Parental reminders – living in the moments….

We have experiences now and again in life that refocus us, or allow us to reconsider our approach, our beliefs or just our general attitude to the worldly things that occur around us all the time. I had one of these experiences yesterday and am still processing it emotionally. I’m choosing to share because I believe part of our interaction in this world, is engagement with the triggers of the experiences of others.

I was spectating at a cross country meet with my boys. It takes some time to progress through the age groups and while waiting, my eldest two (10 & 12yrs old and light,wiry built boys), were passing a rugby ball with some boys at the meet. This apparently progressed into an impromptu game of rugby. My first indication that something was wrong was my 11yr old running up and giving me a very serious “Daddy you need to come quickly!” I knew this was serious – I looked around and saw my eldest on the ground unmoving.

When I got to him, his eyes were closed, there was intermittent but inadvertent movement of legs and arms. He clearly had trauma to the side of his head and right eye. He was non-responsive verbally or otherwise to stimuli at that time. Massive amounts of thoughts and emotions pass through your mind at that point, from the mundane to the deep. These include fear alternating with sensibility, practicality, despair and the bit of first aid training I have. I think the worst for me was his non-responsiveness to my voice or presence and my inability to reach him. His eyes opened and closed periodically but there was just a wild, combative look and overwhelming fear. I eventually managed to check pupils movement and dilation – these appeared to be fine.

I was told that one of the boys had tackled him in what turned into a ‘spear tackle’. This occurs when the person being tackled is lifted, turned and basically dropped on their head.These tackles are against the rules in matches but do happen. In my opinion they are not punished seriously enough and this is why young boys are still copying them in play.

As we waited for an ambulance I could only support and try to calm his actions while all of the issues around brain injuries and death from brain swelling/internal bleeding etc passed through my mind. The problem with indicators of these is that you cannot see them until its too late and in the absence of specialised emergency response equipment you cannot treat it either. I couldn’t help my son any more at that point. I was at the mercy of this experience/process and could only ‘be’ there. This was beyond hard. A friend recently lost his son in an accident and sat with him as he died. I momentarily experienced the emotion of that father as I sat with my son – it was overwhelming. I had to call my wife and tell her but what to ‘tell’ her except to get there now. Then I had to ‘deal’ with my thoughts, how good had I been as a Dad, what about the times I wasn’t there for him, the times I could have spent with him and didn’t, the things I didn’t tell or haven’t told him – my boy, my eldest amazing son!

The ambulance arrived and vitals checked. These were stable at the time so that helped. He was strapped onto a board with a neck brace (eventually removed to try to settle him more) while periodically fighting and struggling with that wild look in the eyes – no verbal reaction at all. I could only try to calm him and again just ‘be’ there. They always say the trip to the emergency room takes forever – it did!! On arrival they immediately lightly sedated him and took him for a CT scan.

This showed no brain damage or skull fracture, swelling around the neck vertebrae and we were told basically just no major issue but time will tell. Then a minute by minute process started for us. he would fade in and out and each ‘in’ time was aggressive/frustrated. He now started to react verbally and kept asking me to ‘help’ him. He vomited, continued to be non responsive verbally, the periodic aggressiveness reduced slowly over the next 3 or 4 hours. Eventually he would point to his head when I asked what hurts. The little things and the progress they indicated became the total focus of our world. Each one was weighed in terms of all its possible meanings and what this implied for the potential, or not, of long term damage. It was all patently unscientific on my side but still real for me and my ‘coping’ process.

Only a parent knows what its like to see your child in this situation. All your beliefs and convictions, all your actions and mechanisms are challenged and all at the same time!! At this stage I needed to work with me and I eventually settled around various issues. I have always believed that the first, second and third most important things we can ‘give’ our children is unconditional love. As a parent of more than one child, we can only ‘be there’ for them as much as we can. What limits us however, is that ‘can’ is an incredibly loaded term. Unfortunately with regard to our children, our inherent guilt issues, our lack of trust in ourselves and our ingrained doubt about our parental performance can be overwhelming. You can easily have dealt with all of these in the rest of your life but be absolutely useless with them as regards your children.

One of my other biggest maxims has always been that having children is a series of ‘moments’, none of these ‘moments’ to be repeated – ever! So being fully ‘present’ (in the broadest sense of the word) in however many of those moments you choose to be ‘in’, is fundamental to your experience of parenthood. The bottom line is that you can only do what you can and be who and what you are. If you live an aware life and are continually challenging and improving your ‘whole’ self then you can let go of this guilt and know that in any moment you are being true to yourself and by extension true to those amazing beings that are your children in this life.

The kind of experience I was having was a reminder of this to me, a reminder of fragility, of the speed at which things can and often do change dramatically. A reminder that an aware life that allows me to be present in every moment is the only way I can deal with the inevitable ‘parent/self’ doubt that arises when faced with an event of this nature.

At around 0200 that night he had a major vomit and reactions that signified a positive shift in the process. He lay back and said “I’m in the hospital?” He had no recollection of what happened and was disturbed by this. He slept more and settled down even more. the aggressive responses abated and then stopped completely. When he next came too, he lay there and I knew he was ‘back’ albeit with a huge headache and a major concussion. But when he asked me something and I said I wasn’t sure, my impish son said – “I thought it was me with the head injury, not you!” I knew he was back and we were ok!

Receiving his 'bravery' certificate before leaving the hospital.
Receiving his ‘bravery’ certificate before leaving the hospital.

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