Saturday, September 10, 2011

Peter's in stitches.

YesterdayToday, Peter fell and gashed his knee, requiring three stitches. There's more to the story.

There I was, enjoying my Saturday-afternoon nap, when the phone rang. Assuming it was a telemarketer, I let Brian answer it, but it was Peter, and he sounded distraught, like he couldn't quite get his breath.

"I need you to come and get me," he got right to the point. No niceties like, "Hi Mom."

"Where are you?" I asked.

"On the Mackenzie King bridge," he answered in a very tight, barely-holding-it-together voice. (Mackenzie King is where the main buses cross through downtown.)

"What's wrong?"

"Well," he stammered a little, "I've hurt myself and the bus drivers won't let me on the bus because I'm bleeding too much." Words to make a mother's heart sing.

"Okay, Peter, I'll be there in about 20 minutes," I assured him, then I hustled to go get him. I desperately wanted more information, but I knew that now was not the time.

Peter has Asperger syndrome. I hate saying that whenever I talk about him or write about him, but it gives important context. Peter's biggest challenges are social. It's really hard to describe, and it's not just that he's geeky. (Or nerdy; I know one is supposed to be an insult and one a compliment. I don't know which is which, so please assume I mean the kind one.)

Peter works part-time cleaning the inner-city parks of alcohol, drug and prostitution paraphernalia. It is really one of the few bottom-rung jobs he could get because he is ill-suited to anything in the service industry, like checkout clerk or McDonald's prep.

He takes his job seriously, works diligently, and is proud of the contribution this makes to our community. We're proud of him, too. However, in the course of this work, he has come across the unsavory underbelly of our society: the disenfranchised, the addicted, the psychotic.

These are not happy people, not stable. Peter is justifiably afraid of them. At one point, he considered carrying a can of mace (illegal) or a knife (stupid). In the end, he decided to work within the justice system and has chosen to study forensic science.

So when he called and said he had hurt himself, I imagined that one of the homeless people had hurt him. Steve imagined that Peter had cut himself on a crack pipe or a needle.

I pictured him walking from wherever this had happened to the bus stop.

I pictured him bleeding so profusely that a bus driver rejected him. I was angry at that driver. I was angry that no one helped him.

I pictured him shuffling along. One of the interesting features of Asperger syndrome is lack of coordination; in fact, it was this that first brought him into physiotherapy and occupational therapy, which eventually led to his diagnosis.

I imagined him looking somewhat like a homeless person himself, with unkempt beard and scruffy hair, with his bags of equipment for his job slung loosely about his body. I imagined people being afraid of him.

Finally, I got to him. There were two security guards with him who flagged me over to where Peter was. His jeans were ripped at the knee and sopped in blood all around the knee, which was wrapped in a grey cloth.

The security guards told me, indicating a young man nearby, that Ahab had helped him, had given his own T-shirt to Peter to stanch the bleeding which gushed every time he bent his knee. My anger dissipated with relief.

As we drove to the hospital, Peter told me what had happened: there was no violence. He was late for work, so was running. As he tried to dodge the crowds, he decided to hop over a fire hydrant. (Hey, it always works on TV!) He fell, landing on a pipe or piece of metal. It ripped his knee.

I wasn't happy that he was hurt, but I was glad that it was simply an accident.

But I prodded him on what he could have done rather than walking to the bus, who he could have called if he hadn't been able to reach me. In his state of anxiety, he had focused on getting home the usual way. It hadn't occurred to him to call for help until he was blocked. And THAT is what I mean by social challenge: most of us would immediately reach out if there were blood running down our leg.

At the hospital, things went as slowly as expected. Because Peter is 21 years old, I was told to wait for Peter in the outer waiting area. I paused, about to mention the Asperger syndrome, but then thought better of it. He was in good hands.

But I should have stayed. Turns out the doctor had mentioned that the gushing could be related to fluid from ruptured bursa in his knee. Peter never got a final answer on this (again, the social challenge) or, if it was ruptured, whether this is a big deal or not.

But we're home. He's got painkillers in his system, and he's in bed. We'll watch it, and if anything goes wrong, we'll follow up with a regular doctor.

Letting your kids, especially your "special needs" kids, become independent is fricking difficult. I wish I trusted the world more to care for him. I wish there were more people like Ahab.

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