It was shaping up to be a reasonably pleasant birthday some years back. A co-worker had treated me to a nice lunch. I was working out of a remote office, so I was only 10 minutes away from home instead of the usual 1 hour+. My wife, accomplished in the kitchen, had the cake in the oven, and I’d soon enjoy her company at the table with my tow-headed boys as we ticked off yet another 40-something milestone.
Then the phone rang, and everything ground to a halt. Or rather, accelerated into a dizzying swirl of horror.
Frantic, my wife told me to get home immediately, as one of my sons (Ryan) and his friend had just been hit by a truck crossing the neighboring street. Everything was confusion – what actually happened, their condition, and whether life as we’d known it had just been whirled out of control.
Rushing home, I saw the police (and neighbors) at the scene. The two boys were on the way in ambulances to two local hospitals. Quickly piecing together the fragments of the story, one of my older sons was leading the other boys across the street, between cars that were backed up at a stop sign. Not able to see all the way up the short hill to the intersection, he noted a stopped driver waving them through, and assumed that all was clear. Unfortunately, just as they began to cross, a heavy-duty pickup rounded the corner and approached them as they moved from invisibility in one lane to inevitability in the other.
The oldest in the group suddenly spotted the truck, and being farthest along, (barely) leaped safely to other side of the road. My younger son and his friend, however, were caught. One tire ran over my Ryan’s foot and he was tossed aside like a rag doll by the side-mounted mirror. His friend, however, went under the tire, which traversed his midsection and collapsed a lung. Miraculously, he somehow got up and stumbled across to the other side. Horrified, my older son ran the block home to get help, which arrived promptly.
A mix of incoherence and “cool under fire” jostled for control of my brain. A neighbor took over watching the remaining kids while I rushed to the hospital to join my wife and son, still at this point not at all sure what I was going to find. Meanwhile, the other boy was in intensive care at the other hospital, unconscious, with a touch-and-go prognosis.
The birthday cake was forgotten. Instead, we were ingesting a steady diet of guilt and dread, the kind only a parent knows when a kid gets hurt on your watch. And the misery was multiplied, as our friends’ child was in even greater danger.
Because Ryan’s foot had been ground into the pavement by the truck, his wound was dirty; filled with sand and small pieces of gravel. I had to do the most heart-wrenching thing I ever hope to do as a Dad – hold him down to assist the doctor cleaning out the ugly wound, actually helping contribute to his pain. His foot, and my heart, were in agony. Parenting and hospitals are a volatile and frightening mix.
Eventually, he recovered fully, though there will always be some scarring there. Happily, the other boy recovered even more quickly, bouncing back in a few days despite being actually run over by the truck. His parents were wonderful examples of kindness and grace in what could have been an explosive situation.
I guess I’ve mostly recovered, too, though there remains a residual dread whenever the 18th day of October rolls around again. That bullet was dodged, but sometimes I can still hear the faint echo of it whizzing past in the darker recesses of memory. A nice, quiet, uneventful birthday is just fine with me, thank you very much. Just fine with me…
(image credit: candle)
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