It’s a Bird. It’s a Plane. It’s a Band Director.

In the eighties, Wayne and I and our two children were living in New Braunfels, Texas. It was August, and I had put the children in day care so I could make preparations to start the school year teaching at the high school. I was still at home, but I was planning to go to the high school in a few minutes. Wayne was already there that day since summer band practices had already started and, like most high school band directors, he always put in sixteen-hour days every August.

Paul, one of Wayne’s private lesson teachers, called me at home and said, “Wayne’s fallen, and you need to come up here.”

“Well, tell him to get up,” I said, before realizing that this must be more than a mere tumble.

I drove to the school, which was only five minutes from our house. I saw the ambulance as soon as I got to the asphalt parking lot, which also served as the band practice field. Beside the ambulance stood the track timing tower. Since the band did not have a tower for the directors to watch band practice from high up, they hooked a chain to the tower and dragged it back and forth, as needed, from the track to the band practice field and back.

Beside the ambulance stood the superintendent and the principal and Paul.

“He fell off that?” I asked Paul.

“From the top,” he said. “Face first. Two band parents and he were hooking a chain to the tower so they could drag it back to the track. He was bending over the edge when a weld snapped, and he went over.”

The superintendent said, “You should go knock on the door of the ambulance and ask them how he’s doing.”

“No,” I replied. “I don’t want the EMTs distracted in any way. I want them to concentrate on Wayne.”

As we waited and waited, I thought about what was probably going on inside the ambulance. I had watched enough TV shows to know that they would always stabilize patients before transporting them. It seemed like 15 minutes or more before the ambulance finally pulled away. I drove behind it, and the two administrators followed me in another car.

At the emergency room, I gave my name and sat down to wait. The superintendent and principal waited a couple of hours with me before telling me to call them as soon as I heard something. Then I was alone.

After some time, the doctor came out and said, “He has a broken arm, and his four front teeth were knocked out. He’s stable now, but he’s holding his teeth in with gauze. As soon as we release him, you can take him to his dentist. We called Dr. Willard, and he’s expecting you. We’ll call him again when you leave here. You can go back and see him now.”

When I bent over the bed and saw Wayne’s battered face, I realized that I was so close to tears that if I said anything kind, I would lose it. I can cry for hours once I get started. Red eyes, runny nose, can’t catch my breath. You get the picture.

So when he opened his eyes, I smiled down at him and asked, “Well, did you try to fly?”

Wayne had a great sense of humor. He chuckled and said, “I tried.”

At least I think that’s what he said. It’s hard to talk when you are holding your four front teeth in with a piece of gauze.

Wayne’s assistant director, Mike, hurried in.

“Wayne, I heard what happened,” he said. “What should I do about band practice tonight?”

“I’m going to try to make it,” he said, through the gauze.

Up until that point, I had been a rock of fortitude. The following week, the principal even commented on how calm I had been. “You acted like it happened every day,” were his words.

Well, he did not see me when Wayne said that he was planning to go to band practice that night.

I went over to the doctor, who was putting a cast on someone’s arm in the next curtained-off examination area. I was almost incoherent as I said, “I want you to go in there and tell him he is absolutely not allowed to go to band practice tonight.” I think I was screeching.

The doctor looked up at me and said, “Don’t worry. After the dentist finishes the four root canals, your husband is not going to want to go anywhere.”

I don’t know what Mike did about band practice that night, but I know Wayne was not there.

After the doctor dismissed Wayne, I took him to the dentist. When Dr. Willard came out to guide Wayne to the treatment room, I said, “I’ll go home and get you a dry shirt.” I didn’t want him to come back out into the waiting room wearing a bloody one. If any children were there then, they might run out screaming.

When I returned to the dentist’s office, I sat in a chair. About an  hour later, Dr. Willard came out and said, “We think we saved the teeth. Time will tell. I’ll bring Wayne out in a few minutes, and you can take him home.”

I forgot to give Dr. Willard the clean shirt. It came in handy because, for the first time that day, I cried. I sobbed. I was really noisy. I was glad the receptionist had called the other patients and told them not to come in, so no one saw me crying in the waiting room.

The receptionist walked over and handed me a box of tissues. I handed her the shirt, and she headed back toward the treatment room.

Dr. Willard and the dental hygienist helped me get Wayne to the car. As we headed home, he said, “This shirt’s wet.”

“Sorry,” I replied. “I didn’t have a tissue.”

That night around 9 p.m. the air conditioner at our home went out. Wayne was so miserable already that I insisted we go to a motel so he would be more comfortable. We went to the local Holiday Inn. Around midnight, the air conditioner in the room went out. We did not want to wake the kids, who were sleeping soundly, so we dozed off and on until morning. When we told the person at the desk what had happened, he said there would be no charge for the room. That helped a little.

Not long after that day, one of the band parents, who was a welder, made a band tower so they would not have to drag the track tower back and forth.

Weeks later, his teeth were fine, the bruises went away, the cast was off his arm, but the bloody stain on the asphalt practice field stayed for months, even after the rains came.

That night was the only band practice Wayne ever missed. The next day he was back, broken arm, loose teeth and all.
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