The practical lessons of summer
“On a scale of one to ten, how bad does it hurt?” the triage nurse at the emergency room asked my son.
“It’s about a five or six,” he responded.
I’ve learned that the subjective one-to-ten pain scale does not tell me much in the case of my son. If it’s a morning before school, hangnails are a nine or ten. During summer vacation broken bones are a five or six. The level of pain he reported was less significant than the fact that over the course of the preceding few hours, his hand had swollen to the point that it looked like an inflated latex glove.
After a few X-rays, we went to a treatment room where another nurse asked him how he hurt himself.
“My friend and I were building a catapult,” he began.
“A catapult,” she interjected, “that’s the first time I’ve heard that.”
“A catapult is a thing where you tie a rope to something flexible and pull it back,” he explained.
“I think she knows that a catapult is,” I said, stopping the explanation. “She means she hasn’t seen anyone injured by one.”
The nurse smiled. “So you were building a catapult, and …”
“We were pulling it back, and the rope broke and it hit my hand right here,” he said pointing to the top of his inflated hand.
“Did the catapult hit you, or the rope?” she asked.
“The carabiner on the rope,” he said.
“So there was a carabiner on the rope, and that hit you?” I could tell the nurse was starting to feel like she was interrogating a suspect rather than examining a patient.
“Right,” the boy replied. “And I think the rope might have hit me too.”
“Did you learn anything?” she asked.
The boy thought for a moment. “Use a stronger rope next time.”
Her furrowed brow told me this was not the lesson she hoped he would take away. “The doctor will be in as soon as he can,” she said, pulling the curtain closed behind her.
After the doctor announced the boy had broken a metacarpal another nurse came in to put a splint on the his hand. “How’d this happen?” he asked.
“My friend and I were building a catapult,” he started.
“A catapult?” said the nurse with a smile.
“I know,” said the boy. “It’s stupid.”
“Actually that’s the coolest thing I’ve heard tonight,” said the nurse as he wrapped the hand.
I thought about the different responses to the catapult, and wondered which was right. In my mind, catapults are on a spectrum. Building a catapult to see how far you can launch rocks into the lake is an acceptable activity. Building one to see how far you can launch your friend’s little brother into the lake is not. Since my son and his friend were not planning on launching any little brothers, I think he learned the right lesson: make sure you have the right materials for your catapult.
I have been a priest for 16 years. I spent the first four years in Minnesota and Wisconsin, six years on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, before becoming the pastor at Advent Episcopal Church in Westlake in 2010. If anyone would find it interesting I have a son and daughter, which I refer to as a matched set, a wife, a dog, and a cat.