My own son, James, fell from a second-story window at our house. He was – we were – extraordinarily lucky. He received two hairline fractures to his pelvis. He walked again after a week and was “back to normal” in six.
It took much longer for me to regain my own footing.
James, who has Down syndrome, was 10 at the time of his fall, in September 2007. He was no stranger at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, having spent months of his life there early on.
He was born prematurely and without an esophagus and didn’t even come home for nearly six months. After only a week at home, James was back at Hasbro for four weeks, with a respiratory illness. That was the way it went those first few years. The winters were especially bad. We were on a first-name basis with practically everyone in the ICU.
By the time James was 4, his visits to the hospital became shorter and less frequent. However, a bout of strep that morphed into a nearly deadly attack of sepsis when he was 6 knocked me out of my complacency. My over-large dose of denial was severely depleted by that episode. James was fragile.
Years passed and we got used to the occasional James-emergency. Two surgeries had given him an esophagus, albeit a lousy one, thick with scar tissue and lacking any of the muscle activity most of us give no thought to but is hugely helpful in pushing food into the stomach. On occasion, things got stuck.
Of course, that was nothing a trip to the hospital couldn’t solve. So, I kept certain phone numbers close at hand and handled those instances with a calm I prided myself on.
James’s fall caused that pride to crack me right open.
There were three of us at home with James at the time, his older brother and sister and me. Catherine, James and I were going to be heading out on an errand, but a phone call from a long-distance friend waylaid me.
James was in the kitchen with me but wandered off, as he often did. He had free reign of the house and was not a wild child either then or now. I talked on the phone and cleaned a bit. I heard James go upstairs. Aidan, then 13, was watching t.v. in the living room. Catherine was in her bedroom reading.
Still on the phone, I could hear James crying. That was unusual – James doesn’t cry much. I said a quick goodbye, hung up the phone and went in search of James. I headed upstairs, because I knew he’d gone up there. I checked the rooms. No James. The crying continued. It was coming from outside. I ran downstairs and to the back patio. There he was, sitting on the brick.
I couldn’t understand what had happened, my mind unwilling to put two and two together. Catherine was with me. James was sobbing and didn’t want to be touched. I looked up. Above us, the screen blew out in the breeze. No. No no no no no.
Please, God, don’t tell me I let my baby, who had been through so much already, fall out of our bedroom window!
Every bit of experience-honed cool in the face of trouble vanished for me then.
Our bedroom windows open from both the bottom and the top and are level with a window seat. When we got the windows, years before, we made a pact to never open them more than an inch or two from the bottom, to only ever open them wide on the top.
We’d been good about that for a time. Years even. But sometimes we’d get lazy and just put up a window. James loves perches, and he loves playing outside. No doubt, that day he’d sat on the window seat and bent forward, looking out at the yard below. And then leaned farther … and then tumbled out.
It hurts to even type those words.
All of James’s other problems, they weren’t my fault. This, done because of my oversight, on my watch, was wholly mine. Of course, everyone then and later and even now tells me it was an accident. It was, in fact, an accident. But it was an accident that so easily could have been prevented. By me.
Needless to say, I no longer hear news of other falling children with detachment. It’s a most awful kind of recognition I feel. It can happen. It did happen. We were lucky.
To see what you can do to prevent such accidents at your home, check out the Kids Can't Fly Web site.