Except not really.
She actually broke her wrist six weeks ago colliding with her 6’2” tree of a middle blocker. The bad news is that we only found out she broke her wrist last week. Worst news is that it is a proximal break of the scaphoid bone, which is apparently a dandy little bone that has terrible blood supply and fractures below the “waist” of the bone often have a complication termed “avascular necrosis.” Necrosis being such an awful word to use for anyone who is still very much alive.
About 2% of these cases heal on their own. The rest require surgery where you simply choose another healthy little bone, carve off a chunk of it, scrape the dead part of the scaphoid off and apply the borrowed bone with some sort of metal screw. Utterly thrilling.
Although I knew they weren’t playing a practical joke, I still have this surreal “are you kidding me?” memory of the doctor’s crestfallen pseudosmile as she and her PA walked back into the room after viewing the new set of x-rays. Suddenly here were these uber smart people efficiently wrapping my daughter’s arm up in purple fiberglass while uttering random phrases like “at least three months” and “avascular necrosis” and “need to see a specialist at Children’s Hospital ASAP” and “we’ll get you in to get an MRI this week.” And all I could latch on to were Rachel’s big hazel eyes burning holes in me as the dawning revelation slowly came over the horizon.
Her whole high school volleyball season was gone.
Which, while not life threatening, is a pretty darn big deal. Not to mention losing the luxury of taking showers, or riding her bike, or racing with me in an upcoming triathlon, or boogie boarding at our Labor Day beach vacation or playing her guitar. Life was going to be drastically different for one very active teenager.
As I began to straighten out after the initial punch to the gut, I started thinking about people who get worse information at the doctor’s office. When words like cancer or heart disease or MS or diabetes get released into the atmosphere. When not just the next three months get thrown out the window, but when you don’t know if you’ll ever be able to climb back in the window.
I realized how much I wanted to throw my arms around everyone who had ever found themselves swimming in the surreal waters of an unexpected diagnosis and just say, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m soo sooo sooooo sorry.” And cry together, for all the disappointment in the world.
There is so much disappointment in this world. And when you face your share of it, no matter how huge or how tiny your portion, there is a sense of sunken aloneness that twists tightly in your gut. And you just want someone to be nice to you. To shine a little light on the next step you need to take. To take your elbow and promise to hold on. To be a little kinder than is necessary.
In my hands that day at the hospital was a book called “Wonder” that I had just finished reading. I was actually crying just a bit because of the book before I even got the news about Rachel’s life coming to a sudden stall.
The book is about a 5th grader named August who has a facial deformity and whose presence magnificently impacts his entire middle school community. In the last chapter of the book, his headmaster admonishes the middle schoolers with a quote from J.M. Barrie.
“Always try to be a little kinder than is necessary.”
And at that moment I wanted to scream to the world, “YES! YES! YES! Please be kinder than is necessary. To me right now. To the stranger in the car next to you. To your mother-in-law, your taekwando instructor, your cashier at Vons.”
In that moment, as I felt the raw, fragile feeling of helplessness that comes when you are a mother, and pieces of your heart live outside of your body and all too frequently get pummeled and assaulted by sadness and disappointment, I just wanted someone to be kind to us. To be gentle. To be tender. And to be a little more than necessary.
And it happened.
It started with Maggie, a financial counselor at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, who worked her tail off to get our insurance to approve an MRI for the very next day. After a day of faxing and emailing back and forth, she called me in the car with the approval number for the MRI five minutes before our appointment. She treated my Rachel with a little more kindness than necessary.
It trickled over into Frank, a PA from Dr. Lightdale’s office who called me up (imagine not having to call a doctor to make an appointment, they call you?) and figured out a way to get Rachel in the VERY next Monday to see Dr. Lightdale (a pediatric surgeon and hand specialist). Although Dr. Lightdale was booked all week, Frank (an empathic volleyball player) found a space for us. He even shared his story of playing volleyball for Long Beach when they won the NCAA championship in 2008 (and offered some astute advice about playing at a school where you get court time vs a school that you’re good enough to get into, but not quite good enough to see any play time. Sorry Frank.)
Kindness exuded out of Dr. Lightdale who promised Rachel a new and improved waterproof cast and walked us through the MRI images and gave us some hope that union could occur without surgery. (And also the hope that Rachel was likely to grow another couple of inches!) She left me with her email address and the promise of consulting some of her colleagues on the east coast because she had never actually seen a fracture like Rachel’s and wasn’t 100% sure of the game plan. We left the kind, colorful world of Children’s Hospital with a big breath of hope and the thrill of a swim in the near future.
More kindness than necessary kept popping up everywhere!
Kindness showed up in an email from Rachel’s high school coach who suggested that as Rachel shows her courage and strength in the face of adversity maybe other girls, non-believers, will notice and ask her about where her faith lies and how her hope remains strong. He told her that she will still make an excellent team chaplain and statistician.
And then, when I didn’t know if I could be overwhelmed any further, kindness found me kneeling by the tub washing the long golden locks of my baby girl who I hadn’t helped bathe in about 10 years. I actually felt blessed as I slid my fingers through her hair, grateful that I had a daughter to take care of, that she was only a little bit broken, and that for this brief time she had to rely on me a little more than usual. It seemed like a kind gift from God to let me be there, on the floor in the bathroom, gently tending to a most self-sufficient entity.
Kindness nurtures community. And then community nurtures kindness. And the effect of a little more kindness than necessary is a little more community. And that is always necessary.
So if you get a chance this week to be a little kinder than necessary, try it out. You might just turn someone’s nightmare into someone’s blessing.
And make one more mommy smile again.