It was day 9 of the 14 day summer holiday camping in France, Uncle Gaz had left us to return home and it was early Saturday morning. As usual, some of the boys had woken early and made the choice of whether to play in the tent, read a book or go to the playpark together, and that’s about where the normality of the day ended. Shortly after 8am, the boys arrived at the tent door, with Sam in tears (although not spectacular tears, by any means) holding his arm. I was still having a doze, and Hil was pottering about doing morning organising. Immediately, she told me to wake up, and Sam came and sat on the bed.
It seemed by the look on Hil’s face that this was something worth being concerned by, however as I was not properly awake and in tune, I presumed it was a typical bump, the kind that Sam bounces back from on an hourly basis, and suggested we just wait a few minutes to see whether things calmed down. When I actually looked at his arm, however, all seemed a little different. It was probably the additional angle that had appeared in the limb at about the wrist zone that gave it away…
Cue ‘Operation Beziers hospital’, and an adventure in my pigeon French, bravery from Sam, concern from those left behind at the campsite and an absorption into the French medical system, which, I am delighted to say, was totally superb. After improvising a sling from a piece of Hil’s clothing, organising our passports and E111’s and settling Sam with a pillow to further support his arm, I drove to the hospital and towards the A&E department, helpfully named Urgences, in red CAPITAL letters.
By the end of the first hour, Sam had been processed, admitted, inspected and x-rayed, with the diagnosis being a fairly clear one: he had broken and dislocated a bone in his arm, just above the wrist, and it was going to need an operation under general anesthetic to sort it out. Which is what happened. Vive la France!
While in the Urgences department, pain relief was sorted out and various cables and needles were attached or inserted in preparation for what was to come. The most welcome of these medical pieces of apparatus was a monitor that was attached to the end of Sam’s finger with the purpose of measuring the concentration of oxygen he had in his bloodstream. Sam, who had been a little down and subdued up to this point, saw this and became animated and full of life. ‘Daddy!’ he shouted. ‘I’ve got a laser gun on my finger!’ And then he proceeded to aim at various targets in the room and make ‘peyow’ noises. Good stuff.
We were admitted to the paediatric ward while we waited, and Sam was unbelievable. He had not eaten or drunk since the night before and had a horrible break in his arm. Most 5 year old children would have been screaming the place down, however he was generally calmly composed and a little subdued. There was one moment when he became very upset, but this was the exception and our little man’s character shone through. Most of my enquiries regarding whether he would like to sit up a bit more, lie down more, have more blankets or less were met by the answer ‘It’s OK, Daddy,’ delivered in a tone that suggested more that he was looking after me than the other way round.
His only wobbles came when he spoke on the phone to Hilary – another adventure in itself as due to the loss of my phone earlier in the week (another story) I was unable to contact Hilary and update her. Instead I had to ask one of the hospital staff to call the operator, who dialed the number for us and then I was put through on a hospital phone. Again, all with kindness and willingness. The French doctors and hospital staff were glorious and we are very grateful to them, in particular to a guy called Matthew, who it emerges was from North London and was working in this French hospital in order to care for his Dad who lived nearby. There were a couple of crucial moments when he was able to translate for us, and it made the whole experience more bearable.
Anyway, back to Sam’s wobbles, which occurred after (and during) speaking with Hil on the phone, and were a window into the fortitude he was employing to bravely get through this alien situation during the rest of the time. Generally, he was being strong and doing what he had to do to get through, but once he heard the voice of his Mum on the phone, he weakened and fell into her comforting voice, his voice cracking and uncertainty in his being, albeit temporarily. Indeed, in the evening, while we were working out a way for the boys and Hil to come and visit Sam, he convinced himself on two occasions that he had heard Hil’s voice and that she was in the corridor. Suffice to say, when he did eventually see her, he perked up no end and was buoyed tremendously. He missed his family, particularly his mum, greatly.
So our little soldier was absorbed into the beating heart of the business end of a French hospital. Sam was hooked up to a variety of machines that pumped, whirred, beeped and whistled, we signed consent forms (both Hilary and I had to sign, which involved an interesting game of ‘fax tennis’ between the campsite reception and the hospital at peak-campsite-booking-in-time) but the job was done, and I walked with Sam, and bunny (who was by his side through the whole operation) down to ‘The Bloc’ which we in England would know as the Operating Theatre.
A hairnet was put on Sam’s head, and then he was gone, and I was outside the airlock again, waiting for a nervous hour and a half before I heard the news and was allowed in to see a very sleepy and groggy Sam. The first thing he said to me when he started to come round, disorientated and a little confused was ‘Have they mended my bone?’
For those who like a bit of detail, the break was too hard to manually put back in place, so the doctor informed me that he had had to insert a pin in order to act as a lever to reset the bone properly. Nice. This meant there was a small incision, which was sorted with 1 dissolvable stitch, which was now hidden underneath the plastercast. Very good, said the doctor. I could have hugged him.
Seeing Sam in the recovery room, absolutely sparked out in plaster and helpless to the world was surprisingly emotional, although I generally believe that I am practical in that kind of circumstance, there was a good deal of emotion as well. Lovely Sam. Mind you, I remember feeling that way when Jamie had an operation when he was very young, and Archie with his gromits as well, so I suppose it should be no surprise.
As alluded to before, once the operation was complete and we were back in our room in the paediatric ward, apart from sleep, the main thing that Sam wished for was to see the rest of his family. This was a little difficult as a. I had all the money, b. I had the only car, 3. I didn’t have a phone to contact them and IV. They were on a campsite 10 miles away. However, in the end, the decision was taken that I would leave the hospital and travel the 40 minute journey to pick up Hil and the boys, before returning straight away (Sam also needed an overnight bag as he and I were to stay over for observation (him being observed, not me, you understand)) and it is a testament to Sam that we felt he was able to manage in this alien environment where people spoke a different language for almost an hour and a half on his own. At the age of 5. And cope he did, admirably. What a boy.
As you can see, the visit was a big success, and when I took Hil and the boys back to the campsite, he was chuffed to bits to be allowed to watch ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ on the laptop. As a reward for his brilliance, I also stopped at a drive through on the way back and bought some chicken nuggets, which we ate sitting on his bed along with watching the end of the film, making up the perfect end to the evening before he passed out sparko.
One of the joys of spending just over 24 hours in hospital with Sam alone was that I got to experience a little of how life is in his world – a rarity because at the moment I am often leaving for work when he wakes and returning as he goes to bed, or at other times it is him amongst the other four boys, which creates a different dynamic and conversational direction. Sam on his own, however, is really quite delightful and unpredictable. You never knew what piece of interaction or thought process was going to hit you next. It was great. Here are my favourite three moments (verbatim because I wrote them down) that we discussed or pondered during our time:
‘Daddy, if someone was asleep, and you pulled their eye out, would they be able to see you or not?’
‘Is there anyone who is really poor in our country and only eats bugs?’
‘Daddy, if you were food, would you want to be eaten or thrown into the rubbish bin?’ He then added ‘I’d be eaten because if you were thrown into the trash it would be really smelly’.
Gloriously, the next morning all was pronounced well, and we were permitted to leave. We have been delighted to have Sam back at the campsite and apart from a couple of visits back to hospital for checkups and a disappointing embargo on going into the pool or sea, Sam is getting back to his old self. One of the most delightful moments was when Hil and I heard his ‘dirty old man giggle’ when he was playing a game with Jamie and Ollie. Our old boy was coming back. The photo below is of Sam just after he was discharged from the hospital. You can see his bedroom on the top floor, one in from the end room on the right.
I would also like to say well done to Jamie, Ollie, Harry, Archie and Hilary, who all played their parts and continue to do so to look after Sam. It’s not what you look for on a holiday, however in some ways it has been a lovely family moment that has allowed us to remember what is important and understand again why we value each other so much. Mostly, however, it’s just lovely to be a family together again. Even if one of us is in plaster! This is the scene that greeted us when we got back to the campsite – made up of shells that we had all collected from the beach on previous days.
P.S. This post is tagged as a milestone because it is the first time that any of the boys have broken anything. Sam is quite proud of that….