Picture it: Fairfax County, 1996. A young CC, rather depressed that the SAT she had been planning to retake has just been snowed out, decides to take a walk out in the snow to see if the local creek has frozen over. As she gets close to the creek, she slips, hitting her head hard on the ice. Head bleeding, she stumbles back home and sits on the kitchen floor, still sort of shocked.
“You need to go to the hospital,” her father says.
“Ummm… No. I’m fine,” she responds.
“No, really, you should go to the hospital. Let me take you” her mother says.
It goes on like this for awhile until CC, who just wants to be left alone, stomps off to her room, locking the door behind her.
The ChaliceDad breaks down the door.
She goes to the hospital.
Picture it: Fairfax County, 2008. It’s 11:00 at night, after a night of driving to school and back in an ice storm. I’ve just snuggled into bed next to the CSO. We’re talking, as we endlessly do, about plans for renovating the very kitchen I bled all over those years ago. The phone rings.
“Jason,” TheCSO says in the same annoyed tone of voice he always uses when talking about my brother.
I go pick up the phone anyway, “It’s Dad,” my brother Oliver is screaming, “He fell on the ice and he’s bleeding really bad and he won’t go to the hospital. Mom says it doesn’t look that bad.”
Oliver sees everything as a tragedy, my mother is the sort of person who assumes that using expired meat can’t be all THAT dangerous.
Fuck. There’s only one way to tell what’s going on.
TheCSO and I get dressed. He brings his laptop. He knows he’s in for a long night.
Yep, Dad is bleeding from the head still, an hour after his fall. It's an ugly wound, the kind of wound one can't really get from a fall without shaking one's insides.
“Dad, we should take you to the hospital”
“It’s the smart thing to do,”
“We’re all going to worry about you if we don’t,”
Jason and Oliver yell, my mother whines, I argue, theCSO does handyman chores. We break off and conference in little groups. There's lots of yelling and arguing, especially on my brothers' parts.
“You’re father is afraid of doctors,” my mother says.
“I’m afraid of head trauma,” I respond. But that's a weak argument and we all know it. My nervousness over a theoretical head injury is nothing to what my fether is feeling. My father's fears are strong and run very deep. When he's faced with one of them, he becomes hysterical, like a drowning man who pulls a potential rescuer under the water.
“We could call the paramedics, then claim he’s not being rational if he doesn’t consent,” theCSO says. "They would take him." Nobody argues that this wouldn’t work. After all, it's probably the truth. Rational people go to the hospital after they hit their heads. Besides, everybody else is dressed with middle class respectability. My father has that Unabomber beard that the mentally ill tend to get because of the difficulties of giving them a razor or keeping them still long enough to shave them. We're the crazy guy and his dysfunctional yet well meaning and respectable middle class family straight out of central casting.
“He’s so afraid,” my mother says. “What if the stress is worse for him than the head trauma would be?”
We look up the symptoms of a serious concussion on the internet. He pretty much has all of them. And has had them to an ever-increasing degree for the last ten years as he’s had stroke after stroke.
He’s still bleeding a bit. Head trauma aside, he could use some stitches.
It’s 1 a.m. at this point. The streets are a sheet of ice. I go back into the living room and crouch, putting myself at eye level with my father. Nobody ever looks in his eyes. At least, I don’t.
“Listen,” I say. “We can’t tell if you’ve hurt yourself or how badly. Ideally, we would stay here and keep bothering you until you consented to go. But theCSO and Mom and I have work in the morning, and we can’t play this game all night. Will you go to the hospital?”
“No!” he says. He’s not in good condition, but he’s still an ex-opera singer. His denial seems to shake the room a bit.
“OK, then. We’re going to go with that decision, theCSO and I are going home.” His whole body relaxes. “But, the really dangerous thing with concussions is getting two of them. At this point, we're playing the odds. Odds are good you’re fine now. But if you fall again, the odds become very bad. If I were you, I would stay off the ice and not leave the house if there’s an ice storm for some time, because if you fall again, we are taking you to the hospital. We don’t care what you have to say about it. Jason, Oliver and I are each bigger, stronger and meaner than you are and there are three of us. Do you understand?”
He grunted a “yes.”
And we went home, ever conscious of how family roles change over time, even when the personalities don’t.