I was working at home when the call came. A shake in the teacher’s voice told me that this was no ordinary playground fall. She said my son had fallen badly while playing football and that “he couldn’t see afterwards” and was complaining of headaches, as well as cuts to his arms and legs. I drove over to the school to find a dishevelled and pale boy. I gathered him and his bits up and took him to the car.
As he limped to the car, he said, “I was running so fast. I was doing 30 miles an hour at least. But a boy came in front of me and I hit it so hard. My friend said I was lying there for a long time. I don’t remember that bit”. It was clear he had been knocked out.
He seemed stunned. I talked through what had happened and it quickly became clear he had banged his head badly on the tarmac playground during a football game. I checked his hands and knees. There were some bad bruises and scrapes, but nothing to worry about. It was the injury to his head that concerned me. He said he was seeing shadows in front of his eyes. Within hours, he began vomiting and it was clear that this was a bad concussion. The GP was concerned about how severe it was and so the dreaded referral to hospital was made.
Hospital bags were rapidly packed, and my wife and son disappeared into the winter’s night – a part of my heart following them into the gloom. As a medic, my wife is always the one to accompany the kids such situations. I would be on a solo run with the three girls for the next while. The baby comes first in such situations – once the baby is ok, everyone is ok. A warm Babygro and a bottle of milk settled her amazingly fast. The older two girls took longer. They had anxious questions about their brother, but I assured them all would be well. It was only myself I had yet to convince. It’s impossible not to worry when such things happen.
A comforting cup of bedtime cocoa by the fire, and a story, eventually did the trick.
Yet what we had hoped would be a routine concussion was to go on for weeks, and involved repeat admissions to hospitals, with severe headaches and other symptoms. Thankfully, there was something of a remission for Christmas Eve and the big day itself. Yet, the headaches and vomiting returned with a vengeance not long afterwards and he was soon readmitted to hospital.
If there’s one place you don’t want your kids to be at Christmas, it’s hospital. The kids’ ward was festooned with decorations, yet there was little festive cheer about the anxious nurses, overwhelmed by the flu epidemic. Parts of the ward were locked down and kids were banned from visiting. The next day I got some flu symptoms and couldn’t go in, for fear of passing anything on. It broke my heart to drive past the hospital, knowing my beloved boy was in there but I couldn’t go to him.
He was brave. For such a talented and sports-mad kid, the most devastating part for him was the unambiguous medical advice to play no soccer, no Gaelic football, no hurling and no rugby for months at least. We consoled him with promised Lego sets, and reminded him how he loved lots of indoorsy things like chess, music and singing. It was winter anyhow, we said. The lack of sport would leave a gaping hole in his life. Yet he had now experienced the awful symptoms that can follow a bad concussion. Lego didn’t seem so bad if it meant avoiding such devastating pain. There are yet more scans and tests scheduled. With each scan comes a flash of fear, one which we parents never betray to our children – at least we think we don’t. And with that fear, we rediscover again the raw need again for hope. We suddenly thirst for it like water. And we go to its source, begging the prayers and good wishes of those we love. His grandparents and uncles took turns by his bedside in hospital, and despite the pain and sickness, he felt strengthened by love.