Neither our son nor his friend saw it coming. Just as they were getting ready to go underground, a gang of boys in their mid-teens came up behind them. They hit our son and his friend at the same time, fracturing our son's jaw and giving his friend a concussion. The attackers ran off, but a good Samaritan saw the attack and dialed 911. The police arrived on the scene in minutes. They corralled a group of black teenagers and asked our son and his friend to identify their attackers. Our son told the police that he never saw their faces. How could he recognize someone who came up behind him? As he bled, the police insisted he make an identification, but our son was unwilling to point the finger at someone just so the police could make an arrest. He told us later that they were mere kids, and his word could put an innocent person in jail for a long time. Finally, the police allowed our son and his friend to get into the waiting ambulance and head for the nearest trauma center.
The attack occurred on Saturday evening. It was close to midnight before our son was admitted to the hospital. Because his friend "only" had a concussion, he was released. Hospital rules said that only family could stay in the room, so our son was alone, and his friend had to find a place to stay since he was in no condition to drive home. Fortunately, he has a cousin who lives in DC, and she was able to put him up for the night.
The next morning, his friend called us using our son's phone. He wasn't very coherent, but it was clear that our son was hurt. Because he is over twenty one, no one could tell us the extent of his injuries. We feared the worst, and headed toward the hospital, armed with a list of phone numbers of doctors we could call on a Sunday morning. I don't know what we would have done without a cell phone.
The doctors we called all agreed that it was better for our son to get treatment in Washington rather than drive the three hours home. Their logic frightened me: they said that the doctors in DC had much more experience with fractured jaws, especially those caused by a slug to the face. It turns out, the doctors were right. We learned that the surgical staff in this one DC hospital treats at least one broken jaw a day, usually more, whereas the medical staffs in our suburban hospitals seldom saw this type of injury at all.
Our son had to wait until late Monday afternoon for surgery. The word fracture can be used to describe a wide range of injuries, but in our son's case, it meant that his jaw was sheared in two and the force of the blow had severed the nerve that runs inside the bone. Because of their extensive experience, the doctors were able to repair the break from inside his mouth, leaving only a quarter-inch incision along his jaw where they had to insert a screw to secure the metal plate. To stabilize the jaw, they wired his teeth together. While he was in severe pain for weeks and an area of his face from the middle of his bottom lip down remains numb to this day, he suffered no brain damage.
During the eight weeks when his teeth were wired shut, our son lived on a liquid diet. Lest you get too excited about the prospects of a diet of enforced milk shakes, any temperature extremes were uncomfortable, and when the doctors said liquid, they meant liquid. Even melted ice cream was too thick for him to sip. At five ten, our son only weighed about 140 pounds to begin with. He was lean and wiry from climbing at the rock gym. After eight weeks, he lost over twenty pounds, and he was outright gaunt.
When we told our family and friends what happened, everyone asked the same question: Why? The boys weren't wearing ostentatious Flyers hats or jerseys, and even if they were, the game had ended hours earlier and the Flyers had lost that game anyway. No one tried to take their wallets or their watches. Is it possible the attackers mistook them for someone else? It's hard to tell because we never found out who was responsible. It seems our son and his friend were in the wrong place at the wrong time, in the sights of a mob who had nothing better to do and something to prove to the world or to themselves. They showed us that they were anonymous and dangerous, capable of attacking two men at least a decade older and leaving those men helpless.
During the hours we waited for surgery and the eight weeks of recovery, I realized more than ever that it is impossible to protect our children from random acts of violence. As a parent, there was little I could do except sit by and watch my son's pain. That, and make chicken broth, one of the few foods he could enjoy during his recovery. The act of making the soup helped me as much as it helped my son. Bringing the pot to a boil, skimming off the foam, chopping the vegetables, and waiting were all therapeutic. It helped to know that I was doing something to ease his hunger if not his pain.
A year later, our son is almost back to his pre-attack weight, and he is finally back to climbing. He even joined a co-ed soccer league this spring. He has not shied away from attending sporting events. In fact, he and the same friend went to the final game of the 2008 World Series, the two night event. He has never questioned his decision to refrain from identifying his unseen attacker. Maybe his reluctance to point a finger changed the life of someone the police had lined up. In his heart, he knows that putting someone in prison wasn't going to reform anyone.
Here is my recipe for the chicken broth that sustained our son and me during his recovery.
Fortified Chicken Broth
1 large can Cottage Inn chicken broth
1 3-pound whole chicken, with neck but with heart, liver, and gizzards removed
2 large onions, peeled, cut into quarters, with a whole clove studded into each quarter
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped into 2-inch pieces
3 large ribs of celery, chopped into 2-inch pieces
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
4 large springs of Italian (flat leaf) parsley
Place whole chicken and neck in large pot. Add canned broth and add enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to a full boil. While waiting for the pot to boil, cut up the vegetables, and remove any foam that rises to the surface.
After the liquid comes to a full boil, add the vegetables, herbs, peppercorns and salt and return to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer and allow to cook for at least two hours to extract as much of the energy from the chicken and the vegetables. Continue to remove any foam that rises to the surface. Cool slightly, then strain the broth through two layers of cheese cloth to clarify. Discard the vegetables. Reserve the meat for another purpose. Cool before refrigerating. Chill overnight, and remove the fat that rises from the top. Reheat to serve. Use without 3 days.
This broth can also be used as a base for many soups, if you are not feeding someone on a liquid diet.