We’ve lived in Germany not yet six weeks, and I’ve taken one of my children to the hospital three times, with a fourth time on the horizon. I’ve been fortunate to never have needed to take a child to the hospital in Vermont (not even for their birth!). But accidents do happen, and often when a family is under stress.
As many of you who are still reading our blog know, Anya broke her arm falling off a see-saw on the playground at Greta’ school here. Since I’ve been attending to the logistics and emotions in the aftermath of the accident, I haven’t had time to sit down to write about the details of the incident. And the passage of some time has given me some perspective on what is really important — the bravery of my daughter and the incredible kindness of friends both near and far.
Jason, in an episode he’s relived in his mind over and over, was playing with Walter and Anya on the playground, while Greta and I were at a get-to-know-you gathering for her class. After Walter and Anya both landed in a heap on the hard ground, Jason dragged two screaming kids home, made attempts to comfort the children with ice packs, snuggles and TV, and then summoned me from the meeting. We quickly realized that Anya’s swelling arm was indeed serious, not just a bumped funny bone, and we called a good friend who thankfully lives two blocks away.
Frank is the person who is most responsible for convincing Jason that a year in Göttingen would be professionally fulfilling. He and his wife and daughter have become our family’s go-to resource for obscure linguistic and cultural questions, and social comfort. Their house is a familiar landmark on Walter’s walk home from school, and their daughter is the girl who Anya and Greta most want to see for an easy refuge from the complexities of building new friendships in school.
Without a car, unsure of how the health care system works, which medical establishment would be most appropriate, or how simple calling the emergency “112” line would be, I was grateful to be able to make an easy call. I was that calm state of frantic that every mother who is trying to deal with a crisis without alarming her kids knows well. And to Frank, with whom I enjoy practicing my German, my first words were, “It’s an emergency, I have to speak English!” And of course, just as Jason asked me to make the call, Frank handed the phone to Susanne who said she’d be right over.
On the advice of her physician, Susanne took us to Evangelisches Krankenhaus Göttingen-Weende, where we experienced the calmest, cleanest, quickest emergency room I’ve ever seen. Anya got x-rays and a pretty lilac-colored cast in less than an hour, but unfortunately we were told she’d likely need surgery to repair a dislocated elbow. So despite the calm experience and cute doctor who spoke slowly for my benefit, I was a bit panicked that one of my children might need surgery in a foreign country due to what seemed to have been a minor fall on a playground.
After several manic emails that night, resulting in amusing reassurances from my good friend Hannah, physician and mother-of-four, and her husband Eric, orthopedic surgeon who also speaks German, I learned that this type of surgery is not uncommon for kids with broken arms. Eric quipped, “The guy isn’t called HERR DOCKTOR for nothing!!!!!!!”
So, when Herr Doktor called the next morning to say that after reviewing the x-rays with colleagues, the recommendation was that Anya have surgery to put a pin in her elbow, I was not surprised. We were to come back in two days, Anya with an empty stomach, and both of us with overnight bags for a night in the hospital. I was incredibly relieved that when I asked if I could spend the night with her, the answer was “of course.”
Susanne graciously agreed to again drive us to the hospital and stay with us until we were settled, in case I needed translation help. We never got settled, as the second opinion the first doctor got was apparently insufficient. We saw a different doctor who ordered more x-rays, then kicked Anya’s case up to the Oberarzt who ordered a CAT Scan. Apparently they wanted to be super sure that this cute little girl really needed surgery.
And as frustrating as the wait with an extremely hungry child was, I am impressed and grateful that they wanted to be super sure. About four hours after arriving, Anya was in the car with a new bright yellow cast, celebrating her freedom with an orange marzipan candy bar — no surgery necessary! Susanne had stayed the whole time, patiently helping Anya and me wait out the decision, reading to Anya when my endurance was waning.
Prior to breaking her arm, Anya had been home sick with a high fever and sore throat. She’d missed two days of school and the first birthday party she’d been invited to, the 7th birthday of one of the two girls in her class who’d “adopted” her on the first day of school. And before that, she’d nearly mastered riding her bike solo, even navigating some complicated bike and pedestrian traffic near the local swimming pool. She’d also started swimming lessons with her class at that pool, and was enjoying her near-daily fiddle and mandolin duets with Daddy. Then she fell off a teeter-totter.
The prospect of surgery was scary for her, especially in a place where she could not really understand what was being said. And while everyone was nice at the hospital, she could tell that even her mom didn’t always know what was going on. And if mom didn’t understand how things worked, that couldn’t be good. As a friend commented to me, dealing with the workings of a foreign hospital is even more intimidating than buying bikes at a gear-head bike store!
But despite some undeniably understandable fussiness, a week after breaking her arm and missing 4 1/2 days of school, Anya went on her first overnight class trip. The trip, to a local youth hostel, involved hiking, playing on playgrounds, campfires, and a night in a strange place without the comforts of home. And despite a few moments of homesickness, she stuck with it and had fun. And when she speaks of it now, she is proud of her efforts.
She knows she was brave. And when we had to go back to the hospital the next day for more x-rays and another (lighter) cast, Anya and I went on our own on the bus. When we walked into the waiting room, they knew us, and Anya went for the x-rays on her own, and even showed off some of her burgeoning German. Our vocabulary, confidence and knowledge had expanded, for mother and daughter both.
So, three weeks with the new dark purple cast and she’ll be back in the pool, holding a violin bow, and hopefully, riding a bike. In the meantime, she’s been one brave girl. And our daughter, and family, have been showered with good wishes — emails, messages, cards, smiles, kind words and support from friends near and far, new and old. Thank you.