Its tentacles were still wrapped around me when my cellphone started ringing. I struggled awake, but too late. The CALL button will show a list of calls mad and received and the last one was-- My Mom's number. Huh.
I hit CALL again and it rang once. Mom picked up with, "Hello."
"Hi, Mom. How are you?"
"Not too good. I fell and hit my head on a cabinet on the way down. It's bleeding quite a lot and I don't think I should try to stand up by myself."
"Have you called 9-1-1?"
"Well, no. Do you think I should? I was hoping you could come up--"
"I'm on my way, but I want you to call 911 as soon as I hang up, okay? Please!"
It's about ten minutes to her house, driveway-to-driveway. I dug around for my glasses, frantically moved things from the small weekend purse to the big general purpose one, grabbed a hoodie, put on shoes, headed out the back door, came back in for a garage door opener, got to my car, called both siblings and a nephew on the way and made it in five. The crew from the local firehouse was there already, had her on a backboard and in a neck brace "just in case" and were cleaning up the blood, of which there was rather more than you might think. (One ambulance, one fire truck, what seemed to be a blue dozen physically-fit and incredibly helpful young men. They've been there before, once when we had to break in, and they know the drill.)
After making sure where they were taking her, I finished the clean-up (light-tan carpet -- not a whole lot I can do in the way of emergency medical treatment but I could at least prevent that from worrying Mom!) and followed. My sister was already at the hospital and my brother showed up soon after. Nurses, docs, clean-up, a really fine staple-job on her injury, medical history, hands-on checking for additional injury: the usual drill, including CT scans and X-rays--
"Mrs. X? I'm Doctor Eeeyar and Dr. Wu* is working with me today. We've gone over your X-rays and it looks like you'll be staying with us awhile."
"Yes, you've broken your C2 vertebra and a pretty good job of it, too."
Back in the ER, it was sounding grim. They'd paged in the on-call neurosurgeon and were using terms like "unstable fracture" and double-checking for numbness and muscle control while they were finding her a room in Neuro ICU. C2, or the "axis," is an important part of the machinery; it's what your head pivots side-to-side on, with broad bearing surfaces and a little "pin" at the front that engages C1. A common C2 injury is known as a "hangman's fracture;" it's what happens if you don't wear your seat belt and catch the steering wheel under your chin in a collision. Or so Wikipedia told me at the time.
It was therefor upsetting when the neurosurgeon bustled in, grinning, as jovial as St. Nick. He ran a few more simple tests and explained she'd broken the dens or odontoid process -- that little "pivot pin" I mentioned earlier -- and that for breaks like hers, 99.99% of the time all it took to treat it was three to four months in a neck brace. No fun, but way better than neurosurgery, which is why he was smiling. (Neurosurgeons frequently labor against appalling odds; something that can be treated without huge risk to the patient is probably quite a relief.)
After a few more hours of hospitaling (increasingly like the kind of rigamarole my friends who served in the military describe as "hurry up and wait"), Mom was in a better neck brace and had been moved from Neuro ICU to regular Neuro; they'd got her some better pain meds and she was finally relaxing a little. I returned home about 2:30 this morning, having difficulty recognizing familiar intersections on the way.
* Not their real names. Dr. Wu, just starting residency, was the very image of "Rannie Wu" other than slightly shorter hair and an absolutely sunny disposition. She's also the doctor I want stapling me up if ever I have to be: patient, careful and quick.