X-Ray Vision and Night in the ER

Heard a truck pull up at about 8pm on New Years Eve. My first thought was, “There’s Jaeger; what’s happened?” but he’s never home that early, and the diesel of the truck was definitely not his little Honda. But then the front door opened, and no strange voices ventured a “Hello?” so I went to investigate. My 17 year-old was standing at the bottom of the stairs, covered in more manure than usual, and shuddering uncontrollably.

The leading lip on a loader bucket had fallen about a yard and a half, directly onto his toes. He had broken the metatarsals in his right foot. Here’s the bizarre thing. I actually said this–offered as my diagnosis. Of course, I also immediately followed that with, “Actually, I made that up. I think metatarsals are in your hand.”

But on some level, I must have known it applied also to feet. And after spending New Year’s Eve in  the ER, I realized an odd thing: I’ve had the same instantaneous understanding of my children’s broken bones every time it’s happened. When Jaidon shattered his shin, and broke his arm; when Quinton and Winslow broke theirs: I knew what bones were broken, and even terminology like “greenstick” and “spiral” fracture. The terms just came to mind. Today, I couldn’t tell you what the names of the bones they broke are. No clue. But for some reason, my subconscious can pull these facts up during times of stress, with perfect clarity.

That’s the other thing–they don’t really seem like times of stress. Along with the perfect clarity is a sense of pervasive calm.

I had that same experience when my husband fell 12 years ago, and began his decade-long convalescence that would transform me from a stay-at-home mother of six without a college degree, into sole breadwinner and a doctoral candidate. When he opened the door,  I was kneeling on the floor, changing the baby’s diaper. I knew, with absolute calmness and certainty, that not only what he had broken, but that my life had changed completely. When the on-call doctor misread the x-rays and sent us home, I was correct about his error.

In these moments, there is such total absence of concern or fear, that I have wondered if my convictions are wrong. But always, on some level, I absolutely knew that the bone was broken, and in what manner. I’m learning to trust that instinct about broken bones. Now… if  only I had that kind of insight about other ills–the ills of hearts and minds. And if only they were so easy to treat–with an x-ray, and a plaster cast!

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