Saturday, January 29, 2011

Balancing Act

It is difficult to hold your son’s hand, after receiving a phone call and flying across country overnight, to look at his misshapen and lacerated face, eyes filmy, conversation disoriented, perseverative, a gurgling cannula sucking blood from his mouth, oxygen in his nose, multiple IVs.

On the other hand, it’s not difficult. It is exactly where you want to be, your every fiber seeking to draw out the pain, heal the tissue, do the right thing. Eighteen hours ago, he was laying on a Tucson street, bicycle broken like matchsticks, hypotensive, airway filling with blood, dying; the victim of a negligent driver. Eighteen hours before he was a joyous teenager, a top of-his-game espoir, bound for European races and national team slots, working ardently at winter training. Prompt EMS, suction and IV saved him, opened his airway and restored circulatory volume. Open reduction surgery with internal fixation by titanium plates and screws would rebind his jaw, fractured in a dozen places, eight teeth knocked out across the top of his mouth, right condyle snapped and dislocated, fractured left subcondyle.

This I balance five weeks post trauma. He’s had a remarkable recovery. His legs are strong, as are his lungs. His power is up, exceptional watts per kilogram. Six hours today on the bike, riding out from our house near Washington, DC. "Let him go, be the wind at his back" -- I tell myself. This I will do, but it is hard. When I was about Nathan’s age, a negligent driver ran a red light and hit me. At the time, January 1977, my own father wrote:

As I stood there in the hallway outside the Emergency Room, I saw Jim standing vibrant, healthy and loving in the family room and cursed myself for not putting my arms around him and persuading him to spend New Year’s Eve at home with us. He was close to doing so – if I had only held him at home. If, if – there were so many ifs to ponder as I waited for the double doors of the operating room to open … The doors finally parted ... [Jim's surgeon] talked briefly but directly. Jim was in grave danger. It would be several more hours before we knew whether the brain’s swelling would reach fatal proportions or stop … They wheeled Jim out. His head was a white turban of bandage. Tubes were in his arm and nose. We tried to touch him as the attendants wheeled him past us on the quiet rubber wheels of the stretcher. I probably called out what I had heard and said dozens of times on the battlefield but seldom believed: “Hang in there. You’ll be all right.”

With this, I work to balance the eerie burden of repeated history. I wasn’t as lucky as my son, my injuries deeper and harder to compensate. Where does a parent draw the line? My two boys began bike racing at ages 10 (Avery) and 13 (Nate). For us, it was the next stage beyond youth soccer, basketball, lacrosse and whatnot pediatric sport mayhem. A phase. But cycling became more, a unifying principle around which our family organized our lives, travels and passions. And the boys became good, very good. Racing around the country and internationally. Cycling is the main thing; both boys wish to become professionals, have guided their college selections towards physiology and sports. Who would have thought? This from a family of scientists, software geeks, lawyers, writers and school teachers?

Cycling is the path that is before my sons, their passion and desire. It is a beautiful thing, their choice. Their hard work and success will bring not just individual victories, but will also lift others seeking joyous and healthy lifestyles. While I urge caution, the Tucson experience is a stronger caution than any can imagine.

Will I feel bad at the next accident? Of course. And we will be there, with every fiber and talent we possess, as we care for those we love, gently enabling their passion, the next podium, the beautiful slice through the sun and air.

Nathan and Avery Wilson, Sonoma California, 2008.


bethbikes said...

Beautifully written, Jim. This is about how I imagined you must feel. You are such a strong man, and it comes across in your ability to be a solid, and loving, parent. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with your cycling family. I hope that Nate's follow up care doesn't interfere with his racing plans too much. Youth is on his side. I'm very glad I got to know your family.

Jim Wilson said...

Gosh, it is so good to hear from you, Beth, your experience in trauma, tragedy much greater than my own. I'm bleeding internally, as you know ... Nate's frustrated, but he's a long and bright career ahead. L, Jim

susanh said...

one of my favorite pics, pure joy. I just pulled this pics out yesterday and was reflecting on it. That was a good week.

Carol said...

I feel terribly ignorant that I didn't know about Nate's accident.This must have happened even before I spoke to you about Joanie's 50th???

It is a parent's great anguish to see our kids broken and hurt, whether physically or mentally. I'm shocked and saddened by his senseless accident by car, and hopeful about his recovery from the injuries.

You're right, he had good medical attention at the critical moment needed, and has youth on his side.Make sure he gets as much rehab work as he needs, including myofascial work to address the scar tissue that ensues after surgery.

It took me back to the time of your car accident, to hear this story...I was still living in SLC and not well connected to the family at that time. That was before cheap long distance phone or internet....

My love and prayers go out to all of you, because every accident is a family event. XOXOXO your cuz