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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Dearly departed - a new perspective

The search for Jasper the cat was fruitless. A kindly neighbour collared me to tell me on the quiet, that he’d been found on the side of the road, probably poisoned and that he had disposed of his little body discretely so save heartache. At the time, I was grateful for a number of different reasons. I was grateful for my neighbour’s consideration and kindliness, as he was well aware of the special bond between the two. I was also grateful because it meant that I didn’t have to risk stoking up junior’s obsession with death and dying.

Nine months prior I had been at the park with the three of them, the same park that we always went to. ‘Lone Hill Park’ was a safely remodeled park and close at hand. It was for little children with a big football field for junior daughter to go mad in. I was also a dog park, which fed into another preference. It was situated in a cul de sac which minimized traffic dangers. It had shade in the summer and open sunny spaces in the winter. It had a toilet stuck right in the middle and drinking fountains. It lay in a hollow which meant that if you wanted to escape to you had to negotiate an incline or steps, neither of which was an easy option for the boys. All of these features made it as near as ideal as we could achieve. As a result we went there nearly every day for several years, as familiar territory was the only safe way to go.

That day I was puttering about between the three of them, all independently going about their business. One with a football in the field, one hiding in the shade under the structure sorting pieces of tannen bark and the other lopping around distractedly on the play structure above. They generally gravitated to the same occupations until ‘forced’ to do otherwise.

I watched him fall. It was in slow motion of course, arcing through the air, loose soft limbs in the shape of a crescent moon. My body moved in tandem to where he landed on his head and crumpled into a heap. Initially he didn’t move or speak. No screams. Silence. Suddenly he sat up as if a spring had snapped and vomited violently. Tears sprang from his eyes, but no sound. I scooped him up and ran up the steps to the car. Once I had him strapped in, I returned for the others, junior under one arm pit and a tight grasp on the one without the football, both of them were screaming. As we drove to the hospital he vomited repeatedly.
At the hospital I abandoned the car and lurched into the ER with one, another attached and the third keeping up the pace in between gulping tears. He vomited on the Triage nurse and we were whisked away.

As they took him for an MRI, the nurse put her hand on my arm to say, “I’m sorry, but you’d better brace yourself.”

To cut a long story short and skip the drama, when they returned he was fine.

I learned a great deal from that experience. Whilst he was on the gurney the other two were ‘loose’ in the room. His sister sniveled and wept quietly. Junior found a swivel chair and hurtled about on it oblivious to everyone and everything, singing, singing loudly. A different nurse asked him to be quiet because there were ‘very sick people here.’ He bit her and then repeated her sentence for the next 30 minutes. He took his clothes of every few minutes and we lost his shoes during the episode.

I had always been worried that their preference for being naked would make them vulnerable to……..well vulnerable. When the doctor and nurse tried to remove his clothing, even though he had no speech whatsoever, he physically fought them off, clung to his clothes and flailed about, an instinct that I didn’t know he had.
Today, although he claims no recall of the incident, he refuses point blank to go to ‘Lone Hill Park’ even though until that time he had never given any indication of having known it’s name; “I go to park but not Lone Hill Park!”

48 hours later, junior’s phobia about death and dying was full blown and has been a recurring nightmare for us all ever since, even though at that time neither boy gave any indication of being aware that they even had a brother.

At that time, the boys had not had their diagnoses very long, the subject was raw. My level of knowledge about autism was growing rapidly but I had only told close family and friends. The first thing I said out loud to the treating physician was “he is autistic, he has a speech delay so talk to him like he’s two and a half.” I still don’t know what he was trying to communicate to me as he looked into my eyes and laid a hand on my son’s forehead, but I exactly recall the visceral instincts that coursed through my veins, pumped through my brain and made my heart turn to lead.

When spouse arrived breathless, it was all over. He talked to doctors, signed bits of paper and found cards as we assembled ourselves to go home. The nurse removed sticky pads from his head and body. She passed me his clothes, taking them out of a plastic hospital bag and said “you know I’ve been a nurse for nearly 17 years……..I’ve never seen anything like that……….I was quite sure……….”

It was the first time in five months that his label was irrelevant and meaningless.

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