They have made some improvements in the Family Surgery Waiting Room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth over the past few years. A new coffee maker, a much more modern information panel that gives you up to the minute news about the progress of patients, and even a few new jigsaw puzzles (oh joy….more jigsaw puzzles). I got to check it all out last night…
(How is that for an opening line to induce panic in all of you?!! Yes, for you long-time readers of these updates, this is going to be THAT one.)
It all started with an innocent game of softball on the Lower Diamond. Now whether or not you are a baseball fan, you have to acknowledge that an evening softball game at summer camp is hardly a high-risk activity. But we found a way! The hero of our story was on first base when a fly ball was hit to the outfield. Being a smart baserunner, he went halfway to second and waited to see the outcome of the fly ball. When the ball was caught, he turned on his heels and headed back to first base…and fell. In a freakishly unlucky moment, he landed on his hands, but the force of the fall was enough to damage his arm…in fact, to break both of the bones in his lower right arm.
As is always the case in tough situations like this, today, looking back at it, I find myself more impressed than ever with the nature of our camp family.
When the call came in on my radio, I headed straight down to the Lower Diamond. When I arrived, our camp doctor and the boy’s counselor were already there assisting to stabilize and calm the boy. He was indeed quite scared and in a fair bit of pain. One look at the boy’s arm made it pretty clear that we were dealing with a break.
Knowing that a hospital trip was in order, we called for one of our assistant trip directors, a proven calm and positive force in a crisis, to take him in to the hospital, along with the boy’s brother, who happened to be on staff. I absolutely KNEW that these two wonderful staff members would be able to not only deal with the details of the situation, but would be perfect companions for the boy on what would doubtlessly be an intimidating and very difficult next few hours. Within minutes, the three of them were off to St. Mary’s.
My next order of business was to place THE CALL. I am sure that most of you have had nightmares about getting THE CALL at one point or another. I am sure that each time a 715 area code pops up on your phone during the summer, your stomach sinks in fear that you are about to receive THE CALL. Each time I make THE CALL, I prepare myself for an incredibly upset and potentially panicked parent. I mean, who wouldn’t be incredibly upset and panicked upon learning that their child was struggling? Well, I will tell you who. In my ten years of doing this, the answer is every single parent to whom I have had to make THE CALL. They are always calm, level-headed, trusting, and incredibly easy to work with. Such was the case again last night. The parents were amazing.
When I arrived at the hospital about an hour later, I arrived to a completely calm room as the boy’s older brother, an incredibly kind, warm, intuitive guy was reading wilderness essays to soothe his frightened brother. He knew just what to do and it had worked; the boy had calmed to a point that he even gave me a few courtesy laughs as I tried to make a couple jokes to lighten the situation. Within five minutes of my arrival, the on-call orthopedic doctor, who had just finished reading the boy’s x-rays, was headed into the room to share the diagnosis and plan (crazy lucky timing for me). The break would require a surgery that needed to be performed as soon as possible. And our hero melted down. Who wouldn’t? Can you imagine? A 13-year old boy has to have surgery while his parents are 1200 miles away? So yes…he was scared, and he let us know it. This nervousness went on for about 15 minutes, and then something happened. I am not sure what it was, but a switch seemed to flip in this boy and he went from terrified and irrational, to one of the greatest stand-up comics ever to grace the St. Mary’s Emergency Room (a rather dubious honor). For the next 2 ½ hours (there was quite a waiting line for the operating rooms…thanks a lot 4th of July Weekend in Duluth!) the boy kept us all entertained with truly hilarious witticisms, goofiness, and sarcasm. Yes…you read that right…the terrified boy with the broken arm spent the 2 ½ hours before his first ever surgery, and with parents 1200 miles away, entertaining his older brother, the assistant trip director, and a camp director that narcissistically thought that his presence, charm and wit was the only way to save the day. The comedy routines of the boy charmed and cheered the ER staff at St. Mary’s, the operating room nurse, the orthopedic surgeon, and the anesthesiologist (a normally sleepy kind of guy) minutes before his surgery…and as they rolled him away from us and into surgery I am pretty sure I heard him belt out “To infinity and beyond!” When the surgery was over, normally a groggy and physically challenging time for a patient, the stand-up sets continued immediately. Within seconds of his arrival, he had both the charge nurse and his admit nurse in stitches.
And remember, this was all from the boy that had started his evening terrified, sobbing, and in pain. (Well…the evening actually began with lasagna and brownie glop back at camp…but this works better for my story ok?) That same boy, within the span of just about nine hours, had learned that he could handle the toughest curveballs (baseball pun intended), flip a switch and become an individual that not only got himself through the night, but helped EVERYONE around him.
I need to dole out some credit to folks that deserve it.
A HUGE amount of credit needs to be given to our wonderful staff. They were right there the entire time. They never flinched, never wavered, and seemed completely unphased by a really challenging situation. They were fun, they were funny, they were professional, and they were caring. They were as good as anyone could ever hope a doctor, nurse, and counselor could be.
A special shout out to that wonderful older brother who knew just when to be nurturing, just when to be funny, and just when to be stern. He was brilliant.
Thanks, too, to the terrific parents from Charlottesville. They were completely calm and single-minded about making sure that what was best for their son got done. They were absolutely wonderful.
Lastly, I want to give some credit to the brave boy that went through a really scary experience with grace, humor, and dignity. He impressed all of us with his ability to be positive, funny, and forward thinking…Great kid!
I rolled back into camp this morning at just after five. Dawn was just breaking here and the place was silent and beautiful. There were already a few lights on in places as people had started their work days at camp. By this afternoon, the boy had returned to camp to start his day….I think his plan was to start at the art shop.
All is well in the North Woods….