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Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Yesterday at school, another kid accidentally smacked Michael in the forehead with a computer. Given the description of the incident, I still don’t entirely understand where everyone needed to be positioned for this to have happened. I’m sure it hurt, and I’m guessing Michael was also a little startled (because, really, who goes through their day preparing to be hit in the head with a laptop?). He told the teacher he was dizzy, and out of an abundance of caution, the school nurse was called to the room. She walked Michael down to her office, gave him some ice, checked him out and sent him back to his classroom.

That should have been the end of it, right?

It wasn’t.

One of the boys in Michael’s class accused him of faking being hurt. And this isn’t the first time that’s happened.

I get it. They’re in 5th grade. This is what kids do. And when one kid says another kid is making something up, other kids will pile on. Unfortunately, I’m sure my kids have done it too. It’s hard not to.

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But with Michael, it’s more complicated than that, and he gets frustrated when people tell him he’s faking being hurt. It took him 18 months last year to recover from a torn meniscus and ACL. He returned to sports, only to get hurt again a month later. And when he showed up at school on crutches again, kids started whispering behind his back, and telling him to his face that he wasn’t really hurt.

And really, I get that too. Because first of all, it seems a little implausible that a kid this young could sustain these injuries back-to-back. And it gets a little annoying that Michael is again getting to leave school a few minutes early, doesn’t participate in gym class, and is once again asking friends to miss recess so he won’t have to sit in the nurse’s office by himself.

And in the midst of these injuries (which, in the last year and a half, have also included an ankle sprain and an overuse injury to his elbow), we discovered that no, Michael is not faking, and there’s a reason he keeps getting hurt — he has a mild form of a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which causes excessive mobility in his joints and leaves him at a greater risk for injury.

As his parents, we’re glad to know there’s an explanation for why Michael has gotten hurt so many times, and that it’s not too serious. But as a kid, Michael doesn’t want to be different from anyone else, and doesn’t want to tell his friends about this diagnosis.

We continue to encourage him to let people know what’s going on, in the hopes that maybe they’ll be a little more understanding. And even though Michael getting hit in the head with a computer has absolutely nothing to do with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, or his previous injuries, that for Michael, getting hurt in any way can be a scary thing. Spring baseball starts this weekend; he hasn’t made it through a season without getting hurt, and subsequently sidelined, in two years. For a kid who loves sports and is more happy being active, it’s been really hard. Michael knows that he needs to continue physical therapy to keep his muscles stronger, because that’s the only way to try and avoid injury.

All Michael wants to do is be able to run, shoot baskets in the driveway, and play sports with his friends. He knows that there’s always a risk of getting hurt when he does, and even though he doesn’t like to talk about it, I’m sure that’s on his mind. But because there’s nothing on the outside, Michael looks just like everyone else, and it’s understandable that kids might think he’s making something up. And because he looks like everyone else and would prefer to be like everyone else, he doesn’t want to tell them that on some level, he’s not.

As Michael’s mom, as much as I want to send him out in the world covered in bubble wrap, I know I can’t. So, we just hope the adults around him will keep a extra eye on him, and hope that someday Michael will understand that every kid (and adult) has something that makes them different, and this is just his “thing.” And even though they can’t see it, it’s still there.

Of course it’s easier to cut someone a little slack when they have something going on that’s visible. But if we try and remember that not everything is so obvious, and we sometimes have to look beyond the surface, we’d probably all be just a bit more compassionate.

Now, back to figuring out how someone takes a computer to the head….

 

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To the people taking care of my kid.

I’ve written about our experiences with the amazing people who took care of Michael last year during his lengthy recovery from knee surgery.

Now, it seems, there’s a new chapter to this story. A few weeks ago, Michael hurt his “good” knee. It was a bone contusion – a painful, but relatively minor injury. Given his history, we did have to take him for an MRI (his 4th in the last year and a half!), and several weeks later, he’s still on crutches. This latest injury also bought him a visit to a geneticist, who diagnosed him with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. We do have to take him for a cardiac screening to rule out complications, but thankfully, it looks like a fairly benign type of the syndrome, which causes loose joints and allows him to do weird circus-like tricks with his limbs, which seem to simultaneously amaze and nauseate people. Unfortunately, it also makes him more prone to injury, which is tough for an active kid who loves sports.

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Yesterday, I said a silent prayer of thanks to Michael’s physical therapist. Michael is 10 years old. He had been going to PT twice a week for 16 months. He was released from PT for just a few weeks before he had to head back again for this latest injury. And because of his diagnosis, it’s likely he’ll be there for a while, to continue to strengthen his muscles and hopefully avoid further injury.

While Michael was in the gym warming up on the bike, his physical therapist sat down with me to talk about his diagnosis, stopped thoughtfully, and said he would try and figure out ways to make this journey easier for Michael. A few minutes later, Michael returned, and LJ had given him a ball, with instructions to dribble while he stood on one foot, then the other. Knowing that Michael loves basketball, he’d found a way to make my kid smile while he was getting back to bearing full weight on both legs.

A small gesture? Perhaps. But not to Michael. And definitely not to me.

Regardless of their medical status, athletic ability, academic gifts, social stature, or the rest of the factors that make our kids who they are, we all have challenges to get through with our kids. This is ours with Michael.

Is it easy? Definitely not. Could I bemoan the fact that I have his orthopedist’s cell phone number, and that I’ve called it more than once? That he sat on the bench for all of last basketball season, played two games this season, only to be benched again with another injury? Sure.

But I’m choosing not to. Instead, we do our best to use these situations as lessons for all of us. I’ve learned that it’s hard for me to take him to his basketball games to watch him sit on the bench. But I’ve also learned that being a part of a team is so important to him, and that Michael is happier sitting on the bench, cheering his team on, than he would be at home. So we take him to the games.

I’ve learned that Michael is entitled to bad days. And so am I. But there’s little point in having too many bad days, so we choose to find ways to turn a bad day around, especially by being thankful for the many people who are in this with us.

Thank you.

 

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