Wednesday, 11 April 2012

A not so Happy Passover...

I'm sitting here, feeling that I really need to post this but fingers are kind of trembling a bit. This post is intended to be a very brief one, a little summary of how the Passover festival started in our household last Friday evening and where things are now. It has nothing to do with the post-academic topic really, but it has had the effect of making me think again about how life's surprises force one to stop and put work/career problems aside.

Okay, so last Friday my husband and I were spending the afternoon preparing for the Seder meal intended for about ten of us in total. My 15 year old son was happily hanging around in his pyjamas and dressing gown, playing cards with his sister, and watching TV until he was prompted to go out with some friends with his skateboard to the local park. We warned him that he'd better be back early as that we wouldn't have to wait around for him as he's had the habit in the past, in strolling in after forgetting the time, for the start of an important festival like the Jewish New Year. We are not very religious, but we follow the festivals and have fun celebrating them with friends who live locally, so it's important to us that he and my daughter are involved too.

Just as we decided to have a break at around 3.45 we got a phone call from his friend who started the conversation with, '....... is okay, but he's hurt himself on his skateboard and we're waiting for the ambulance to come. Here's the emergency services lady who can talk to you...' She starts off the same way, saying that he's fine, but witnesses there noticed that after he crashed, he'd had a seizure for a few minutes. He's talking now, will put him on the phone', and so on.

My husband rushed off to meet them at the local hospital to find they were late after the ambulance broke down, of all things. Luckily he hadn't shown any worrying neurological difficulties, with the exception if vomiting and bad headache, but a CT scan showed a fractured skull and bleeding - extradural haematoma. There was a worry about his neck and possible lung puncture but Xrays there were okay. The bleeding was not large enough to warrant surgical removal so close observations in high dependency unit were the immediate solution.

He's only been taken out of the HDU and now in the ward but has had excruciating head pain and lots of vomiting, which has made him very weak. He's had some better moments when he seemed to respond to the pain killers but many others when morphine hasn't even helped. Yesterday seemed to be the worst. He woke at 6am with terrible pain that lasted throughout the day into the night, and only after vomiting again after 3am, did he manage to dose off. I stayed the night there next to him just so he wouldn't feel alone, and I can say, it's been one of the most difficult things I've ever had to witness. Today has gone on with little improvement as more vomiting has made him even weaker.

Some of this time, when I've had moments to email or text friends, I've thought about how relieved I've been not to be caught up in all the marking I would have been doing at this time in the year. Of course, if I was still teaching, it would all just have to wait, or be passed on to someone else in the department who would offer to help, gladly I'm sure, to know they could take the load off, but they certainly wouldn't be grateful for the extra work.  We have also needed to think about our son's studies now, as this is the big exam period for GCSE students in the UK and he is meant to be revising for some exams which will start soon after the Easter break. When he's felt some relief with pain meds he's mentioned his worries about having to get on with studying and wants us to bring in his books. Of course, these moments have been very short indeed. We've learned not to feel too positive about a quick recovery just yet, after seeing him plummet back down when the pain comes back.

I am also grateful for the UK National Health Service for the great care they've given him. I am always stilled surprised, after living in this country for over 20 years, that I have never been asked to show a health insurance card, fill out a form about every detail of our lives so that if the bill isn't paid the collectors will chase us up and take our house away if all else fails. After living with this in the US so long, old habits die hard. And I often find myself wondering when things will get bad enough for the NHS to stop offering free prescriptions for 16 year olds and under - when will we be forced to become more like the US with everything going private? The NHS, in spite of the problems that any institution of this kind will have, has offered top notch care, called us to let us know how he is when we've been home having a break, and responded to his every need quickly without a grunt.  For the moment, if my husband lost his job tomorrow (who knows, anything can happen now), the one thing we would not have to be losing sleep over is the need for health insurance.

Okay, back to the 'exams' subject. All of this business about exams and work doesn't matter when one realises how seriously close we've been to maybe losing him or experiencing worse injuries with poor outcomes. At the moment, we've been told the bruising on the interior part of the brain will mean he'll have to be on anti-seizure medication for a longer time, and perhaps there's an increased risk that he's likely to have more seizures in the future. But we're grateful he's alive. I won't go into a long diatribe about the whole issue of teens not wearing helmets when they skateboard - could be here forever. Some famous celebrity skateboarder from the US will have to be the face of a campaign or design for 'cool' skating helmets that they'll all be happy to wear. The boy is only 15 and can be forgiven. But maybe some of these older guys (most of the skateboarding community is male, with a few exceptions, I guess) can take on the responsibility to change the culture a bit around high risk skating activities. How can I email this person?
Heavy sigh...the struggle isn't over yet. Our biggest heartache is seeing him in so pain and getting him through that. When he's home I'll post a little note to say so and find some time to get back on the post-academic posting when life feels like it's getting back to normal. But for now, there are other things I'll be busy with.


  1. wooah. That's some serious business you've been dealing with. Fingers crossed for a speedy recovery for your son and the rest of your family. Unfortunately it's too true - life can change in an instant.

  2. I'm truly sorry to hear about your son's accident, and I certainly hope he recovers soon.

  3. Oh my gosh, how terrifying!! I'm so sorry that this happened to your family. I'm glad that he appears to be getting better but hope that his pain and the worry will cease soon.

    I do know a few people who've been on anti-seizure meds for a few years following an accident or a random isolated seizure episode, and none of them have ever had any more seizures or issues once they were weaned off the meds. So I'm confident your son will be fine in the long run - and it's better to be safe than sorry.

    I have some thoughts about the US health care system (I actually work peripherally in that industry) and on the work/life balance in academia when important things come up ... but I'll save it for another time. For now, I'm just glad that your son is alert and awake and doing pretty well, and I'm sending good healing thoughts his way. Keep us posted when you have the time!

  4. I'm so sorry you've all had to go through this! Best wishes for a speedy recovery!!

  5. Hi all,

    It seems ages since writing this post and I first want to say how much I appreciate your nice thoughts here. My son finally came home the other day on Tuesday and we are trying a slow reintegration back into school now - a couple of hours here and there. He's having headaches (managed with over the counter pain killers) but tiring easily. We discovered with all of the sickness he had last week that he lost 10 pounds in less than 7 days. We are just trying to getting over the shock of the whole thing and get the household back into a normal kind of routine again. I will need to be close by to make sure he is okay going to and from school for the next week or so. He'll be in anti-seizure meds for about 3 months and apparently one of the side effects of tiredness, which won't help his aim to get back into the swing of studies, but hopefully it will lessen in time. I could say a lot more but will end it there and say that I'm aiming to respond to some of the great posts I've been noticing on other blogs. It may take me a bit more time to put up something useful here but I will say that I've been reading What Color Is Your Parachute? and think it might inspire me.

    Thanks once again!