t eaten anything since dinner the previous night. It took a while as she fought us, but was eventually overcome when the soup flowed over taste buds and warmed a starving, empty tummy. She ate most of the noodles, but drank all the soup and took a dose of Tylenol with minimal fuss as long as she was cradled in my arms. My husband offered to fix me something, but my insides were so twisted from stressing and self-flagellations it would be impossible to keep anything down. I drank the offered water, looked up the address to the ER while my husband placed Adrian into his booster seat, and then grabbed whatever I thought I needed for the long-haul in a hospital. My husband will have to come back to pack us some clothes and other toiletries for our expected hospital stay.

What felt like an eternity was probably no longer than a half hour in the waiting room before Catelyn’s name was called by the registered nurse in an office. The office was small, but still spacey enough to fit in a stroller amongst all the equipment. Catelyn’s vitals were taken down – weight, height, blood pressure, what happened, and whatever else the nurse needed while I combat and attempt to calm, without success, a two-year-old in pain. Then we were shown to a patient room.

There were four of them, side-by-side all along a wall with a counter directly in front of the two in the middle. A nurse, whether male or female, manned the station at all times. The wall facing the counter was nothing but glass. A bed on wheels sat in the middle of the room, and I find myself surrounded by the standard array of machinery one would most commonly need in an emergency situation. Another LCD screen was mounted to the wall, and there was a full panel remote hanging over the backside of the bed. On it were controls for channels, volume, and a few other options. That must be what operated the TV.

A woman in scrubs entered shortly after I settled down in a chair next to the bed Catelyn was resting on. She introduced herself like every personnel was required to do, but her name entered one ear to slither out through the other. There were simply too many names to keep track of, and I couldn’t afford spending the energy for name memorization and face recognition. My focus was my daughter. Unless the information being presented involved steps to getting her better, my mind automatically dropped everything else as white noise into the trash can. The lightness and cheer in the voice of this woman did make me want to grind my teeth, but this was her efforts to make things better, not worse.

“So what happened?” I swore there was an echo in my brain due to the overwhelming sense of déjà vu behind that question.

“My daughter woke up last night around midnight…” thus began the same speech I wished I had tape recorded by that time so I could just play it on loop.

“Okay, well, we’re going to get Catelyn taken care of. Did anyone give her anything for the pain previously?” she asked.

“I gave her some Tylenol at 11:38am, so she will be in need of another dose around 3:38pm,” was my automatic answer. I have a knack for details – to the point of anal at times, and it tends to drive most people I work with stir-crazy. When it came to medication schedules, however, it was an unbeatable asset.

“All right. I’ll be back to give her that when the time comes,” she smiled as she scribbled down the information. “We’re going to get her arm x-rayed, okay?”

A tiny part of my brain echoed an answer, And do people actually say no?

“Of course. Thank you very much,” I replied back, certain it was a rhetorical question, but felt it best to confirm nevertheless.

“Great!” Then pointing to the control panel draping over the backside of Catelyn’s bed, she explained, “That’s the control for the TV. You can adjust everything from there!”

“Thank you,” I said again upon her exit.

As I was flipping through the channels to find one that was children friendly or something Catelyn was familiar with, a woman entered the room with a mobile cart equipped with a computer, scanner, and a myriad of other things. The vast array of technology that was supposed to aid in streamlining the paperwork process and assist the patients get help faster has only ever worked in a perfect scenario imagined by management and sold by marketers but was never proven to be effective. When seconds felt like miniscule eternities, the gods themselves couldn’t make me feel light speed was fast enough. Nevertheless, the process had to be completed despite the number of times I’ve already repeated my social security number, spelled out Catelyn’s name, confirmed her birthday, the name of my husband, his social security number, his employer, and where they were based out of – things needed for the medical insurance, pulled out the small piece of plastic from my wallet, replaced it back in my wallet, and then waited as technology failed time and time again – if it wasn’t the network having issues, then the printer was broken and the representative had to run down the hall to grab the printout for me to put my signature on it. Then she was gone, and I was back to channel surfing. Eventually I found something Catelyn was familiar with and waited for the next portion of whatever-was-supposed-to-happen to walk through the sliding glass door.

One can judge my nervousness by my hands. They won’t stop moving for any reason, and I’ve been rubbing circles on my daughter’s hand, stroking her from scalp to toes, toes to scalp, and pulling the beautiful little fingers of the one uninjured arm to my lips for kisses. As long as I kept focus on Catelyn, I could keep the crying that threatened to choke up my throat at bay. Catelyn watched TV, finally finding some semi-comfortable position to rest on the bed.

In the half hour following that, a couple of people in scrubs, led by a doctor, entered our room, introduced themselves, and asked me these questions:

“What happened?” The answer I gave was always “I honestly don’t know.”

“Did she fall out of her crib?” was met with “No, we converted her crib to a daybed with an entrance only on one side. There is no physical way for her to roll out of it, and she had no reason to fall out of it from climbing.”

“Did she fall from anything else?” was granted “I do not believe so. She was fine when she fell asleep at bedtime. When she woke us with her crying, she was still in her crib.”

I even provided the information that my daughter was using Pottery Barn’s Kendall crib, that it had been converted with the “Kendall crib guardrail conversion kit,” and she knew how to get in and out of her crib safely. She didn’t have the capabilities to climb over the taller parts of her crib like her older brother could.

It wasn’t difficult to tell that they were all confused. Every one of them kept asking me if Catelyn had fallen, and I suppose I should have caught onto it by then, but in a sea of conversations with so many different people, homing in on one specific word was like trying to see individual trees while flying at twenty thousand feet. One simply can’t, and I was too busy trying to figure out what might’ve happened as well.

By the third conversation, a memory triggered in my mind to September 2012 when Catelyn had put her leg through between the slats of her crib and couldn’t pull it back out. Due to the way the crib’s bars were built – wide and flat instead of round – we couldn’t flex it. The only way we could get Catelyn’s knee back through the slat was by physically ripping off one of the bars. So, what if Catelyn had stuck her arm through the slat in her sleep and something happened for this to have happened?

“That’s a possibility, yes,” was the answer I was given after offering my thoughts. Clearly she didn’t believe it, but she, along with the rest of them, would offer nothing in return. I felt like I was a suspect in an interrogation room where they were just waiting for me to spew a comment without an attorney present that might incriminate me. Doctor-patient confidentiality does not extend to law enforcement, and in the area of children, the lines are blurred even further. They would rather be “safe than sorry” on their side of the investigation.

The most frustrating thing about medical professionals is their hesitancy – and sometimes, outright refusal – to give hints because the United States have become the most “sue-happy” nation I have ever lived in or visited in my life. As much as some of the doctors would like to sooth a mother frustrated and scared out of her mind, the administration these doctors work within is the lynchpin when it came to disclosure and law enforcement. New Jersey is a wonderful state despite how expensive it is to live here, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t live in the fear that if I was to raise a hand against my child in an act of discipline, someone would swoop in and take them away from me because I “abused” my children. I knew I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

That triggered all forms of self-preservation, and my maternal instinct to protect what is mine went into overdrive. After that conversation, I offered nothing else in return except short phrases and one sentence answers, if I couldn’t get away from a single-word answer. If no one was willing to help me understand what might have happened, there was no reason for me to help them with answers outside of my daughter’s physical condition.

Catelyn protested being moved for x-rays, and the boa wrapped around my heart squeezed just that much tighter, its phantom tongue licking at my nerve endings and forcing cold sweat through my pores. It was nearly three in the afternoon by then, and I was sure the Tylenol I gave her was wearing out. The faster we could get the x-rays over, the sooner they can set Catelyn’s arm in a temporary cast and provide another dose of pain relief.

The number of small eternities that marked the passing of minutes was starting to feel like a year had passed. The radiologist was a rather robust woman who had a kind voice and tried to be as gentle and soothing as possible against a screaming child. After all, no one wants little ones to be so hurt and in so much pain, but the right angle is instrumental in showing the doctors what was wrong and how it could be resolved. It didn’t stop the accusation my heart and mind heard in Catelyn’s voice through all that crying and screaming: Why are you letting these people hurt me more, Mommy? I trusted you. You’re supposed to protect me! Don’t you love me anymore?

As soon as the radiologist gave her affirmation that everything needed came out beautifully and handed me a string of stickers for Catelyn as a reward, I near-ran back to the room that was ours for that afternoon. I needed to comfort Catelyn in my own space. Being around so many people in such a short time-span was slowly eating away at my outer shell of defense. I didn’t know how much longer this would take, and the feeling that something sinister encroached into my realm of existence was starting to gain in proverbial weight. My husband’s voice punched through the haze of organized chaos. All injuries sustained by a minor must be reported, I remembered him telling me upon the return of the first failed ER trip. I may not have understood all the intricate details, but instinct told me to be on the lookout. My “I don’t know” answers will come back to haunt me, I realized but there was little I could do about that.

The woman that first came by to ask about Catelyn’s condition for her chart returned with a dose of Tylenol, and I didn’t know I could ever be so grateful for drugs. Catelyn wouldn’t let the woman administer the drug, so I had to do it myself, but she was more than happy to leave me with the syringe dropper when I asked for it. Oh, little one, I thought with a smile, did you know that back when Mommy was your age, we didn’t have sweet flavored anything in medication? As I rocked Catelyn back and forth in that familiar motion of being in a womb, her cries settled into whimpers with her little fist curled in a death grip around my shirt.

When Catelyn’s crying and whimpering finally died down, I resettled her back on the bed just in time for a man to knock and enter. The first thought that went through my mind was that he was huge and with the perfect costume at a mall, most children would assuredly believe the man to be Santa Clause. He was here to stabilize Catelyn’s elbow. I grew tired of having to hold down my daughter while she fought against everything and everyone. To the technician’s credit, he kept the smile on his face, continued talking to her by asking questions and remarking on her pretty shoes or how beautiful something she was wearing was, and letting her play with anything that caught Catelyn’s interest as long as it wasn’t dangerous. That would be the first twenty minutes of this hellish journey that didn’t felt like a forever. Once done, the technician left, and I got onto the bed with Catelyn. Exhausted, she buried her head against me as well as she could as her eyelids did the drooping dance that often had her father and me chuckling at home. I would have smiled, but there was little joy to be had then.

When Catelyn finally relaxed into sleep, I slid back off, turned off the TV, and collapsed into a chair. Catch some sleep yourself, I heard my brain tell me. The notion was awfully tempting, but I reconsidered. I didn’t know how long it was going to take for the x-ray scans to be produced and the doctors to take a look at them. I certainly didn’t want the personnel to have an impression that I was relaxed enough to sleep when my daughter was still injured. Unfortunately for me, that meant I’ll spend the next however long reliving all the events up till that point in my head in self-rebuke that would make a Roman Catholic Flagellant proud. In the years my husband and I have known each other, he once commented that I was unique. The world and its people could wrong me, and I would forgive if simply asked. I would never forget, no, but I would forgive; readily and without hesitation and most likely never bring the offense up again. Why it is that I never grant myself that same forgiveness for mistakes I may or may not have made was what made me unique to him. “Because once forgiven, most forget a mistake. I never want to forget, and by not forgiving myself, I live in eternal repentance. Hopefully that will inspire the learning from my mistakes and never to do it again,” was the explanation I gave him. I was twenty-two. I knew my husband, then-best-friend, since I was nineteen. “Young and naïve” summed up those years pretty well.

As a parent, I made a multitude of mistakes that day. Was I negligent because I didn’t know what happened to my child? Was it wrong to go home on a snowing night instead of looking for another ER? Should I have bypassed my pediatrician and headed for the ER on my own first thing in the morning instead? I wished then that I had followed my high school ambitions to become an attorney. My logical self snorted at the notion. You know as well as I do how dangerous the “what if” game can be. Change that one point in your past, and you would not have the husband that you do, the children you managed to have, or enjoy life in the manner that you are currently doing so. Your life could have been better. It could have been worse too. You might have had to give up writing permanently after high school. Stay in the now. Catelyn needs you to, stupid, my mind reminded me.

“Mrs. Wynter?” a voice at the door interrupted my thoughts. It was the woman who provided the dose of Tylenol for Catelyn.

“Yes?” I answered as I got to my feet, every tired bone in my body in protest.

“The x-rays show that Catelyn’s arm is broken. We’re currently trying to contact the orthopedic surgeon over at the children’s hospital to get another opinion, but we don’t know if we’ll be able to reach him. I just wanted to let you know that we might have to transfer your daughter over there. We don’t have an orthopedic surgeon at the moment, and they have better facilities that cater to children,” she said.

My heart sank. Catelyn’s arm is, indeed, broken; not just horribly sprained. “All right, thank you,” I acknowledged with a dip of my head and the woman left. I sat back down in the chair and hit the speed dial button for my husband on my mobile phone.

“Hello?”

“Hey,” I answered.

“How’s it going?” my husband asked over what sounded like wrestling between father and son for the phone. “Adrian, stop it!” confirmed my suspicions as a wail of protest made me feel worse than I already was. While I’m not what society coins as a “helicopter parent,” I know just how trying my children can be and dislike leaving my husband alone with even just one with all this hanging over our heads.

“The x-rays they took confirmed that Catelyn’s arm is broken. Catelyn’s arm is stabilized for now. They say they’re trying to get a hold of a surgeon over at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, but didn’t know how successful they might be. We might have to be transferred over there,” I explained.

“Wait, why?” my husband asked.

“They don’t have an orthopedic surgeon here, and they don’t have facilities catered towards children,” I replied, the answer as beyond me as it is my husband.

“But they have a children’s ER?” If the situation wasn’t so stressful, I would’ve laughed at the déjà vu question as it echoed with mine. My husband is correct. It didn’t make sense to have a hospital with a special children’s emergency room when the hospital itself cannot handle children cases like Catelyn.

“I honestly don’t know what to tell you, Hon. All I know is that we might be transferred over to Philadelphia. Unless you think there’s one here in New Jersey?” I asked.

The sigh of frustration from the other end echoed the one inside me, and it was an overwhelming feeling. Despite being rather fluent with words, I had nothing else to offer at the end of that. Neither one of us wanted to give up the only link to each other at that point, but staying connected just to listen to silence will wear both of us out faster than either one of our children’s antics.

“I love you. I’ll keep you updated as things happen,” I finally said to break the silence.

“Okay. Love you, too,” he answered. I could hear the grinding frustration in my husband’s voice. This was as hard on him as it was on me, if not worse. He wanted to be here with me, be the support he knew I needed, but we couldn’t bring Adrian to the ER without him throwing a fit or having a temper tantrum when boredom sets in for him. Catelyn was physically more attached to me than my husband in these circumstances; which meant I had to be the one who stayed with her while my husband stayed home with our boy.

“Bye,” I said.

“Bye,” he answered.

It killed me a little bit every time I’ve had to hit the disconnect button on my husband, and it still does, to this day. I didn’t ever get over the reminder that for more than three years since he asked me to wait for him, all my husband and I had were emails, cell phone calls, and GTalk applications to stay with each other as he was in New Jersey and I was in Texas or China. Care packages to China consisted of novels and DVDs of shows I’ve been missing while gone, and the only chances of seeing one another involved pictures we happened to be in. The creeping ice that accompanied the feeling of being alone was incapacitating, and it was all I could do to shove reinforced steel rebar against the floodgates holding back an ocean of tears I knew were on the other side.

Eventually, the doctor came by to visit me again and explained that Catelyn suffered a “supracondylar fracture of the humerus.” At the time, I didn’t understand just how critical that injury was, but logic dictated that if it required the transfer to another hospital that specialized in children and they needed to reach an orthopedic surgeon for a consult, then it had to be, as far as I was concerned, beyond critical. The staff at Virtua was not able to reach the person they were looking for over at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, what they like to call “CHOP” for short, but we were being transferred over as they’ve got more people on staff who can help with situations like this. There will be an ambulance to take us to the next destination. I called my husband back up to give him an update. With a promise that he will come by when we’ve settled into the hospital room for the night, I hung up on what I thought was going to be the last conversation until after a doctor’s diagnosis over at the other hospital.

Typically, when I have to transport my children from one location to another, the solution is rather simple. I strap both into their car seats, hop into the driver’s seat, and off we go on a brand new adventure; because it’s always an adventure with children under the age of five. Ambulances, from what I understand, usually come with the mobile gurney, so unless the paramedics were strapping a two-year-old Catelyn to it completely flat on her back, the only other solution was for me to hold her during the transport. Legally, that’s breaking a slew of laws.

It took nearly forty minutes for the ambulance to be ready. I found myself in bewilderment when the transport gurney showed up with an infant car seat strapped to the top of it. The sight was ridiculous, but I’m certain it made parents feel better about the transport of their precious offspring. Unfortunately, the reason for my bewilderment was the infant car seat. No less than three people had asked me questions about what kind of car seat I used for Catelyn. After telling them that she needed at least a convertible car seat, if they didn’t have a full harness car seat available, an infant car seat was relayed and brought. I even went so far as to explain that Catelyn had outgrown an infant car seat by the time she was about nine months old. Catelyn is tall for her age, constantly in the ninety-two-or-more percentile whenever she goes to the pediatrician for a wellness visit. I often joked that with her weight in the thirtieth percentile, she really was a miniature supermodel – tall, skinny, with child curves.

Locating a replacement took another half hour. With her arm stabilized, I placed her into the child seat that looked like it needed to be retired, climbed into the ambulance after my daughter, and pinched myself for the sixteenth time that day, just hoping that maybe this was all just a nightmare.

With a lurch forward, we were headed for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the real beginning of my nightmare. I just wished I had some actual warning.

*   *   *   *   *

To be continued… in chapter 2.

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