Max's teacher recently sent home a bunch of the class's favorite jokes on index cards, and we were reading them at bedtime last night. One favorite:
What did one elevator say to the other elevator?
"I think I'm coming down with something."
Then we got to this one:
Why did the birdie go to the hospital?
To get a TWEETment.
Max pointed to the word hospital. He pointed to his bedroom window. He gestured at himself.
I thought I knew what he was saying, but it was hard to believe.
"Max, do you remember going to the hospital when you were little?" I asked, cautiously.
"Yes!" he said.
He made a whining noise.
"Is that the sound an ambulance makes?" I asked.
"Yes!" he said.
Then he pointed down. And I knew.
"Yes, the ambulance came here and took you to the hospital, and then the doctors made you better," I said, and it was all I could do to not cry.
Somehow, Max was remembering back to when he was 15 months old and he had a grand mal seizure. A very serious, prolonged seizure triggered by a fever that went on for a good 45 minutes until doctors at the hospital finally got it under control with meds.
That morning is the second most traumatic memory I have, the first being the moment the NICU doctor told us that Max had a stroke. Max was sleeping in our bed and I can still vividly recall waking early and realizing he was burning up. Seeing one of his legs twitching. And then, suddenly, his entire body was shaking.
Max had seizures at birth and we'd known he was at risk for them, but he'd been doing well and the doctor had taken him off the medication.
Dave and I were frantic—we both kept saying "Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god." I called 911. The police showed up before the ambulance did, and the officer told us to lay Max flat on the couch. We did, with his head on my lap. His eyes were rolled up. I kept saying "Max, Max, Max" and he could not hear me. I thought he was dying. He stayed in the hospital for several days after.
Until last night, I had no idea Max had any memory of this. It was unnerving; had it haunted him, too?
I often wonder about Max's inner life, and what he thinks about. He never expresses concern about his cerebral palsy. He knows he has it, though he hasn't yet asked why. He didn't seem fazed by the hospital memory; he wanted to talk more about it, and so we did.
"You had a seizure and you went to the hospital," I told him. "A seizure is when your body shakes." We haven't yet spoken about seizures. He's on meds to control them, and he hasn't had one in more than five years.
Max looked at me. He pointed to the word "hospital" again on the card.
"Max, you are OK now," I told him. "You take medicine so you don't have any more seizures."
He nodded. He pointed down again. Max likes to repeat things; it's how he processes information.
"Yes, the ambulance came to the house and took you to the hospital," I said. "But you are all better."
Max nodded. We moved on to the next joke.
Before I tucked Max in, we chose a few jokes to load onto his speech app so he could share them with other kids. I asked if he wanted to include the hospital one.
"No!" said Max.
I didn't blame him.
He wanted to fall asleep with the lights on. I went in later to shut them off and he looked completely peaceful.
We will keep talking.