“Mr. MacGregor?” A short, stern-looking woman wearing a lab coat and holding a clipboard motioned me into a small room. She closed the door behind her.
Half an hour earlier I’d carried my six-year-old daughter, Kate, into the emergency department of the hospital. After a few words with the doctor on duty Kate had been wheeled off to the X-ray room.
Kate, the stern-looking woman told me, had a spiral fracture of her tibia, the large bone between her knee and her ankle. This type of injury is common in cases of child abuse, she said. It happens, she continued, when children are forcefully dragged in directions they don’t want to go. The stern look and clipboard were beginning to make sense.
It gets worse.
I’d told the receptionist that Kate had fallen down. In the X-ray room the radiologist asked Kate where she was when it happened. Kate said, “Whitewater canoeing.” Our stories where not matching up.
Later I learned that when Kate was asked about her mommy she replied, “She left early this morning with my brother.” It was a Thursday and both kids should have been in school.
For the past two years, my son, Doug, and I have been racing in the junior-senior division at the Gull River Open Canoe Slalom Race. My wife, Tanya, and Doug did leave early that morning to set up our campsite. Kate and I had stopped at a river on the way for a few hours of training. This was to be her first race.
We’d grabbed every eddy in the 300-meter, class II lower set of rapids and even back surfed the wave at the bottom. We’d carried up to the upper chute and shadowed a solo boat test course in our 14-foot tandem. An instructor high-fived Kate and told her she’d just passed her level two. She smiled and asked me if the snacks were in the truck.
I was dumping the water out of the canoe when Kate ran back to the beach in a sundress, juice box in one hand and a granola bar in the other. One moment Kate was hopping on top of a rock shouting that she had a sliver in her foot, the next she was laying on the beach screaming her little heart out. Her sandy foot must have slipped into a crack in the rock and her body fell the other way creating the spiral fracture.
It took phone calls to my wife and the public school before I was downgraded from abusive parent to irresponsible parent. In this woman’s eyes it was pretty much the same thing. Children anywhere near whitewater rivers were a big mistake, she said. I was just asking for trouble.
All the while Kate’s leg was being casted I argued the report not read that it was a whitewater canoeing injury. She hadn’t even gotten wet, I pleaded. “If she’d been in school this wouldn’t have happened would it, Mr. MacGregor?”
As I carried Kate out of the hospital she asked, “You didn’t like that lady, did you?” I said I didn’t. I told her that the nurse thought I was a bad father. She hugged me and asked if I would like to sign her cast.
Scott MacGregor is the founder and publisher of Canoeroots. At the next Gull River Open Canoe Slalom Race, Kate and Scott placed second. Kate can’t remember which leg was broken.
This article first appeared in the Early Summer 2014 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Canoeroots’ print and digital editions here.