It is a sound at a ball park that you hear all the time, a crack – something hard connecting with something hard. Only this time, the thing the hard ball was hitting wasn’t a bat, it was my four-year-old son’s head.
I heard someone from the opposite field yell, “Head’s up!” and even though that’s a warning to take cover because a foul ball is flying out from a field, I casually did what many do, I looked up. The sun was still glaring, even after 7pm and I couldn’t find the ball in the cloudless sky. I wasn’t even sure it was headed in our direction. From far away, I heard the groundskeeper yell my child’s name like one of those slow motion replays, “Juuuuliiiussssss… Nooooooo!” I heard the thwack of something being hit and turned my head five feet to the right, just in time to see my baby fall to the ground.
I immediately grabbed for my child, clutching him to me and rocking like the insane. I kept thinking, “That did not just happen.” and I would rock some more. I looked down and it registered that he was crying, and that it was a good thing. A crowd gathered. An ambulance was called. A mom at the field, who happened to be a doctor, said she thought he’d be fine, but her eyes were large with worry. She advised us to go to the hospital “just to be safe.” Her words registered, but I’m sure I looked crazy, just blankly staring up at her without blinking. I was still thinking, “That did not just happen.”
A policeman came, then some firemen, then the ambulance. Howard was there, naturally, since he is the coach for our older son Tyler’s team whose game we were there to watch. I was asked routine questions, the first being, “Are you the mom?”
“Yes.” I’m the mom, I answered, but it felt false and guilty in my mouth. I’m the mom my brain said, but I wasn’t there for my child. I didn’t protect him. What kind of mom is that? I clutched Julius closer, nestling his sobbing face to me.
They all, in turn, tried to examine him – the basic neurological stuff you do when someone might have a concussion – check the eyes, find the bruise, squeeze some fingers, but by now, Julius who had calmed some from his incident was more worked up in fear of these strangers wanting to talk to him and touch him.
In the background noise, I heard the other coach asking if they should continue playing. A random woman retelling someone what had happened. A boy, asking my other son Michael, “Is that your brother?”
It’s odd the things that you register even in the midst of trauma; like that one of the policemen on the scene was my neighbor and was wearing the kind of sunglasses you see in movies to depict the cool cop, and that one of the EMS guys who tried to take Julius’ pulse had a really large and wrinkled thumb.
We climbed into the ambulance, and I was strapped to the gurney with Julius on my lap crying hysterically. Like most four-year-olds, just the word doctor brings instant panic, so it was normal for him to freak out. I was desperately trying to convince myself that he was behaving “normal” and would be okay, but he refused to make real eye contact and just continued crying, burrowing himself further into me.
The ice pack I was haphazardly trying to hold on his head, he flung across the ambulance. I liked that spunk, but Natasha Richardson loomed in the back of my brain. One second. One moment. Life changes on a dime. Nothing ever happens till it happens to you. All true and the thought pounded into my head. Please God, let this not be that moment.
The EMS people sat around us trying to do their jobs with little success. Finally, they gave up on assessing Julius and took to trying to amuse him. The man with the giant, wrinkly thumb attempted to make a balloon from one of the rubber surgical gloves. You would have thought he had never blown up a balloon the way he huffed and puffed and nothing happened. Finally after repeated attempts, twice filling the glove somewhat with air only to lose it with his next breath, he managed to blow up a medium-sized purple cow utter. Watching his attempt to tie it was equally comical, although I shouldn’t have been surprised with the challenges of his aberrant finger. He was ultimately unable to complete this task, finally accepting surgical tape from one of the other attendees to wrap it closed. Julius never once smiled, but he did stop crying.
We made it to North Shore Hospital surrounded by our entourage of three EMS personnel, a fire fighter and a policeman. Luckily, either because we came in by ambulance or it was a slow night for accidents, we were quickly ushered to pediatrics. The doctor, an affable Indian man, came in and gave him the once over, while I whispered promises of tickets (our good behavior system to achieve toys) for every part the doctor checked. By the time he finished, Julius beamed. He had amassed 13 tickets – two eyes, hands, feet, ears, nose, head, mouth, including one extra for a mysterious 3rd ear. That was typically at least two weeks’ worth of work. “That was easy!” Julius chirped happily. “But you forgot to give me a ticket for being weighed and the lady who checked my finger”
“You’re right.” I agreed. “15 tickets for you!”
“16!” Julius countered, sensing his advantage.
“Okay 16.” I agreed happily. This was the first I’d seen of the old Julius.
“20!” He tried, smiling mischievously.
I grinned. “Now you’re pushing it buddy.”
The negotiations thus ended, he quickly and happily conceded, “Okay, 16.”
Howard, Tyler and Michael arrived at this time and we all lolled about the room like we had taken up residence. Leave us anywhere for any amount of time and we can do that. There was a purple cow utter balloon toss, bags of potato chips and M&Ms from the snack machine strewn about and a pile up on the bed watching TV. The mood was light, Julius seemed good and all the boys quickly forgot why we were there… for a while.
In the absence of any obvious symptoms, i.e. vomiting, headaches, nausea, lethargy or unconsciousness, the general rule with children is watch and wait. And wait. And wait. Three hours in, Howard and I seriously regretted our decision to all stick it out together. There had been a time, around two hours prior, when we discussed Howard taking the kids back home, me staying with Julius and having my mom come over so Howard could drive back to get us, but the consensus at the time was, all for one and one for all. Approaching midnight, the tides turned and it was every man for himself.
“Can’t we just leave?!” Tyler whined.
“I want to go home!” Michael pouted.
Somehow, the only one not complaining was Julius.
The doctor finally gave us the green light and sent our exhausted and cranky bunch home. Half asleep, we stripped them down and shoved them all into the shower to wipe away the ball field and battle field grime. They were all asleep before their goodnight kisses. For tonight, Julius was nestled in Howard’s and my bed. It was 1:30am. I was dead tired and even though the doctor said it was unnecessary, I was prepared to wake him every couple of hours, which I did.
The morning arrived quickly, having been roughly four hours of broken sleep. Still, Michael woke early, as is his nature, and Tyler and Julius slept late, as is theirs. Howard and I continued checking Julius till he woke, bouncy and happy, proudly displaying his acquired tickets and discussing what he would get for them.
Later, we visited his pediatrician who confirmed Julius’ recovery, shaking his head with amazement.
“That’s some story.” Given his injury, he stopped short of rubbing Julius’ wild head of hair, a gesture he often did. “You’re one lucky boy.”
Didn’t I know it. I’m still not sure I completely believe it. I keep watching his little face, the one that loves to kiss me long on the lips, and worrying, searching for any sign of distress. I stare at him deeper and breathe in his innocence and perfection. I am afraid. I have always been a little afraid. I don’t like my boys too far from me. The more you love, the more you have to lose. One random moment. That’s all. And I was right there. It’s almost too much to bear, but I do because life is as beautiful as it is fragile and must be appreciated. We may have gotten hit by a ball, but we had definitely dodged a bullet.