In 2014, my son Wilson broke both of his arms — wildly displacing one of them — at his twelfth birthday party. Instead of cutting cake and opening gifts, we spent the next seven hours in the Stanford Emergency Room. During our time there, doctors straddled the gurney and yanked Wilson’s arm bones back straight, took X-rays, and applied temporary splints. They also worked on another twelve-year-old boy, who had attempted suicide, on the other side of our partition.
We heard the doctors talking: there had been an argument between the boy and his parents, and then four minutes of hanging. The boy had survived and seemed largely uninjured. Shamefully, I peeked around the curtain and saw that he lay there waiting, quietly, in a neck brace. His parents arrived and seemed strangely disaffected. A police officer and physician stayed with the family as social workers moved in and out. We listened to their mumbled talk and awkward questions, and heard few answers that sounded like tossed lassos toward hope.
We had direct instructions for Wilson — don’t get the casts wet! don’t lift things! — and when I took my boy home, twelve years to the day he had been born in that same hospital, I knew to change, feed, and bathe him as we waited for his bones to fuse inside the bright, Cardinal red casts. When we left the hospital, the other twelve-year-old boy and his family were still there behind the curtain, unsure (I could tell from the dialogue) where to go or what kind of apparatus might work to help him heal. The neck brace had already been removed. It was superfluous. The image of that boy and his family has stuck with me.
In those first days after Wilson’s accident, I knew what to do with his injury. I was confident that he would be “stronger than ever” in six weeks time, as the doctors advised. Years later, I now know this experience built his strength. But this has had less to do with the doctors or the plaster on his arms, and more to do with Gary Riekes, and The Riekes Center.
Wilson’s broken arms were not a tragedy. The irony and tenderness of the situation we faced was in fact almost welcome to me. I knew that his physical injury was about to make him more emotionally accessible. We would have plenty of time to talk and to touch. But he was in some physical pain, was suddenly stripped of almost all independence right at the…