With only two days left before Christmas vacation, the snow began falling early, but not early enough to score a snow day. We all focused on the snow even as the teachers asked us to focus on the blackboard.
After school, Linda and I completed our chores, put on our snowpants and mittens, and met outside in her front yard with our sleds and our excitement. We knew Judi’s yard had the best sledding on the street, and we were more than ready to ride joyfully down the hill after a year of memories and anticipation.
All of the kids on the street had been down this hill a thousand times, but this was the first time this year. Eagerly, I started down the hill. Just as my descent began, the back corner of my sled bumped the corner of the sandbox and altered my course just enough so that I knew immediately that I was on a collision course with the tree.
In this “artist’s re-enactment” you see many trees. But in reality, the tree I was headed for was one of only three on the hill. And there was plenty of space between them.
In an attempt to miss the tree, I rolled partway to my right, and then a little more, and just a teensy bit more, effectively stretching out the skin on the left side of my abdomen just as taut as could be, and
BAM, hit the tree.
I knew I was hurt. All I knew was I needed to get home. I jumped up, and ran full-tilt all the way down the street to my house, thereby inadvertently allowing the internal bleeding to ramp up to a fast flow.
Once home, we settled into our normal injury/medical routine: wait to see if it gets better on its own. Judging by the stabbing pains I experienced all night long (due to internal bleeding), it would be safe to say it wasn’t going to get better all on its own. However, I was still alive in the morning! Barely able to walk; weak as a newborn kitten; unable to keep even a sip of water in my stomach. “I … want … to … go … to … school … … please. Can’t …… break … perfect … attendance … streak.” Mom decided that perhaps these symptoms were suggesting a trip to the doctor, rather than the preservation of my perfect attendance streak, so off we went to see Dr. Blatt.
In about ten seconds, he had me diagnosed: ruptured spleen, need surgery NOW. I didn’t really care at this point. Thankfully, it wasn’t up to me to get it done!
Back before hospitals and health care were so strictly monitored, one was admitted and kept for quite some time for such a procedure. I was in the ward for two weeks, which constituted my entire Christmas break. My two sisters bravely agreed to postpone Christmas until I could be there with my family.
- This lovely scar, eight inches across.
- The opportunity to write on a million health forms, Splenectomy 1974, and to answer the consequent questions about what happened.
- An amused recognition that all I really needed to do was roll out of the sled and I would have missed the tree completely!
- A complete set of non-perfect-attendance records in my school days.
- A boss immune system which picked up the slack resulting from losing my spleen.
- A precious memory of playing Boggle for the first time with my dad that Christmas and finding the word SPLEEN. (I didn’t ever think to ask if he had stacked the cubes!)
- Gratitude that my body did what it was designed to do, stopping the bleeding on its own, and getting me through the night and through the surgery.
― Chris Cleave, Little Bee