Cole's Leg Injury
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Getting Back to Normal

It's wonderful when life is blissfully "normal." After a year of living in crisis mode every day, pumping our son full of medications, watching him cry with pain every morning when he woke up, holding him down while his physical therapist put his fibula into joint three times a week (my husband got to suffer through those appointments), wondering if today was going to be another run to the ER, it's almost surreal that we don't have to live that every day any more.

Cole has had an amazing recovery. He was released from PT five months ago. He's participating in gym class, running around with his friends and playing baseball in the town league. To look at him now, you'd never know that last year he couldn't walk and was in such debilitating pain he couldn't go to school or even get off the couch. The transition into middle school was rough at the start of the year. Not only was he transitioning to a new school, he was transitioning back into school period. He suffered a bone contusion at the start of the school year and missed the first week which made the situation even more stressful. He missed that first week where none of the fifth graders (yes, in our district fifth grade is middle school) knew where they were going or what they were doing. He was walking but experiencing some pain from his bruised bone, not an uncommon injury after an allograft, and was slow. He was still sore and building up his strength. He hadn't used his left leg much for a year and had experienced atrophy even before his surgery in June and then spent five weeks in a full leg cast. 

Cole has always been a strong student and taken a great deal of pride in his grades, but after missing the majority of fourth grade, he found himself struggling for the first time. He had gone through tutoring, but that's still not the same as being in school and having six hours of instruction a day. He was stressed to the point of panic at the start of the school year. One morning he completely broke down sobbing and I had to spend an hour calming him down before taking him to school still in tears. He'd never had the experience of feeling lost or not understanding the material before. He was horrified when he received a bad grade, was late to class, or didn't understand the lesson. I explained to him that every day he attended school was a victory. That I was immensely proud of how brave he was to get through his injury and his surgery and now transitioning back to school. I told him it was to be expected that he was going to be lost for a while, that his teachers and I understood that and were here to help him. 

The day I took him into school an hour late in tears, the vice principal ushered us right into his office and re-iterated all the same things that I had told him. He also set him up with weekly appointments with a support group that met with the school social worker and told him that any time he was feeling like things were more than he could handle, that Cole could always come to his office. Cole was still very unhappy about me leaving him at school that day and it was yet another experience on this long journey that broke my heart a little bit, going to work and watching him walk with the vice principal down the hall to his class, still clearly terrified to be there. 

It took time for his stress and fear to ease. There were other mornings and evenings of homework that had him in tears and near hyperventilation. The district also issued Chromebooks to all the students for the first time and that was yet another new and intimidating adjustment Cole had to make. For months he hated that Chromebook and complained about why they couldn't do things on paper. Now he does his homework with his friends on Google Hangouts and I have to pry him away from the screen.

Slowly but surely, he continued to heal through the fall and into the winter. He started to catch up in his academics and his grades got better, he regained strength and mobility in his left leg. Now, it's almost as if it never happened. Cole has never wanted to talk about his injury and his pain, not with myself or my husband, not with doctors, not with counselors. Now that he's gaining some distance he will sometimes bring it up in conversations at the oddest times. Usually, it's in contrast with what we're currently doing. We were in the car a few weeks ago, headed to a birthday dinner, and he asked us, "Remember last year when I was in so much pain and didn't want to leave the house? That was awful."

Yes, it was truly awful, and I think for all of us, it's not that far away: the pain, the doctor's appointments, the fear, the confusion. It's always still lingering in the back of my mind. It was the first weekend in May last year when Cole experienced his relapse. He had been doing better. He was walking with a brace, had been able to attend school for a couple of months. It had only taken one day of playing outside to change all that. There was nothing specific he had done that day, it was merely the fact that he had played like a normal kid. We had played catch in the yard. He played wall ball with his friends. And he had been so happy and so upbeat. And then it all came crashing down again.

I couldn't go through Mother's Day this year without the memory of Mother's Day last year in the back of mind. It wasn't so much different. I ran the same 5K. We had family over for a cookout in the yard. And Cole can still be an ornery preteen. He didn't come outside to eat with everyone else, why I don't know, but I do know it had nothing to do with the fact that he was in pain. He did come out and play corn hole and swing with me for a while in the patio. He ran around the yard with his cousins. Watching him, I am simultaneously relieved but also still holding my breath a little. I panic every time he falls, every time he jumps, every time he slides into base. I know I'll be doing that for a while. I think he still is too.

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