Posted: May 10, 2002 12:00 AM
Under normal conditions, this column would be about Colin Powell and his implacable indifference to the intentions of Yasser Arafat. But these are not ordinary times in our household. On Friday, May 3, at 5:15 p.m., our oldest son, Jonathan, was riding his bike in our driveway. For reasons that we do not now know, he lost control of his bike and rode directly into the street, where he was hit by a passing car. I did not see the accident, but something looked wrong out the front window. Cars were stopping. I walked outside to investigate, and then I saw Jonathan on the street. He had fallen from his bike. Might be broken bones. But then I saw the car. Its side-view mirror was hanging by a wire. Oh dear God. Jon lay next to the broken bicycle, unconscious and bleeding. If my neighbor and friend, Dr. Bruce Werness, had not been on the spot, I think I would instinctively have done the wrong thing. I would have scooped him up. The emergency team arrived within 5 minutes, bless them. They cut the clothes off my 11-year-old's body and the helmet off his head (that helmet, without any doubt, saved his life). There wasn't terribly much blood after all -- a cut on his chin. He was crying a bit, which everyone said was a good sign. But it was a strange sounding cry. We got into the ambulance and headed for the nearest hospital. I told the driver that it felt to me that we were moving in slow motion. She understood. The nurse at the hospital explained that the doctors would examine him, and if they didn't like what they saw, they would helicopter him to a trauma center. Jonathan's eyes were moving rhythmically left to right in their sockets. The medical personnel whispered, careful not to let us hear whatever awful things they were seeing with their trained eyes. Within minutes, we heard (my husband had arrived) that he was being helicoptered to the trauma center. Next came the worst two hours of the ordeal thus far. When we arrived at the emergency room, the nurse took us to a private waiting room and said a social worker would be in to talk to us. You never want to hear that in an ER. After her gentle but uninformative explanation of CT scans and evaluations, the trauma surgeon arrived to say that it looked "serious." Jon was in a coma. "Will he die tonight?" I asked. "I don't think so," came the reply. Hardly the ringing negative one hoped for. Several centuries later, when they were moving Jon to the pediatric intensive care unit, we got better news. There didn't seem to be much blood in his brain after all, maybe just a small subdural bleed. But our son was in a coma, on a respirator. The first night, I attempted to sleep in his room in the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit). Fat chance. Exhausted, I slept the next day at home for several hours, as Bob took up the bedside post. My 8- and 6-year olds behaved as perfect angels, and our surpassingly wonderful friends descended with food, outings for the other boys and moral support. Family members phoned. And so, while desperate, we were never desolate. It has now been six days since the accident. On the second day, his fever began to rise. On the third day, he was diagnosed with pneumonia. "We can treat that," they reassured us. But beneath that confidence was the unspoken reality -- they can't do much for rattled brains. We must simply wait and see. He'll wake up soon, they predicted. On Sunday evening, they finally removed the miserable tracheal tube. We kept talking to Jonathan. At night, he would manage to pull his feeding tube out of his nose as many as four times. But the coma persisted. On Tuesday, Jon finally opened one eye. The following day, he opened the other. But his moments of consciousness are still intermittent. He can squeeze your hand in response to questions, but cannot yet speak. And after just a few seconds of interaction, his eyes roll down, a signal that his brain is tired and we need to back off. He will probably have to go to a rehabilitation hospital, and there are none in our area. So you may not be hearing from me for a while. Prayers are appreciated.