“There was one day,” drawled Jeff, father of four boys, “we went to the ER three times.”
His reveries were a highlight at an eighth-grade graduation, during which a friend or relative spoke for each student. “Three times!” he repeated, and listed the reason for each visit.
I laughed and laughed; we all did. That was four years ago. My younger son, Roy, was 14. His older brother, Ted, then 17, spoke on Roy’s behalf. Ted stood waveringly at the podium, crutches under his arms, just out of surgery the day before.
Yesterday I sat in the orthopedic surgeon’s office, not laughing at all this time, as we scheduled our second surgery during the same week this Christmas. Both boys. By the same surgeon. It’s our older son’s second time with this surgeon, third one with that office.
Roy, himself now 17 and with an injured elbow, immediately thought of duck season, asking, “Will I be able to shoot a gun?”
My boys love Dr. L. He likes to get kids back out and active fast. But he also knows exactly what they do.
Dr. L narrowed his eyes. “What do you think?” he said.
Ted started with an elbow (football) at 16, moved to a knee (weight room), 17, and, now 20, is slated for a shoulder (rugby).
Roy, as noted, is going in for an elbow (gym).
“Startin’ the cycle, Mom!” he says.
In his office last summer, Dr. L. asked Ted the date of his last surgery and of the previous one, done by one of the surgeon’s partners.
“They were one year apart,” Ted said, glancing at me and adding penitently, “with a broken collarbone in between” (bike).
We’ve ventured a few laughs over whether anyone at the hospital would get the two mixed up. Possibly operate on the wrong guy. The boys do, after all, look alike. Roy says he is going to write, in Magic Marker, “NO!” on both of his shoulders.
But, boy, have I had enough. Arranging and attending appointments. Tending to the boys in recovery. Worst, I handle all the health insurance. With deductibles, and two different accident-insurance policies, and other layers, and considering that Ted hurt that knee two days before we were to start with a new insurance company, torpedoing the plan and earning an “uprating” on another ever since, insurance-management has been like a second job for me.
A friend once said her family had bought accident insurance every year, too.
“They never made any money off us,” she said. “We have boys.”
For Ted, with the recent labral tear, a surgical fix was recommended for as soon as the patient could find “a season.” He wanted to work the summer as a ranch hand, and play college football this fall, so he decided to sacrifice winter to the four- to six-month recovery.
At that appointment, I asked if Ted could ski upon his return to college in January.
No skiing, Dr. L said.
“Can I shoot a gun?” Ted asked. Last winter break he hunted near daily during late season; got an animal; and then continued to hunt with his friend Carson.
“No,” Dr. L said, with emphasis, but not without humor.
“Can I go for a hike?” Ted asked next.
“What kind of hike?” Dr. L asked suspiciously.
“To take my friend elk hunting,” Ted admitted.
“No!” Dr. L said. “What are you going to do when it’s time to quarter it and carry it out?”
Four years ago, at a post-op visit to Dr. L’s office, Ted’s elbow was being examined when Roy piped up stiffly, “I think you should know, he threw me on a trampoline yesterday.”
“What?” Dr. L asked, aghast, while Ted glared, then hung his head to be scolded.
Outside, of course, Ted’s first words were an explosive, “Roy!” while his brother scrambled out of the way.
But Ted said resignedly, “It’s OK. I probably needed to hear that.”
Today we arranged Roy’s next appointments. I rechecked the dates for Ted’s.
As we left, Dr. L said, “No throwing each other around on trampolines!”
And so it begins. Holly and pre-ops, mistletoe and another MRI.
— “Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at email@example.com.