When I was young, I would see the Shriners in various parades and recognized them for their red fezzes and the myriad of clowns that walked with them. As I got older, I was aware that the Shriners did good things for kids. In time, I would come to know all too well the wonderful work that they do, and it would be through the help that they gave to Kyle that I would learn about it.
When Kyle was just about ready to turn twelve he broke his leg. He cleanly snapped both bones right above his ankle. This happened because of a colossal lack of good judgment on his father’s part, but that is not the greater part of the story. As background, because it is important to the story, Kyle spent five hours in surgery at the hospital in Napa and then was sent home a few days later with five pins in his bones to hold them together long enough for them to heal.
He had a quiet birthday party that year, and he spent Halloween dressed up as a zombie, sitting on the front porch and scaring kids as they came to the door. I wrapped him in gauze and bandages, strategically poured red finger-paint on him, and propped the leg with the cast up on a stool. He was very good at staying perfectly still and under the black light I had installed he looked like a stage prop. As soon as the trick-or-treaters got up on the porch, he “came to life”. Some of them actually stayed to get their treats.
A few weeks later the cast came off. With the exception of a few scars from where the pins had been removed, we thought that would be the end of it. When Kyle was able to come and live with me in Arizona at the beginning of 2000, I noticed that his ankle was a little swollen. He said that it didn’t bother him, and so I thought that he had a little residual bone calcification from the break and the pins. I decided to just keep an eye on it over time. In November of 2000, after the Thanksgiving break, Kyle came down hard from a jump during after school basketball practice. By the time I came to get him, his ankle was swollen and he couldn’t keep his shoe on. When he got out of the shower, he was not able to walk on it at all. I knew it was going to be a long evening at the emergency room for X-rays, so I asked him if he wanted to eat first or go right over. We iced it while we had dinner and, since there was still no improvement, we set off for the ER.
Kyle had a three-inch long stress fracture going up his tibia (the larger bone in the lower leg). The stress fracture was caused by the fact that the medial (inner) side of his tibia was not growing and the rest of it was, as was the fibula (the smaller of the two lower leg bones, on the lateral, outer, side of the leg). The reason that the inner portion of the bone wasn’t growing was because the surgeon in Napa had placed one of the pins so that it went through the growth plate of the bone. This disrupted the growth in that part of the bone, and it basically stayed still while the rest grew. The curve in the bone was obvious in the X-ray. Luckily, the doctor in the emergency room had the good sense to know and admit that this was beyond his expertise. He placed a call to Shiners’ Hospital in Los Angeles and made an appointment for Kyle.
Kyle was assessed at a Shriners’ clinic at Children’s Hospital in Phoenix and received an appointment for surgery in LA. Not only were we flown over to Los Angeles, I was also given a bed in the room with Kyle so that I could stay for the two weeks that he would be there for the surgery and physical rehab. The surgery was to place his lower leg in an external fixator, a group of wires and pulleys that were put through his leg bones and would, over time, both straighten and lengthen his leg to its adult length. That time would be six months. During those six months, we would be flown over to LA every two weeks so that the surgeon could check the external fixator and monitor for infection. Every bit of this was paid for by the Shriners.
We came back home, and Kyle was in no shape to be able to go to school. The pain of the fixator itself and the fear of having anything even touch it, sending a jolt of pain through him, dictated that Kyle stay at home. My absolute distress at seeing my child in such agony was only made worse by the fact that I had to turn the levers on the fixator four times a day, thereby slowly increasing the tension that was straightening his bones, and increasing the amount of pain he felt at the same time. This, and the effect Kyle felt from the pain medications, made the situation one that needed my complete attention.
Fortunately for me, the extra days that I needed to take away from working at the spa in Sedona caused me to summarily get fired. Getting fired gave me unemployment compensation, and I was able to work it out financially so that I could dedicate my time completely to Kyle’s needs. This turned out to be even more fortunate when Kyle had to return to in LA. Things were not going well for him, and his surgeon wanted him at the hospital where they could track him better. He was placed in a ward, and I was able to stay for the first two weeks, but then the bed in the dorm room I had was needed by another mother, so I had to return home.
The following two weeks were life changing.
There was, of course, the obvious panic that I felt. Kyle was in pain, and he was a few hundred miles away. When I had been staying at Shriners’, I had taken daily walks to the grocery store to get vegetarian frozen food for him and heat it in the microwave at the nurses’ station. I talked with him daily, and he was not getting very much food. My panic was heightened by the fact that he needed things like food that the hospital staff was not able to give him. My panic went beyond measurement when I started getting calls from the social worker that had been assigned to Kyle; she was concerned for his emotional well-being. So was I. And I couldn’t be there.
We had a few talks about the emotional side of Kyle’s healing process. I pulled on everything I could remember from my psychology studies in the early seventies, and it was clearly not enough. Before this, I had not been one to use the computer very much, but I learned to navigate it and sought out as much information as I could about emotion and physical trauma. By the time two more weeks had passed and I was allowed to get Kyle and bring him home, I was equipped with an entire new way of understanding. The initial shock of seeing him nearly wasted away and a full ten pounds lighter gave way to the knowledge that I had ways to help him through the next five months. Kyle was dedicated to not taking the pain medications that were prescribed for him. It was soon very obvious that they were necessary; we came up with a plan of less than a full dose in a longer than prescribed time frame, and that was enough to keep his pain at a level that he could manage. I will always be completely proud of him for the way that he handled his trauma.
I was centered upon Kyle at the time, and so I didn’t realize just how much this situation had opened to me, changing the paradigm from which I would continue to do bodywork for the rest of my career.