The doctor clipped the X-rays onto the screen: tiny ghostly ribs, spine, shoulders.
“If someone’s going to break a bone,” he said consolingly, “this is the one to break.”
It was the first sunny day of our annual beach week at the Delaware shore, pelted by residual rains from Hurricane Alex, lurking off the Carolina shores. We spent it at the hospital; Sam had a broken collarbone. That’s what we do: On our vacations, my family goes to the hospital.
An attendant corollary of beach trips is that we attract natural disasters. In past years, we have had our own hurricanes, though we keep switching the dates around: one year Andrew; one, Bonnie. Another year it was merely floods, with streets closed, children playing on rafts in their backyards, and water halfway up our hubcaps, a fanlike wake emanating behind us. Three years ago, with a blast and a zing, lightning struck a telephone pole 500 feet away as my sons, nephew and I ran from our car into a building.
And now we have another hurricane, small Sam. Exceptionally active and extroverted, with a predilection toward viewing, say, household items as swift missiles, Sam nails most categories laid out in the fine book “Raising Your Spirited Child.” My own sons, Teddy and Roy, are hardly decorous, either; it is literally harder for them to walk than run.
“He’s 3,” my sister Lucy, holding Sam, lamented to kind Dr. Fioretti, “and this is his third trip to the emergency room.” The doctor chuckled (again).
“I hate to tell you, it won’t be his last,” he said.
Teddy and Sam had been roughhousing, playing horse; Sam had pitched. His collarbone showed plain as day on the X-ray, snapped like a twig.
Sam emerged into the waiting room wearing a miniature blue sling and an expression of great gravity and importance.
A year ago, our summer casualty had unfolded at a water park, when Sam got stuck in a tunnel (through the hull of a pirate ship), and Lucy wormed irreversibly after him. Arms pinned by the walls, mistakenly thinking the water was several feet deep, she flopped forward ” right onto her nose. I looked up to see her face pouring blood, as my brother, Ted, led her to the medics. The bridge of her nose was cut but the interior fortunately unbroken, though around it her face swelled broad as a lion’s.
Last Thanksgiving, the three boys were playing in a new tent, a gift from my other sister, Meg, when merry Sam vaulted through its door clear to the back wall, bowing the fabric outward and cracking his forehead against the coffee table. He gained nine stitches that night, and as he left the good folk at Valley View Hospital, and the waiting room, with its tropical-fish tank, where Aunt Meg had so agreeably read book upon book to him, he waved and called out, “Thanks for all the fun!”
Still, our trips are reunions, and I like to think they make memories for the children, even he who is too small to really form them (he may, though, recall the fracture for its dignity). Each time we visit the beach, I remember childhood trips: walking on the sand at night holding my father’s hand; lying on my belly in the warm sand, watching passing planes drag their “sky ad” banners for live music and seafood buffets; buying fudge on the boardwalk.
The boys are creating their own customs. Each year, costumed, they have pictures taken at the Old-Time Photo shop in Bethany Beach; are at some point buried up to their necks (an event also photographed); and are bought boardwalk custards and fries with vinegar. Even for Sam, I believe, the images merge into a stream that runs into the future.
It’s just that one of our customs is emergency medicine.
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (write GSPI as subject heading).
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