My daughter cracked her collar bone at school on Friday. She was spinning like a tornado to try to evade capture while playing tag in the gym, and crashed to the floor, twisting her shoulder behind her and stressing her clavicle severely. I won’t talk about the idiots at Misericordia ER who sent her home with no diagnosis, no care instructions, and a fold-it-yourself cheesecloth sling in a sealed plastic bag with a couple of safety pins. No advice or instructions as to how to tie the sling to best support her (undiagnosed) injury. I won’t discuss the attending physician who overrode the student doctor’s decision to send my daughter for X-rays. Or the six hours of pain she had to endure needlessly, and the implied accusations of malingering coming from the over-worked staff at an under-funded hospital. I will say that if you live in the area and your kids get hurt, take them to The Stollery Children’s Hospital. The Stollery has the absolute best paediatrics in the city, and they are the warmest, most welcoming practitioners I have ever had the pleasure of entrusting with my daughter’s care.
She’s okay. She’s tired and stiff and sore, but happy with a mountain of Lego and a stack of graphic novels. She has an adjustable pocket-sling and a rearranged bunk bed and some snazzy new LED fairy lights to make her lower bunk more awesome.
Here is the dream I had, the night of her injury:
My husband had been raging for hours, since the reminder message rang and the kids were sent downstairs to play in the playroom and pretend they didn’t know what was happening. Our family had been selected for Treatment by federal lottery. Our family had attended the Treatment at the assigned facility, which was a de-comissioned hotel banquet room at the city’s edge. I love you, we had said, over and over. It will be okay, we had lied, but hoped it was true. We had rocked the kids to Big Band swing playing loud over the speakers. Buffer music, like white noise, because hearing hopelessness wept through futile sobs would have been too much. Inhumane. But then there had been smashing glass and daylight and running. My husband yelling GO!, and my daughter screaming, and my son and I were outside while the Treatment Officers closed in. I’d been too dazed to run. Almost relieved when they caught us. The Case Officer had been very kind, all things considered. There were alternate Treatments that no one survived, for which there was growing legislative support. Especially for Cheaters, runners like me. She had lifted her mask and advised that, because my son was so young, my reaction was understandable but no less unacceptable. My husband and daughter would be declared Treated, and released. My son and I would be reassigned to a similar Treatment facility within the month. Joy, I cried, if you can believe it. I had cried joy, right there, in front of that woman with her Hazmat suiting and her full-face mask because she was giving us a second chance to beat the odds.
That was three weeks ago. The reassignment notice had arrived at my office by mail, morning before last. A below-ground banquet room had been located, to prevent any breach from recurring. The reminder call rang this morning, and my son and I were instructed to report for Treatment at 2pm. I’ll keep him safe, I told my husband, the tears burning channels in his face. You be ready, if I don’t make it. You have to be there to claim him, do you understand? I grabbed his face roughly and shook him hard. You can’t be sad, right now! You have to be ready! Because there had been stories, of course, of survivor children disappearing. Loaded into yellow buses that never made it to the Post-Treatment Assessment Centre. Tiny skulls and circling buzzards beyond the city walls. My husband had held my hands and kissed my face, and promised.
“I need to go pee, Mum,” my son told me, so we stopped in the public washrooms in the hall beside the banquet room. He had his pee and washed his hands, making lots of bubbles. It was a nice place. Very clean, bright white marble surfaces. Lots of shiny chrome. The Big Band music was playing again. To get us in the mood, I guess. Survivors said the Treatment made you dance. Some kind of neuro-muscular response while the chemicals shorted your nervous system, and heart and brain and lungs shut down. Might as well go out with a smile, right? Might as well keep on dancing.
So we danced to the doors, until it looked like they were closing, and my son took off in a flat-out run. Four years old and running like hell because he didn’t want to be late for his Treatment. Because he knew it would be bad for me, if he was. “Wait!” I screamed at his yellow raincoat disappearing into the room. “Wait,” I was sobbing because I couldn’t keep it together anymore and the Treatment Officers had my arms, and my toes were dragging along the floor, and I was so fucking grateful when they dropped me to the smooth, cold tile next to my son’s red rubber boots.
“I’m okay,” I told him, and pulled him into my lap. I kissed the top of his hair and his cold little fingers patted my cheeks.
“I’m gonna smooch your daylights out!” he said, in the same voice he uses to talk to himself in the mirror when he’s sent to his room on time-out. Working on being cheerful when everything really sucks. “And then I’m gonna smooch your nightlights on!”
“Okay,” I laughed, and stood with him. I lifted him up onto my shoulders as the nozzles began to hiss. The music got louder, just as before. And of course, we could still hear the cries. Punk would be better for this application, I thought. Or death metal fat with irony.
I ran with him bobbling behind my head across the dance floor and up onto the raised seating area. I held my hand on his lower back to keep him from falling. His fingers dug in hard under my jaw. Up onto the rose paisley banquette, stripping fingernails when I slipped. Up onto the glossed mahogany shelf where two banquettes met, back to back. The gas was white, like dry ice mist in 1980′s music videos. Air Supply, I thought, and for a minute I was giddy. It was just so goddamned funny. But then my son was falling and fear made everything knife-edge sharp and bright.
I grabbed him and overbalanced and sat down hard on the banquette backing, slamming my teeth through my tongue. He scrambled up onto my shoulders, and I told myself that meant he was safe. I remembered being thirty and empowered with promises never to lie to myself again. More hilarity.
There was a pillar. A coat rack with cast-iron hooks, so the people who came here to eat in their nice clothes could hang up their trenches and pea coats nearby. I thought about going out to dinner with my kids, last time. Our winter jackets bunched up behind us in the booths, keys and crayons always slipping to the floor. I shook my head. Dizzy, now.
There was a pillar. I edged along the banquet shelf. My son shifted his hands from my jaw to my hair, and the sudden rush of blood to my head made me pinwheel my arms and laugh out loud. Guess he’d been compressing an artery. Thank God it was only that. We got to the pillar. He was weeping because he could see that the dancing people were falling down on the floor, and I had scared him waving my arms. His tears were hot on my face. His little body was shaking. I wanted to lift him down, and hold him, sway with him and make it all better. But that would bring him closer to the gas and oh god it was rising so fast. I reached up and rubbed his back. I said, “We’re going to hold on to this post. You and me together, okay?”
“Look up high to the sky, okay? Make your face go up as high as you can. Okay, Bug? It’s important.”
I held on to the post with one arm, and raised my other over my head to keep my son from falling back. Cast iron hooks dug into my shins, and I pressed back harder, needing the fight. The white mist climbed to my shoulders. The nozzle hiss was fading. I love you, I said to my husband outside and my daughter with her grandma and my son in here holding on tight to his life. We’ll be okay, I promised. And prayed that it was true.
So ends your guided tour of the inside of my head. For now, anyway. I’ve got a house to clean, some kids to cuddle, and a pile of homework to finish. You all have a great weekend!