Doomsday Doctor

Oliver broke both wrists skiing.

He handled it pretty well. We went from splints to casts and he exclaimed over how strong and supported he felt. He might have been the first child ever to tell his parent that he REALLY couldn’t stick things into his casts to help the itching. I tried to tell him that his FINGER was not the same as a sharpened pencil but he wouldn’t have it. He knocked on the casts to help with itching as the med tech had instructed. Even she knew this was futile as she met my eyes over his downtilted head. She shrugged and rolled her eyes. This was a part of her spiel even if she was not a believer.

Every evening he would knock on his casts and the dog would run to the door barking his little head off and I would feel affection towards one of them.

At the doctor’s office things went pretty smoothly. While we were waiting he had me take a photo of the color swatches and send in to family to see if they could guess the two colors he had in mind. “Yellow and Green, orange and blue (never- he assured me, I would never pick Broncos colors) our favorite answer from uncle Chris: black and blue.”

Finally the orthopedist came in. He was all smiles. And full of stories. The compound fracture that ruined the middle school QBs career (career?) , the multiple surgeries needed for messy breaks. Then he started to stray beyond his expertise.

“You are lucky it was your wrists.” He told Oliver. Oliver did not feel lucky. Skiing in the trees like you did can often lead to impalement. Often? Impalements? “Those are difficult to treat” Particularly for an orthopedist I think, beginning to feel less fondly towards this cheerful man.

“If it had been your head you could be dead. Or have a concussion. Those can be life long problems.” He knew one kid, he told us with a big grin, whose concussion brought so much depression that he committed suicide. He knew another who had gone from a straight A student to failing and it took his parents three years to figure out the relationship between the head injury and his slipping grades. In the mean time he wasn’t able to get into a good college.

Oliver is wide eyed. Somehow the public schools have already scared the shit out of my son about getting into college. I figure this is what he picked up on. But no. He is pointing to his chin which has inches of red scabbing. “I DID hit my head.” “Don’t worry sweetie, the ski patrol and the Breckenridge clinic both cleared you. You don’t have a concussion.”

“Oh no, the doctor told us, concussions can come up ANYTIME.” Anytime? I think. Finally he leaves with a smile turning his head through the crack to tell Oliver. “You might still have a Traumatic brain injury.” Keep a look out.

The woman who rolls in the casting cart has a totally different attitude. Oliver is less chatty than usual and manages only to ask her one question. “Which is your favorite color combination for casts.” I’m not sure he sees her quickly check the bottom shelf where she had arranged to materials for his cast before answering. Orange and Yellow.

At home he decides to write his own messages on his cast in case people didn’t sign them. Every mistake is art he has me write in cursive silver sharpie. He checks my work on paper before allowing it to be committed to the cast.  His favorite:

Roses are Red

Violets are blue

I broke my arm.

Times two.

That night I am woken by Oliver, wrapped in a blanket, whispering at my bedside. “I’m not sure I should sleep. Sometimes people with concussions don’t wake up.” I squint at the clock 12:15. “I am so tired.” He tells me. “I don’t think I can stay awake much longer.”

Three weeks later it is time for the casts to come off.

Too cocky I entered the orthopedist office thinking Oliver would be a disappointing case of break, heal, go on to live…perhaps even have an incredible middle school career of carrying laundry baskets.

No. No. No. Evidently there is no such thing as a simple case.

The orthopedist brings in the x rays BEAMING. “See here- he points at a spot that looks, to our eyes, exactly like the rest of the image, you have broken it so badly that you have indented the bone forever. You will have arthritis at 45 instead of 70.”

“At least its your left hand.”

“But I’m a lefty Oliver tells him with misery on his face. “Too bad” the MD says matching Oliver misery with a maniac grin.

“But 45 is so young” Oliver continues to protest. For a moment I am bathed in the warmth of his statement. I am newly 44. If 45 is young 44 is Quickly though I realize what I am in for. Sitting shotgun on the car ride home his eyes almost disappear under the fringe of his bangs he is frowning so high. “Do we know anyone with arthritis?” He asks. “How do they live with it?” “Is there anything to do to prepare?” My mind flashes to years of trying to wrestle enormous glucosamine chondroitin pills into the dog. Old enough to ride shot gun this boy still can not swallow pills. Months earlier his younger brother tortured him by swallowing one, then two, then three m & ms without even a drop of water to go down. A gallon of water and dozens of melting puddles of candy bodies later Oliver had not manages a single time. He still takes his medicine in applesauce.

There will be no premature arthritis prevention in our house.

Late that night I hear the door to my room slide open and see Oliver, once again wrapped in his blanket. “Does arthritis hurt?” He asks me. I reach for his hand, newly accessible to me. “It is a long, long time before you have to worry about it babe. I actually think that doctor might have been a bit of an alarmist.”  In the darkness Oliver laughs. “Yeah, it did seem like he was a little too interested in impalements.” “And concussions.” I answer. “And compound fractures” he adds. “And arthirtis.” I giggle, our conversation made funny by the 2:00 hours. “No.” “No.” “Arthritis is something to really be worried about.” He tells me, and my laugh fades. 2:00 might be the time to find things unusually funny but it is also a time of swirling worries.

Steve is in San Diego so I ask Oliver if he wants to sleep in our bed. He hesitates, he is getting older, but after a minute he climbs in and buries his face in Steve’s pillow. We go to sleep holding each other’s non arthritic hands.