When Your Warrior Kid Faces a Challenge

About a month ago, we got some devastating news. And by we, I mean Gavin. He will be fine and is expected to make a full recovery. We will be fine. I should probably start with that. But we were not prepared for the emotional rollercoaster we have been on this past month. Since Noah died in 2015, we have not had anything significant happen in our family. But then again, when your barometer for “a big deal” is losing a kid and brother, your perspective is slightly skewed. We’ve gone on with our lives, working, going to school, and starting a non-profit. We’ve endured painful milestones like the first year, senior year, graduation, etc., and we’re still standing. We’ve struggled but survived, and in some ways, we have even thrived.

For those of you who don’t know, Gavin is extremely athletic. He has also been hurt over and over and over–especially in high school. I’ll never forget his first “serious” injury on the football field when he didn’t get up right away. He was nine, and my heart stopped. Since then, Gav has been plagued with injuries the doc attributes to his growing 6’1″ frame and high activity level. But a few months ago, Gavin called me from lacrosse practice saying he hurt his knee and was carried to his car. I didn’t think much of it, honestly. Just another injury. He usually recovers quickly. But when he got home, his reaction was severe, and over the next few days, we realized this wasn’t just another injury. Sitting in the orthopedic surgeon’s office a few weeks later, we learned he had torn his ACL along with many other structures that hold his knee together. The doc called it “the unhappy triad” injury. Option A: do nothing and never be athletic again, an unlikely option for a 16-year-old. Option B: a knee reconstruction with a 9-month recovery time that will carry through his senior year.

I’m sure you can imagine how Gavin took the news, the same way any athlete would. And I don’t blame Gavin at all for feeling like high school just sucks. This was something else to “endure.” It crushed him, and he knew it was big the night it happened. It just took us a minute to catch up. But what I am still struggling with is how hard we took the news as his parents. Allow me to vent for just a moment:

Just once, I would like ONE of my children to have a normal high school experience. Is it too much to ask for Gavin to go to prom and dance or work a summer job with his grandpa? Is it too much to ask for him to shine on the lacrosse field or wrestling mat without getting hurt? Can we go one school year without a move, death, or some other injury? I mean, seriously? Selfishly, as a parent, can WE experience these things with our kid–with ANY of our kids? 

I realize how insane that must sound, but as a parent, you have hopes and dreams for your children. You want them to take a nice girl to prom, to do well in school, to be happy. And Gav is happy. But it seems like nothing is easy. As a parent, we wanted Gavin to have normal, uneventful junior year. That’s all we wanted, knowing we’ve asked him to move his senior year. But that’s just not happening. And yes, I’m angry. I’m angry for him and us as parents. Our job for the remainder of this year is not about spring break or college visits. Instead, it’s about physical therapy, continuity of care during a PCS, and taking rehab seriously. There will be no spring lacrosse, working for Papa this summer, no day hikes on our cross-country PCS trip, no fall lacrosse at our new duty station, which oh, by the way, is always how he has made friends. It will be a whole lot of building quad strength and getting back to an “active lifestyle.”

Gav’s surgery was on the 13th. The stress and anxiety for all three of us leading up to that day, our first day back in a hospital since Noah spent his last week in one, was palpable around the house. The triggers started the moment we walked in: being handed a number to watch on the surgical screen, the alarm bells and monitors, the nurses rushing around, the bag to put his clothes in, seeing Gavin in a hospital gown, the IV, the waiting. All of the triggers were an assault on the senses. The procedure was meant to take three hours. I knew something was “off” when the doc came out at hour three. Of course, the damage was more extensive than expected. Why wouldn’t it be? That’s how we roll. He would need our consent to do the additional repair. It was like Deja Vu. Waiting, watching the board, and more waiting. In the end, the surgery took six hours. They repaired his ACL, ALL, and both meniscus.

In the recovery room, I felt feverish and physically ill. As he laid there with his eyes closed, I just kept seeing his brother, and when recovery was harder than expected, because he was under anesthesia for six hours, and we were five minutes from the deadline to admit him for the night, they finally decided to let him go home. That day led us to a breaking point we didn’t think we’d have to go through again–at least not anytime soon. They next day, we were all exhausted.

For two weeks, Gavin recovered at home in our guest room, equipped with care packages, ice, XBox, TV, and pain meds. Every day, he has made progress. Every day, we all feel a little more hopeful that he will be okay. Yesterday, he went back to school, on crutches again, in his rigid brace. This week, he starts PT. The experience has taught me a few things:

  1. Defining something as a “big deal” in comparison to the catastrophic loss of a child is just stupid. It is okay to be upset about things that have a significant impact on your life, regardless of what they are. It’s okay to have feelings about bad things, even when they aren’t “that bad.” Losing a kid doesn’t make us immune to reacting to other tough situations.
  2. Gavin is titanium. This kid has been knocked down more than I can count in the past two years. He gets up, dusts himself off, and keeps going with a positive attitude. He’s my hero.

For those of you with advanced warning of this post, thank you again for always supporting Gav and being part of his tribe. You make all the difference.

With much love,