Yesterday the gate lady at the school insisted we needed to take W to the hospital for X-rays. I get it. She means well. I felt panic arise. Maybe she was right. Maybe the hand was broken.
He’d gotten the injury in a wrestling match during sports class at school. The injury had happened just before the end of the school day on Tuesday. I handed him and X the keys to the van so they could relax while I walked up to collect the younger boys from the primary school. On the way back to the van, shouting at the youngest, like I do nearly every other day, to stop running around the neighbouring field like a maniac and get in the g*d-d*mned van (yep for real. Ashamed but this is how it is. Four boys will make you crazy. I will make four boys crazy. I was made crazy by my own mom. My mom was made crazy by my me. Etc. Etc. End without end…until we somehow end it) because we’re all freezing and waiting for him. Once he was finally in the van and the door was closed, I examined W’s hand.
The fourth and fifth fingers were slightly swollen. It looked painful. Is it painful? Pretty painful, he answered, shrugging. Try wiggling them? They all wiggled. No screaming. No wincing even. I have had a kid (age 2) with a fractured ankle (just from landing oddly after having been pushed down a short step by another kid, age 4) who screamed and cried. Someone told me, at that time, that the leg could not likely be broken. But I had sensed that it was. I’d taken him immediately to the hospital to get X-rayed and treated with a cast.
Another time, the same kid (age 2) had stuck something up his nose. It would not come out and I made a two-hour journey away by boat and by car, and then waited at the emergency ward with him in a sling on my back (so that he would not toddle around contracting illnesses) for three hours, so that two burly (male) nurses could finally wrap him in a straightjacket, place him on a table, allowing the doctor to freely extract a bit of packing foam with a pair of tweezers, all within the space of about five minutes.
Back to the hand analysis: Try rotating it? All good. Make a fist? A bit tender, but fist was made.
It’s a sprain. The antidote for sprain is RICE. Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Four kids and no medical assistance (thanks to living in a foreign country but being employed in a different foreign country), you learn these things. Thanks BC HealthGuide Handbook, Wikipedia, and WebMD. Let’s go get a fitted brace from the pharmacy. No I don’t want to, he says. (He wants to get home to relax, and chat with friends on Discord, but he doesn’t say it.) I NEED to get to the library, says X. And I NEED to get that art set before they’re all GONE, wails Z. Meanwhile, Y tousles loudly with X about leg room in the van. Z is still shouting about art supply sales. “But we should really go to the pharmacy.” No, we can just do RICE with the stuff we have at home, says W, rolling his eyes and impatient to get home. OK.
At home, I get out the medical cool pack I keep in the fridge and place it on W’s hand. He doesn’t want the hand wrapped with compression gauze because he’s using it to hold his phone. I sigh, exasperated, and try to get dinner started while signing school papers. W has gotten terrible marks on his French test, even though he’d done a great job for an FLE student. He’d gotten 0/10, for a dictée. Even though he’d written all the words phonetically correctly, with neat handwriting, he’d made 10 small errors in the silent endings, so he’d had 10 out of 10 possible marks deducted on a 100 word paragraph. So he essentially got the same mark (zero out of ten) as a kid who’d decided not to try at all, because “why bother.” But that battle, I will fight the next day. (Which is today, after school; I have an appointment with the teacher and the principal.)
W removes the ice pack and gets back to tapping away on Discord, clearly feeling all right and hands functioning. He’s nearly 15 years old, and bigger than me. I don’t have the energy to force it.
The next day is a day off. I say we should maybe go directly to the hospital for an X-ray, just to make sure (and not the doctor first, because we all know that the doctor, if we could even get an appointment today, which is highly unlikely, is going to ultimately prescribe X-ray for [understandable] ass-covering reasons, so why bother going to the doctor first and have to pay there as well?). But W doesn’t want to go, and says the hand is fine. Until bedtime. Then he says that maybe we should do something about the hand. Tomorrow, on a school day of course. F*ck. Sorry but no. I wrap the hand with black stretch fabric so it is compressed and protected AND looking slick. He is content.
But after school, the nice, well-meaning lady at the gate tells me I should take him to get X-rayed. The nearest X-ray facility is at one of the hospitals. The nearest hospitals are minimum 45 minutes away, but now it’s rush hour, so perhaps one hour. The wait time at emergency will be 2-4 hours (I call to find out). I have four kids with me who need to have dinner somehow during this time period. My plan had been to take W to the pharmacy and buy a proper brace for the arm and hand.
Now, instead, feeling worried, I call the surrounding hospitals to find out how the emergency ward is looking for wait times, and I even call the only place in our town with an X-ray machine, which is the vet. I know the veterinarians quite well, since we have taken our stray/adopted animals there. I’ve spent several hundred euros there in the past few years. I decide to make the call that might quite likely make me the official craziest lady of the town. “Hi. Can I get an X-ray of my kid’s hand please. Not asking for analysis, obviously; I understand you can’t offer that for humans; I just need an X-ray.” No, of course they can’t do that.
Too bad. It could save 4-6 hours of time, save exposing four healthy kids to contagious illnesses (by bringing them into a hospital so that two of them can bother countless sick people with bouncing off the walls, arguing with each other and touching everything in sight), and probably will cost quite a few euros as well. All to appease the nice gate lady and anyone else concerned.
Because liability trumps common sense, no one without transportation, childcare and/or money can get an X-ray in this town, even though there is an X-ray machine in town, and even IF (I’m just saying IF) they might be able to analyze and even treat broken bones themselves, at home. I’m not complaining. For me it’s not a big deal, we can go to the hospital if we think we need to. But I am thinking, what about someone less “privileged”?
The organization for which I do volunteer work attempts to bridge the gap experienced by so many French residents in the countryside. The poverty here is real, yet there is little understanding when it comes to the challenges faced by many of the citizens of this region.
e.g. “Every child who participates in this extra-curricular class requires a medical certificate.” But what if you’re not in the system, and have to pay the doctor out of your own pocket, to pronounce your healthy kid officially healthy? What if you have four kids? What if you have seven? (I know someone who has seven.) What if the local doctor’s office is booked solid for three weeks straight? What if the doctors in neighbouring towns are too far to walk to, and you have no vehicle? (There is very little public transportation here.) Judge the parents all you want, if that’s your thing, but should the kids have to suffer because of that? So now, in the case where a conscientious parent was willing to scrimp and save, to put their child into an extracurricular judo or acrobatics class, they now have to pay double just to satisfy liability fears. Guess what? Parent either has the gift of the gab and talks the teachers out of it, or the kid simply doesn’t go.
The above instances are not currently the case for our family, but they are, for many, many people who live here.
Anyway. I worriedly call my husband, who is out of town; I message him with photos and videos of W’s hands (both the healthy one and harmed one, for comparison’s sake — and using more tools of “privilege” — an [older-model, second-hand] iPhone, and unlimited data messaging service). WDYT? “It’s definitely not broken. It’s sprained. RICE.” What do I tell the gate lady? “The truth.” Aw, sh*t…
I walk with W up to the gate. I show her the two hands, un-bandaged, side by side, fingers wiggling. I really don’t think it’s broken, I say. I’m trying to reassure her. I know what it’s like to be on that side of the fence, metaphorically, at least; not knowing the parent, worrying about the student, worrying if they are being neglected, if they are not doing due diligence. But sometimes errors in judgement can be made — by the gatekeepers, that is.
Just because someone is different should not make them suspect. Perhaps that “different” person makes choices for reasons you don’t know. Perhaps not based on ignorance or insensitivity, but based on intuition, thought analysis, and concern for the greater good. Perhaps that person even has some medical knowledge, knowledge that if mentioned would be scoffed at because it isn’t backed by a certificate. Or maybe not. The point is you don’t know that person. Observe and take a look at the big picture. But better yet, first take a look at your own institution. Are the female students also participating in mandatory wrestling classes here? If not, why not? And could we perhaps switch to judo or some other, empowering, self-defence exercise, for all genders? And either way, how can injuries like these be better prevented in the first place, so that we don’t need to endanger families in order to “cure” the injuries that take place in our establishments?
I make my decision. I drive all four of us to the pharmacy, five minutes away, instead of the hospital, far away.
I walk in and ask for a brace. But they don’t have the right kind in stock. The lady is very very concerned there. She thinks I should go to the hospital to make sure. Of course she has to say that. I get it. I mentally walk her through the logic of it all. In the end, she agrees (it doesn’t look broken, and either way the best they will do is give a cast or a brace) and then suddenly and quickly splints the arm and hand with a strip of industrial-strength cardboard, which I think is absolute genius (because I’d already been envisioning a thin plywood splint, but this is more comfortable), and wraps it with a wide roll of sticky-tape. I buy the roll of sticky tape, and smile and wave when she waggles her finger about getting to the hospital.
At home, W takes off the cardboard splint. He says the sticky tape hurts his arm hairs. I get that. Okay.
After dinner — which we shared without watching Young Sheldon this time (awesome family show by the way, with plenty of scope for offshoot discussions, and which W gets for us on his laptop via something called Popcorn Time) — and instead talked about a bunch of things ranging from family stories (“How did you and Papa meet, again?”), to what happened at school, to science and philosophy — we clean up and I put the younger kids to bed. Then I look at W’s hand again.
After discussing together what he thinks he needs, I get out the medical supplies. I slip a stretchy pre-plastering sleeve (but could have just have easily been an old, long sock or stocking, with the closed end cut off) over his hand and forearm (this will protect his skin and be soft and cozy). Then I cut a new strip of industrial cardboard (sounds fancy, but just my word for 1 cm thick cardboard from standard shipping boxes, say from Amazon or whatever), long enough to go from his fingers to his mid-forearm. Then I bind it on, not too tight, with proper compression fabric — the kind you use to treat sprains. I’d picked that up on sale at the local grocery store, when a bin of it had gone on promo, for about €3.99. But it could be any kind of stretchy fabric, really. Old t-shirt cut into a long spiral strip, for example. Perfect! W smiles. The bones are supported and immobilized, the hand, wrist and arm are comfortable.
Like I said, I’m “privileged.” My family and I have more than enough to eat, we have a home, we have transportation, and thanks to my husband’s ingenuity, at this time we have money to buy supplies of all kinds if/when we need/want them. We also have education, the ability to read and research, and we have access to information.
But what about those who don’t? Can we empower them somehow, too?
Let’s be careful. Let’s think, and ask questions, before prescribing for others. Let’s take care of the messes we actually have control over — the ones we ourselves act in and take part in every day. Let’s clean up our own messes, and acts, first.
Let’s lead by example, not by dictation/prescription with “good intentions.” And let’s ask “How can I help?” or “What is your instinct about what is needed here?” Rather than saying, “This is what you need to do.”