By Gregory Keer
For six months, we had this plan to get away for a breather. One overnight trip - 36 hours to be exact - to leave our work and kids in someone else's care. One brief escape to Las Vegas to throw our money away (though we had carefully budgeted how much), hang out with a couple of our good friends, and play like grown-ups.
Within 45 minutes of arriving at the hotel, my wife climbed out of a pool, slipped and severely sprained her right foot. When I saw her writhing in pain on the deck, did my heart sink in sympathy for her agony? Did I rush to her side to carry my wounded mermaid to a lounge chair? Absolutely not. Floating in the deep end, with evaporating visions of using the nifty water slide 20 more times and drinking piņa coladas, all I could think was, "We never even got to try out the bed!"
The next five hours were brutal. After trying to see if the pain would subside, we went to a medical facility, where they could tell us only that the foot looked bad (no, duh!) and to see an orthopedist when we got home. Wendy broke down into tears, crying, "How am I going to drive to work? How can I run after the kids? How am I going to make it to the hypnotist show tonight?"
Despite the fact that Wendy rallied and - with the help of our friends and a wheelchair - managed to have fun that weekend, we contemplated life minus one cylinder of our already challenged family engine. The orthopedist back home only served to confirm the predicament. He diagnosed Wendy with ligament damage and 4 to 6 weeks of treatment, including the use of a ski boot-like protective shoe that would prevent her from driving for at least a month.
I've certainly had experiences with juggling drop-offs and pick-ups, meals, homework, bedtime rituals and night paperwork in the absence of my Wonder Woman of a wife. Now, I had to mix the increased parenting duties for weeks on end with the additional tasks of having to chauffeur Wendy to her job, doctor visits and physical therapy. I had always intended - even thought it romantic - to do this when we became geriatrics, but did we need the early practice?
As far as the kids were concerned, this was an adventure. Wendy's crutches served as X-Game tools for 5-year-old Jacob to do stunts off the couch. Her ski boot made an excellent receptacle for Ari's bristle blocks. Benjamin asked for repeats of my off-color remarks about Mommy changing her name to "Pegleg" and joining the cast of Pirates of the Caribbean 4.
Somehow, though, compassion leaked out of me as I saw how much Wendy hated being curbed by her damaged foot and rarely complained, even when the pain flared up in the middle of the night. I always knew she was tough, but watching her hobble around the kitchen or limp after Ari when he ran toward the street was impressive.
Whenever I was laid out by back problems, it took me forever before I could be really useful to the family. What bothered me even more was not being able to carry my little ones around or play ball until I was better. Wendy had those feelings as well, and used them to get back in the game sooner than I ever could.
About a month after the injury, with the help of ongoing physical therapy, my wife graduated to a super supportive running shoe and could drive, albeit with some discomfort. Being back to normal was a relief and the whole experience made me appreciate that - between our assorted injuries - we have only had to endure short periods of incapacity.
There are many parents out there who are not so fortunate, who cook, clean and support their kids without the full use of their bodies. My gratitude goes out to them for putting into perspective how the love of our children makes us stronger and more able than we ever thought possible.