(This is another in a series of posts comparing my childhood to my children’s. This one falls under the heading of accidents and injuries and, this time, it’s my child’s experience first.)
This may be my favorite story about Ms. Turtle Dream. I like this adventure from start to finish because it illustrates the full spectrum of this child’s composition from the ridiculous to the sublime. You will recall, from an earlier post, that I believe, although I have nursed, clothed and sheltered this one, she is not mine. She was either switched in the nursery, although I have trouble imagining the parents who provided her genetic origins, or- quite possibly- she is an alien.
When T.D. was 16 and Spring Break was looming she announced that she wanted to go back to Isla de Mujeres to get her advanced scuba diving certification with her favorite instructor, Gabriel. Gabriel runs the dive shop at a small family run resort on this tiny island, far from the hustle and bustle of Cancun, the closest airport. That seemed like a good plan to me and I made the arrangements. Isla Mujeres is one of our favorite places for a week long break; we know the island well including the best local restaurants, we enjoy the golf-cart mode of transportation and, in the relative scheme of things, it’s a very inexpensive and off the beaten path way to spend time on the white sand beaches of the Caribbean.
At the time T.D. was taking Calculus AP at the alternative high school where she was a junior. A major exam was scheduled for one week before vacation and T.D. had studied hard; math is one of her strengths. PMS is not. Each month she swings into it as though it’s never happened before, as though she has no experience with this phenomena and for all the world she looks like, hmm, maybe, Linda Blair on ‘shrooms. It’s bad. The other 25 days, she’s swimming through life like a charmed being but during this brief spell I’ve thought more than once she was near the end of our respective ropes.
She arrived at class, crampy and tired, and many of her fellow students were whining and complaining that they weren’t ready for the test. Because alternative education is very democratic in nature the teacher offered this option: They would vote on taking it that day or one week from that day, which would be the last day before break. But if they voted for a delay there would be no exceptions, no makeups, no do-overs. T.D. had plans for that last day; she was going to be en route to Isla Mujeres. The class voted to postpone and without saying a word T.D. got up and left the room (alternative high school is a place where you can come, go, roam the halls at will. It’s your education, after all.). Without a word of complaint or any fuss she walked out into the hallway, fumed silently for 15 seconds and then she slugged a cast iron radiator with her right fist. She went back in the classroom and sat down.
That night she was at her Dad’s but as it seems to be the case, I got the call at 2AM. "Mom, I think I broke my hand." After I exclaimed and sputtered and marveled I agreed she needed to go to urgent care and I picked her up and took her. There, the doctor looked it over and said they would x-ray it but they would probably be sending us to the orthopedist the next day. During the x-ray this stoic child passed out cold when the technician rotated her hand on the metal plate. I heard the commotion and raced in to find her in a heap on the floor, out cold, soaked with urine and a huge welt on her head. This required a head x-ray as well and it was hours before we left, T.D. in hospital scrubs and I, with a ball of wet clothing and a referral to the orthopedist.
We went to the orthopedist and fortunately his specialty was sports medicine, mostly tending football players. He walked into the exam room and smiled at T.D. and slapped her x-ray into the light box. Then he turned and looked at her again. Turned and looked at the x-ray again. And said, "I trust whoever you slugged didn’t get up." Well, heh, it was a cast iron radiator. She was appropriately embarrassed as he explained that she had a "boxer’s break" of two fingers and admonished her to get this kind of thing out of her system while she was still on her parent’s health insurance. He explained she would need a cast for 4-6 weeks and asked if she had any questions.
For the first time, T.D. teared up and whimpered, "I guess this means I can’t go diving." I don’t remember ever feeling so sorry for a child over the trouble they get themselves into. He put a hard cast on for five days and the day before we flew he switched her to a fiberglass swimming cast. His parting words to me were, "Make an appointment for the day you get back. That cast is going to stink so bad you’ll want it changed the second you get home." Truer words were never spoken.
T.D. had four diving days to complete the whole course because she couldn’t deep water dive the day before flying back and one day was cloudy. In this period of time she became quite adept at using her left hand to lift tanks, get in and out of equipment and use her dive computer. T.D. and Gabriel enjoy diving together; she’s an enthusiastic but relaxed diver and Gabriel always says, "She’s a natural." When T.D. is on a diving week she basically eats, dives, eats, dives and sleeps. I snorkel and read. During this week she was the only young person at the small resort and most everyone else was either European or Canadian. She made friends with some of the other diving guests and they were very impressed with her ability to dive competently with only the use of her left hand.
The last possible night she could dive was the only opportunity for her to do a deep water night dive, a requirement for advanced certification. Just T.D. and Gabriel headed out at dusk and I hung around the restaurant lounge area reading and waiting for her to get back. By then T.D. had about a dozen members of her new fan club of fellow divers also waiting in the bar to hear how she finished up. The two of them were out about three hours and it was almost 10 pm before they pulled up to the dock. I noticed that T.D. literally flew out of the boat and over to the outdoor shower where she stood with her right arm extended up into the spray of water. Gabriel came over to where I was seated and said, "She did great! And she has quite a story to tell you." T.D. called that she was going to run change and please get her some pasta.
When she came down to the restaurant she was greeted with a round of applause and the Mexican waiters had baked her a special cake for dessert. She was both extremely hungry and extremely excited to tell about her night dive where she saw turtles and phosphorescent schools of fish and eels but the best part was this:
She was holding her computer in her good left hand and her flashlight straight out in her casted right hand. They were looking in some crevices when she came upon a whole school of teeny tiny baby seahorses. She was watching them in her light when suddenly one darted towards her hand and slipped into the tiny sliver of space between her cast and her hand.
While she was still registering surprise over that two more darted in, then seven, then a dozen and then, in mere seconds, she had several dozen tiny seahorses inside her cast.
She got Gabriel’s attention to show him what was happening. He signaled for her to turn off her light while he was shining his directly at her hand and after the longest minutes ever out popped a seahorse. Then another, some more and finally the whole herd of seahorses emerged from her cast. She hoped.
For the next two days T.D. would look at her hand and shiver. A few times she asked me if I though they had all come out. I said I didn’t know and she said she was worried that a couple had gotten trapped and died in there. It certainly smelled like it.
What did T.D. learn from this incident of impulsive self-injury? She learned that the next time she was PMS-ing during a period of extreme stress in her life she should throw herself out of a moving car. Another story.