I was sitting on the couch reading People when my son fell out a second story window. It was a spectacular day – the kind of day with a sky so clear and blue you can almost see the darker hue of the universe beyond. A cool ocean breeze was coming through the screens, reminding us that summer would soon be over. “Savor these days,” it whispered. “They do not last.” Time was passing as it should on a Saturday morning – slowly. My twin boys, 21 months old, were fed and changed. The older girls were reading and playing games. The house was quiet. Silence being a precious commodity in a house with five children, I grabbed a magazine off the untouched stack and stood at my kitchen counter. After flipping through the first few pages of advertisements, I looked around. Seeing no one, I tiptoed to the couch. Perhaps if I was really careful I could sit and read for a few minutes before a child misinterpreted my stillness as an invitation to hop on my lap. I settled in and started to catch up on the J. Lo break up – very important reading that could not wait any longer.
My husband, Larry, walked in and said he was taking the boys for a walk. “Do you want anything from the deli?”
“Nah, I’m good, thanks.” I was thinking in fact how very good I was now that the twins would be out of the house for a while. I might even be able to get to the Amy Winehouse issue – heaven! I couldn’t remember the last time I sat down and read during daylight hours. Larry went to grab some money, and I settled in deeper on the couch anticipating a half an hour of guiltless, mindless pleasure.
“Where are the boys?” I asked casually without looking up. I wasn’t worried about them, just curious. They had had the run of the house for a couple of months and other than a few spilled bags of goldfish, hadn’t gotten into any serious trouble.
“On the front porch,” he answered. I’m going to grab them on my way out.
Almost theatrically, on his cue came a loud banging on the door – much louder than Charlie or Shane’s little, clumsy hands could muster. Before I could even put down the magazine, the door flew open and a young, attractive woman, whom I did not recognize, appeared. “He fell out the window!” she screamed, panic all over her face. Like a rock being dropped into an already full bucket, my heart plummeted to my stomach forcing its contents into my throat. I have faced sadness and tragedy in my life, but this was, without doubt, the single worst second of my life. My greatest fears compressed into one short sentence, one fleeting moment.
We spend the summer in a quiet town in Long Island. The homes are close, but as compensation, so is the surf. We have an old concrete house, rationally built with flooding in mind. The kitchen and living area sits on the second floor out of harms way. At the front of this floor, facing the concrete – not asphalt – street, is a small porch. For the past eight summers, this porch has been my happy place. It is my favorite place to have a cup of tea, read to a child, drink a glass of wine or start a healthy debate. My husband and I have blamed many a late night on our inability to say good night to the beloved porch. I sit on the wicker love seat, he on the chair. Sort of between us, but against the wall because of the tightness of the space, is a chest. On a good night, it holds my iPod speakers, a few lit candles and a bottle of wine. This sunny day, it held my little Charlie for just a brief moment. I can only imagine that he smiled at Shane while he was climbing up, as if to say, “Hey, brother, take a look at this.” He is a curious monkey. Face and chubby hands pushed up against the screen, I know he was trying to get a better look at what lay below. He pushed a little too hard and the screen and Charlie disappeared from the sight of his amused, but somewhat confused twin. He fell about ten feet onto the concrete sidewalk.
Wisely, the witness (the granddaughter of my neighbor) did not try to pick him up. The saying “I saw my life flash before my eyes” doesn’t quite cut it, but it was a little something like that. As we ran out the door, I saw Charlie’s short life and our dismal future in an instant – four kids may be a lot but five minus one makes for a very empty home. I prepared myself for what I would see and hoped that as a doctor, I could do something to prevent the worst. Larry had him in his arms before I could grab Shane and make it down the front steps. In an instant, I knew he was o.k. He had his arms around his dad’s neck and was crying as if he had just dropped an ice cream. Closer inspection – and an subsequent ER visit – revealed a perfect little boy. We found no scratch, scrape, bump or bruise. In fact, I think the doctors at the hospital thought I brought the wrong twin.
Nurses and physicians stared at him – we all stared at him – for hours. Charlie ran around the pediatric ER, charming the staff, climbing IV poles and interrupting the other families. They discharged me with no reprimand (I still think I deserved one), just some sympathetic, awestruck looks.
“It is a miracle.”
“I know,” I replied.
“Babies don’t fall ten feet and look like this.”
“He must have nine lives.”
“I know.” At that moment, in that hospital, there were only a few things that I did know. I knew that life is fragile. I knew that love can be so strong it actually hurts. I knew for certain that we either got very lucky or someone, up in the dark blue beyond the light blue, was looking out for us.
We left the emergency room. I was still shaking, Charlie was still Charlie – bound to get into more trouble.
I believe in miracles. I got mine. I am not counting on there being another one in the cards for me, so I will be doing what I should’ve done before. I am looking for accidents before they happen – not the little trips and spills, but the avoidable accidents that can change lives forever.
The screen on that window was loose. The chest sat directly below it. I have two active toddlers who are incredible climbers. What the hell wasn’t I thinking? Children fall out of windows in tenements where parents and guardians are too busy navigating tough lives to take proper precautions – right?!? I am a physician. I care for my kids. My husband and I are responsible, dedicated parents. My kids don’t fall out windows – except, I guess they do. We got lucky this time and our gratitude is immense. We will be double checking windows and using window guards. Please learn from our mistake and do the same.