You know how they say time slows down when something terrible happens? Turns out that’s true. For about six minutes this week, I thought my son had broken his back. I felt like I was trapped in those six minutes for all eternity.
If your child has broken a bone or had an accident or medical emergency of any sort, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
One minute my son was playing football with his brother in the garden at my parents’ house. The next, he was lying on his back on the ground, howling like something from a horror movie, struggling to move.
And, as is the nature of most accidents, it probably never would have happened if I hadn’t turned my back for a split second.
His older brother accidentally kicked the football over the fence, sending it into the field behind the house where my parents live. It happens every time we visit, virtually daily, and consequently my son has mastered the art of scaling the fence in seconds, retrieving the ball, and relying on a helping hand from his dad or grandfather to haul him safely back into Granny’s garden.
It was probably an accident waiting to happen; something we never should have allowed the boys to do. But hindsight’s a wonderful thing, and I never thought to question it.
Except on this occasion I was momentarily distracted from the football game, attending to my toddler, so I didn’t notice my son trying to climb back over the fence without adult supervision. I didn’t hear my ten year old say he could take his brother’s weight. I never saw my son lose grasp of his brother’s hand. I didn’t realise he was falling from a six foot high fence straight onto his back, until the sound of his cries alerted half the neighbourhood to the fact that something Very Bad had happened. This is a kid who puts on a brave face when he’s hurt, a tough guy who wouldn’t ordinarily cry in public, never mind lie screaming in the street.
He is absolutely fine, thanks to his lucky stars, but in the moments that followed I experienced that gut-wrenching, sickening fear that no parent can convey in words.
It was instantly obvious that he couldn’t get up and as shock took hold, sending his leg into violent muscle spasms, I had to hold myself back from howling right alongside with him.
I ran to him, fearing the worst, and overcome with guilt. I don’t need to spell out the things I feared, but I remember pleading silently over and over again, ‘But he wants to play for England some day…’
Deep down, I must have known he was ok - at least that’s the only excuse I can find for the fact that I picked him up - the worst thing to do if a spinal injury is suspected - and ran with him in my arms back to my parents’ house. I can barely lift that boy to hug him, so how I made it across that field at full-speed whilst carrying him is beyond me.
By bedtime, by some miracle, he was tucked up at home, dispatched from A&E with a clean bill of health, a seriously sore back, and a caution against climbing fences.
I’ll never understand why my son had a lucky escape that day, or why other parents must endure the things that the rest of us only touch the very edges of in our deepest fears.
As I carried him up the stairs to bed that night, I couldn’t shake the thought that things could have ended so differently, and while I’m not the type to spin you some cheesy ‘life can change in a heartbeat, so cherish those you love’ rhetoric, I feel compelled to act uncharacteristically, just this once.
None of us know what’s around the corner, or what curve balls the universe might conspire to throw at us when we least expect it. And when life takes a turn for the worse, that’s often how it happens; a sudden, unforeseen series of events which leave you longing for a time machine. So let’s not let life slip through our fingers. Be thankful for the good things life has given you, hold tight to those you love, and tell them often just how much they mean.
As for me? I’ll never again take for granted the dreams of that budding England star. But if I ever catch him shimmying up a fence again…
Image credit: Flickr.com/Benjamin Ellis