E Jane Dickson: Staying Afloat

'Gosh, Mum, I thought you would be braver than that. You weren't a bit like Joan of Arc'
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The Independent Online

"Shall I give you a tip, Mum?" says Con. "Keep going forwards and you won't fall backwards." If the spaceman/scientist/pop-star career doesn't work out, I reflect, my boy has a big future in inspirational greetings cards.

But right now, he's focussing on staying upright, striking out, inch by cautious inch, from the ice-rink barrier.

"That's it," I call encouragingly. "You're doing fine. Look how far you've come already."

This is a mistake. Finding himself marooned on the ice a clear two feet from the barrier, Con starts to windmill wildly.

"It's fine," I insist, reaching out to him, "Come on, skate to me."

Obediently, Con launches himself in my direction. He misses my outstretched hands but manages a terrific rugby tackle round my knees. The crump, as the base of my spine hits the ice, blocks out everything for a second; it's only when the nice man helping me up recoils in horror that I realise something's not quite right with my hand.

"Yuck, Mum," says Clara, who has come skating up to claim me, "can you stop doing that with your finger? It's revolting."

Sure enough, the middle finger of my left hand is cleanly dislocated and now appears to be fixed on backwards. Perhaps, if I couldn't see it, it would be merely painful. But the sight of my finger, swinging loosely from the knuckle, makes me giddy and sick and I sit there on the ice, staring Lady Macbeth-style at my hand and giggling in what Clara later describes as "quite a scary way".

The boys in the first-aid room mean well, but they can't look at my hand without gagging, so they call an ambulance. The kids are thrilled. I am embarrassed and am ranting feebly about NHS resources when the flashing lights and siren screech to a halt for the lady with the sore finger

"Do you want me to ring your husband?" the ambulance man asks. "Haven't got one," I reply, giggling again, but making a mental note to get one of those medic-alert bangles with "Single Mother" written on it for the next emergency. What, I think, panicked by pain, if I had been knocked unconscious? Would the kids remember their dad's phone number? Should I have the names of friendly, responsible adults taped about my person at all times for just such an eventuality?

The good news is that the finger isn't broken. The bad news is, the dislocated knuckle has to be wrenched back into its socket. A sweet-faced intern performs this grisly procedure and somehow I manage not to punch her in the throat. "Can someone take my children out of earshot?" I ask after the first attempt. "I think I'm going to shout".

"Gosh, Mum," says Clara, when I totter, ashen-faced, from the treatment cubicle. "I thought you'd be braver. You weren't a bit like Joan of Arc."

"Look after your mum, now," says the cheery male nurse as we leave. "Oh, we will," Conor assures him, full of man-to-man importance. "It's lucky she was with me when it happened."