Liam and I were remarking earlier this summer how we both had made it through most of our childhood without serious injury. I was in high school when I got my first and only stitches and one and only broken bone. Liam had stitches as a kid and broke his hand after college playing basketball.
And yet, both of our girls have had injuries that have required stitching, or in Frances’s case—gluing. And both have broken their arms! All before they turned five!
A couple of months ago Liam had the kids at the park playing on the playground and riding scooters. As they were getting ready to leave—due to Frances needing to poop—she had a fall when her scooter stopped abruptly as she rolled from the basketball court onto the grass. According to Liam, she ‘gently’ fell forward over the scooter—hardly a fall that would induce traumatic injury. According to Frances, the handlebars of the scooter ‘bumped her hard in the elbow.’
At the time, I had been picking up some take-out down the road. Liam called me to tell me he thought Frances might have broken her arm. We met at the restaurant and I confirmed I thought something about her right elbow looked off. So I took Frances to the ER while he went home with the other kids.
The triage nurse took one look at Frances’s elbow and advised me not to give her anything to eat or drink until after the doctor saw her. Hmmm…from my limited experience I knew this meant they were thinking ahead that she could possibly require surgery. Not a good sign. This was bad news to Frances who was a hot, sweaty mess from the park and very thirsty.
The ER doctor came in quickly to examine Frances and applied pressure around her elbow. Frances didn’t wince too badly at her touch, so the doctor didn’t think she was going to require surgery. She gave her the go-ahead to have some water and ibuprofen.
Next, we went to have the X-rays done. Although she was clearly in pain, Frances handled the movement and placement of her arm for the photos like a champ. At one point, one of the techs called over to the other techs to have a look—another bad sign. They both agreed that they thought the ER doctor was going to be surprised at how badly the bone was broken. They said that Frances was not behaving like a child with a significant break in her arm. Most children they said, would be screaming and inconsolable. My kid was just a pale, sweaty, sad and pathetic little thing, cradling her tiny arm close to her body.
Then, we headed back to the room to wait for the ER doc. When she came in, she told us the food and water restriction was back in place and that the break was (surprisingly) severe enough that Frances would require immediate surgery. AND, that we would have to travel by ambulance that evening to Yale to meet with the pediatric surgeons there.
At this point, my adrenaline started to kick in. What I thought was going to be a simple splint until we could get a cast from an orthopedic doc—like what happened with Nora when she broke her arm—was turning out to be much more serious. And scary. Surgery?!
I called Liam and had him arrange to have my sister-in-law come get the kids while he grabbed some things from home and met us at the hospital. I remember the doctor told us they were going to give Frances some fentanyl while they splinted her arm for the ride to Yale. “You mean like the stuff that addicts are overdosing from?!” I asked, feeling helpless.
“Yes, but at the appropriate dosing for a four-year-old,” she replied, like I was some kind of idiot thinking they were going to harm my child. What can I say? I hate giving my kids over-the-counter pain meds as it is and avoid it at all costs. So, a drug that heroin users use was bound to freak me out a bit.
It was pretty scary seeing two nurses hold up two syringes to her little nose, but she continued to take it all in stride. The ride to the hospital was without issue, except that I keep thinking it was such a surreal experience. I talked to Frances every few minutes at first, and reached over a time or two to rub her head. I was buckled in behind her, so she couldn’t see me. At first I was concerned this would be unsettling for her, but I think she was totally out of it from the meds. I had a lovely conversation with the medic almost the whole way there. The rest of the time I focused on deep breathing to try and calm my overanxious state. Frances refused to nap for all but ten minutes of the nearly hour ride, though she rested easily. At this point, it was after 8:00 p.m., and she hadn’t had her normal nap. I sensed it was going to be a long night and had no idea what to expect.
The team at Yale was phenomenal. They showered Frances with stuffed animals when we got there and continued to come in and check on us while we waited to see if they were going to do surgery yet that night, or first thing in the morning. We got admitted around midnight after watching some movies in a patient room in the pediatric ER. The surgery was scheduled for the morning.
The worst and most traumatic event of the day was the insertion of the IV. Our kid, who had handled everything up to that point like a rockstar, flipped out when she saw the needle. Like screaming on repeat and nearly hyperventilating. It didn’t help that the nurse tried twice and failed to get a vein. They had to call a super-super IV getter-inner from downstairs who took her time and eventually nailed it. We celebrated with a rainbow ice pop for Frances at 1:00 a.m. Her first food since lunch earlier that day.
The team of doctors had explained to us, that during surgery, they would use an X-ray machine to place two long pins in Frances’s elbow bones to hold her bone/joint in place. The break she had was called a supracondylar fracture of the humerus. The pins would get pushed in to her skin—there would be no need to cut her open. The pins would stick out of her skin and be covered with a cast. When the cast came off, the pins would be pulled out and all would be well. At least, that was the plan. We slept as best we could, Liam in a folding chair, and me on a couch.
The hardest part of the whole experience for me, apart from the initial shock of it all, was getting Frances ready to leave for surgery in the morning. We walked with her as she rolled along in her big bed to the pre-op room. As soon as the anesthesiologist and surgeon came to talk to us, Frances started to cry. She looked so brave, as though she were trying to fight back the tears, but she understood for the first time we wouldn’t be going along with her on this part of the journey. My heart ached for her as I tried to reassure her, without adding my own tears to the situation. Gratefully, the anesthesiologist offered us the choice to give her something in her IV to calm her down. Within thirty seconds, she went from tears at the thought of being torn from us, to giggling. He told us she was a poster child for why they like to do that kind of thing. “You’re going to remember her leaving like this and not screaming. And she won’t remember it at all,” he said.
We waited patiently while the doctors had her, and felt overjoyed when the surgeon came after only an hour to tell us that things went perfectly. They encountered no problems and all had gone well.
We waited with our girl until she woke up. We expected she might be groggy and irritable. Both my sister and the doctors had prepared us for the worst. Instead, she was sleepy, but pleasant, asking only for another rainbow ice pop. She had chosen a sparkly pink cast which she admired against the contrast of her pale yellow hospital gown. She also asked if we could go play in the toy room she’d eyed on the walk down to the OR earlier that morning.
The rest of our stay was peaceful. I finally watched Moana for the first time, after having memorized the soundtrack earlier in the summer. We made it back home in our own car in time for dinner with the other two kids. Although the week ahead would prove to be one of the most difficult for me coming off the emotional and stressful experience of the broken arm, and with little sleep (I slept with Frances for a few nights afterwards to make sure she was elevating her arm and taking pain meds), we had weathered the broken arm surgery just fine.
I tried not to hear her when she asked the next day if she could ride her scooter. And I tried not to lose it all when she banged her elbow against the wall accidentally two days later, and then fell on it running a time or two shortly thereafter. And then, when Nora accidentally pulled Rowan down from the heavy dining room chair and both his feet got pinned underneath and he limped around for a few weeks, I almost did lose it all. But we made it through.
We made it through four weeks of end-of-summer no swimming for Frances. We made it through hair washing sessions in the kitchen sink and garbage-bags-on-the-arm baths. We made it through many re-X-ray checks and many more bumps and falls in the cast. We made it through the appointment when the cast came off and the pins came out and things still looked good. We made it through the first two weeks of school in a sling to help Frances—as well as little friends—remember that the unprotected bone still needed a little more time to heal. And we made it through the final check-up where the surgeon told us all restrictions were off!
This morning, as we were hiking, Frances asked if we could do “Whee”—that thing when a child holds both her parents’ hands and then counts “one-two-three whee,” and then gets swung high in the air by her parents. Um, yeah. We said no. We’re going to give that arm just a little more time to heal before we go there.
Here’s hoping Rowan isn’t on track to break his arm at age four just like both our girls did. Fingers crossed!