As I saw the floor coming rapidly towards my face, I began to think that my mom might have been right about swinging on the stairs.
She told me not to do it. She warned me I was going to hurt myself. But still, I was six and invincible, so I placed my right hand on the railing, and pressed my left hand into the wall, and began swinging back and forth over the stairs like a flying Wallenda, as I had done countless times before.
But this time, my stupidity and stubbornness caught up with me, and I was sent careening head-first down the stairs. I saved my face by stretching both arms straight out in front of me, a manoeuver that would spare me a head injury, but break my arm in two places.
I screamed for the mother who had tried to warn me about this in the first place, and despite being days into recovery from a hysterectomy, my mom hopped over a chair and ran upstairs at the sound of my distress.
My grandparents, originally staying with us to help my mother post-surgery while my father was away, shifted their attention to me. I heard muttering and my Gramp insisting he could get me to the hospital faster than an ambulance. This seemed illogical to me, but what did I know, I was dumb enough to swing on the stairs.
The entire ride there, in an effort to calm me, or perhaps herself, my mom sing-songed “It’s not broken! It’s not broken!” I looked at my arm, bent at an angle that does not occur in nature, and questioned my mother’s intelligence.
When we arrived at the hospital, I was put on a stretcher and raced through the hallways, TV doctor show style. That was fun and I felt very important. That doctors running through the hallway pushing a stretcher was the universal sign of “bad shit is going down” did not occur to me.
About an hour after being admitted, I announced to my mother that I was fine now, and we could go home, we just needed to stop off at the store and get some meat. Sure, that makes sense, right?
My logic was sound if you look at it through six-year-old eyes. My arm was splinted with Styrofoam, that in my mind was the same as the Styrofoam trays on which ground beef is sold. It didn’t hurt anymore, which I attributed to the meat tray, not the copious amount of drugs flowing through my veins. I was good to go, let’s just grab some chuck and be on our way. Why were we sitting there like fools?
I was legitimately annoyed when the answer was no. Clearly, they didn’t understand what I did, but what could I do?
Later, a friendly nurse came in to administer pain medication to me. I politely declined. I wasn’t scared of needles, in fact, I proudly declared my lack of fear to her, but I didn’t need pain meds because I wasn’t in pain. She insisted on giving them to me anyway, which proved to me that nurses didn’t get it any more than my mom did. Pain meds are for pain, and I was not in pain, the meat tray was doing its job, so why jab me? The idea of giving more meds before the initial ones wore off to prevent breakthrough pain did not occur to me.
I gave in, offered my arm, then watched this smiling nurse painfully jab a needle into my leg. WTF, nurse? First of all, my arm is the broken part, why are you putting pain meds into my leg. Second of all, are you Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? What kind of nurse grabs a needle in a closed fist and jams it hard into a kid, with a smile no less. It was years before I realized it was a spring-loaded needle, not a sadistic nurse.
Finally, the time came for my surgery to set my arm. The anesthesiologist pinched my hand to show me how much the IV he was about to place would hurt. I didn’t get why he would hurt me to show me how much he was about to hurt me. Why would he hurt me twice? Of course, now I know he was trying to reassure me that it would only hurt a little, but six-year-old me had just come to the conclusion that hospital doctors like to hurt kids for no reason.
As I drifted off, the last thing I saw was an image of my arm, with two 1-inch gaps in the bones. I hadn’t just broken my arm, I had lost chunks of it. That the image was being projected, and the rest of my arm was about four feet long did not register. What is scale when you’re six?
I came to in recovery, next to a woman who was screaming in abject agony. Logically, I expected to be in extreme pain at any moment. This was clearly the pain room.
When asked if I needed anything, I said a ginger ale, because the last time I had been in the hospital, my sister had gotten one, I had not, and I was still bitter. At least this time, I had an awesome, super hard cast I could threaten people with.
Why am I telling this story? Because, although I remember nearly every moment of it clear as day, looking back on it with the life experience of a grown-up, I see that I had interpreted so much of what was happening completely wrong. And that’s important.
We need to remember that children filter information through their own experiences with the world, and as children, they don’t have many to compare things to. We ask them to understand, to be brave, to comply, but we often fail to recognize that while we are looking at the same thing, they are seeing it completely differently than we are.
We need to ask them what they think, and how they drew that conclusion, and gently clarify as necessary. We could learn a thing or two from their perspective as well.
Seeing the world through the eyes of a child is a marvellous gift they give us.