Always look your best!

Friday, August 26th

On Wednesday, while Tomas continued a week-long adventure with Oma in D.C., Tristan, Phoebe, and I went for mani-pedis in town. Tristan selected burgundy sparkles, Phoebe chose schoolhouse-red sparkles, and I went with a sparkle-free, subtler red.

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It was a good thing Tristan’s nail job was professional grade, because yesterday (Thursday) he ended up having surgery on his left hand. It’s always good to be on your toes about personal upkeep; you just never know when something big might happen and you need to be looking your best! Indeed, Tristan was complimented on his tasteful choice of color, first in the ER by the nurses and the orthopedic surgeon, then in the OR prep by the anesthesiologists, and again in Recovery by the nurse who watched him post-op.

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What the hell happened? Yesterday Phoebe, Tristan, and I took our painted toenails and fingernails to the river for one last day in the sun before school starts next week. I swam and chatted with our Kneeland friend Steve and his daughter Laurel while Phoebe and Tristan caught frogs in a stream that feeds the river. The kids had made friends with a couple of young boys who were there with their dad, and the younger brother, who might have been about six, was happily engaged in the frog hunt. They were all playing beautifully together, with zero conflict or aggression. And, so, it was all in good fun when that boy picked up a giant rock / small boulder and accidentally dropped it on Tristan’s left hand, which was resting on another boulder.

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I have replayed those moments and the ones after hundreds of times since then. I never could have imagined such an accident beforehand, but now it’s burned indelibly into my brain. I watched the whole thing unfold. I wanted to shout to the boy, “Careful, that rock is too big to lift and it might fall on your toes!” But there was no time, and he wasn’t my kid, and the father had seemed unfriendly when they arrived and so I was doubly reluctant to boss his boy around. Maybe I could have gotten out just enough words (“Carefffffffuuuuuullllll…!!!”) to change the kid’s path of motion. Who knows.

Tristan hopped and screamed in the stream. I sprinted to him. There was lots of blood. I immersed the hand in the river to try to see the wound. I saw that his ring finger was split open raggedly, like a popped grape, all along one side, and I let out a string of profanity that would have offended equally East and West, North and South. (I try to be fair.) The six year-old looked on with mounting hysteria, apologizing again and again and saying he didn’t mean it. Over Tristan’s screams, I told him it’s okay sweetie, nobody thinks you did this on purpose. Another mother, a stranger, sprang into action. She handed me a clean pillowcase in which to wrap Tristan’s hand, threw our towels into our beach bag, slung our bags over her shoulder, and headed to our car. I carried Tristan. Phoebe followed. The boy’s father pulled a first aid kit from his car. Nobody had Betadine or hard alcohol — I wanted to pour it over the wound. The stranger mother put gauze tape over the finger. We were in the car at 12:23.

Laurel, who grew up on Kneeland and drives like it, zoomed us skillfully up the tight turns out of Butler Valley, then down Kneeland Road to Eureka. Meanwhile, I gripped Tristan’s bleeding hand and called our Outpatient Nurse at UCSF, who called the ER at St Joe’s to tell them an immune compromised kiddo would soon show up. I called Gary to meet me at the ER, to pick up Phoebe.

In the ER, Tristan was given the Royal / Immune-Compromised Treatment and whisked past the other waiting patients into a consult room. Nurses took vitals, an X-Ray machine was rolled in (and Tristan announced that he wants one for Christmas), the orthopedic surgeon was located somewhere in the ether between the hospital and his office, and Tristan’s excellent manicure was examined and admired. It was determined that Tristan had a fractured ring finger with a loose splinter of bone and a dislocation, and well as the enormous gash all along the side. In the OR Prep, Tristan knowledgeably explained to the anesthesiologist that today he preferred to be knocked out with an IV, rather than by breathing gas. He sat unflinchingly through the insertion of the needle. He fell asleep on the gurney (without having yet been given any drugs) and was wheeled, snoozing, into the OR. It was about 4:25pm, more than four hours after having his hand crushed, and nobody had yet given him any painkillers. He’s not allowed Motrin or Ibuprofen or anything that can mask a fever, and the St Joe’s ER nurses must not have been wont to throw morphine at a kid.

The surgery went smoothly — the wound was not dirty, the bones went back into place, and the surgeon was able to close the wound. We were wheeled to a room. Family visited, Tristan was not in pain and ate, Phoebe bestowed gifts upon her brother.


Tristan and I watched cartoons until midnight, when his hand started to hurt. The nurses no longer reluctant to give out the hardcore stuff, morphine was generously administered. Tristan slept until about 4am, then got more painkillers and slept again…until noon today! Friends, family, and the surgeon visited while he slumbered. The surgeon expects the finger to heal up just fine. (A good Humboldt County man, he has a ponytail and nine children. He told me a long and funny story about a recent family camping trip.) Infection is the real concern in a kid with leukemia, so Tristan will stay here in the hospital on IV antibiotics until this evening.

So, there you have it, the story of why keeping up the appearance of your nails at all times is important. You simply never know when a boulder will “pop open your hand,” as Tristan describes his injury.

Trauma and surgery aside, the five weeks since I last wrote has been full of fun and adventure. Tomas, Tristan, and I spent the week of August 8th in San Francisco at my brother’s apartment. Tomas attended the Giants baseball camp, where he was afforded the MVP award. We all went one afternoon after camp to the Cal Academy of Sciences, where Tomas led us on a tour. Tristan and I went with my sister-in-law to the MOMA, where Tristan enjoyed herbal tea with his Aunt Agi in a chic cafe. We hit the playgrounds. We had dinner with a high school friend of mine in the East Bay and Chinese food in Ocean Beach with my wonderful librarian friend. In between all this fun, Tristan and I went to UCSF for his IV chemo, given this time at a half dose, as concerns have not been assuaged that vinchristine is causing problems with Tristan’s vocal chords. We also saw a Ears-Nose-Throat specialist, who examined said vocal chords and believes that my son’s sometimes-scratchy voice is more likely caused by irritation from reflux associated with the steroids he takes for five days of each month.


Between other local sports camps for Tomas and arts and Discovery Museum camps for Phoebe, we had a bunch of river days (sans boulder accidents), trips to the beach and the zoo, reflexology, and a visit from good friends. Phoebe tested for and got her Advanced Yellow belt in karate and blew my mind by sparring fearlessly with her counterpart, her ribboned braids bouncing as she threw punches and landed roundhouse kicks. Finally, Tomas attended a local fair and won three 15 cent goldfish that, by now, have cost an estimated total of 200 bucks in fair entry fees, a tank and associated equipment, and replacement fish. And I thought a goldfish would be a simple solution to Tristan’s lamentations that his siblings each have a dog a he is petless.


School begins Monday, and even Tristan will go back to preschool two days a week. Gary and I agree that it’s been a good summer, and that the crazy RV trip and fun camps and other entertainments have helped smear a happy haze over last summer’s horrors. The boulder incident is a bit of a glitch, but we’ll get through it, aided perhaps by fresh nail polish once Tristan’s hand comes out of its wrappings.

3 thoughts on “Always look your best!

  1. Toni-kam, you are amazing…. hope all will go well and Tristan will be out of the woods soon.

    Loved having Tomas and your Mom for a visit.

    Hugs and kisses from Zsuzsa

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  2. Man! You just cannot catch a break!!! I would have been freaking out!! What a fiasco! Hats off to Tristan and YOU! I just cannot believe that happened….your right you guys will get thru it, it’s just annoying it had to be Tristan!!!! Wishing for another speedy recovery!!! Love to all, Donna (your old P-ton babysitter xoxoxoxo)

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  3. Dear Toni, belatedly we read your blog and were shocked and deeply saddened by the incident. Please let us know whether Tristan is making good recovery.
    Thinking of you as ever.
    Andrew and Gerda

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