CRASH! “AHHHH!” I run to the living room and find my daughter laying on the ground clutching her arm. My first instinct was to yell at her for sitting on the back of the sofa (which I’ve told her a million times not to do). But I notice she can’t straighten her arm. Just a few minutes later it’s worse and there is swelling behind the elbow. A quick call to my doctor friend confirmed my fears. “Go to the ER, now”. “Do you think it’s dislocated” I say hopefully. “No, I think it’s broken”. Within five minutes we are in the car on the way to the local Children’s hospital.
That evening was one of the most emotionally exhausting of my life. It was a standard injury, something that they see almost every day. But that doesn’t make it easier. The triage nurse saying she needs to be roomed immediately because she had a “possible deformity”. Having to hold your children’s hand and arm during the x-ray and stay positive while your worried with every fiber of your body. Figuring out how to not yell and show your anger when the resident makes her split too short, and she has to be re-splinted, holding her arm in a painful position. Trying to help your child sleep when they are in pain and in a brightly lit room. Carefully carrying her long, almost six year old body to the car and then the house while trying to make sure her arm doesn’t hurt. It’s awful.
The first few days were rough. We had to go back to the hospital the next day to get the arm casted. We were given a long list of instructions. No running, jumping, skipping or climbing. No dance or gymnastics class until the cast was off. No getting the cast wet. The first day we had her home because she needed pain meds every three hours. After that she went back to school. But it was her right arm that was broken, and she is right handed. Writing wasn’t possible. She had to learn to eat with her left hand. Even learning how to pull down her clothing by herself to go to the bathroom was a challenge. I needed to help her dress, brush her hair, brush her teeth, and even at times feed her. My independent little five year old was needy again, something she hasn’t been in a long time. That weekend we went to Chuck E Cheese to a birthday party. As her friends went up in the climbing structure, she cried in frustration, wanting to join her friends. My heart broke for her.
But slowly, slowly it got better. The weight started to not be as taxing, and she started to be able to spend a day without a sling. She started to get the hang of eating and even writing with her left hand. I still needed to help her dress in the morning, but just the tops. A friend lent us a medical sleeve, and we scaled back the number of times a week we bathed to help make the process less taxing on us both. Finally, we went to the local discount barber shop to have them wash her hair. We even decided to go to one dance class, to make sure she was able to not fall too far behind before the recital.
The last week my daughter had the cast was spring break, during a pre-planned trip to New Jersey. At this point, she was mostly independent again, and you hardly realized you had a cast. But after three weeks of having to deal with the cast, I felt it was time to make it pay itself back. Turns out, having a broken limb is considered a disability, and you that allows you to pre-board the airplane. We traveled carry on only, knowing that we would be able to secure spots for our luggage on the plane.
In New Jersey, my daughter was doated on by everyone. My stepmother washed her hair at her salon, and even did a blow-out turning my five year old into an instant teen. My grandmother constantly gave her sympathy, and everyone signed the cast in shiny metallic sharpies. She even managed to dance through Lincoln center and grab plenty of loot during the Easter egg hunt single handed.
There were hiccups. She wasn’t able to truly enjoy the surprise snowfall because we didn’t want her to get her cast wet. We had a drip in Central Park cut short because it started to rain, and we wanted to get her out of the weather. But overall, she did a great job, enjoying the trip, and adapting as only she can do.
The day after landing back home, we went back to the hospital to remove the cast and get x-rays. As they sawed off the cast, we saw the tattoo she had put on the night of the fall was still in tack! Surrounded by lots and lots of dead skin 🤢. However, after watching how well she had adapted to the cast, I was surprised by what happened next. Once the cast was removed, her arm was stiff and sore. She found she couldn’t move it much, and when she did, it still hurt. Suddenly, she wanted the cast back on, she didn’t want to leave without it. The doctor and I assured her that movement would come back in time. I kept her home that day, letting her have some pain meds and TLC. She slept in her sling for the first time in months. I was worried.
I asked the doctor about physically therapy, but she said that at 5, it tends to come back naturally just by reaching for things. She was right. The next day she had already gained significant reach. A week later, she was nearly straight. Two weeks later, no one knew she had broken her arm. One month later, we were back at the orthopedic for our follow up. All straight, no issues, cleared to resume all sports and activities. We had done it!
They say parenting is not for the week of heart and they are right. There were so many times during this process I questioned myself. I felt guilty for yelling at her before realizing that the arm was broken. I worried constantly as I watched her break doctors orders and run and jump all over the play-yard with her cast. My heart was in my throat when I walked in one day shortly after the cast came off and I found her trying to get back on top of the sofa, to the position that caused the fall in the first place. Honestly, I don’t ever think I’ll be able to hear a crash or see a fall again without fear or concern. But I also got to see the indomitable spirt in my daughter. I saw her rise to the challenge. I saw her left hand writing become almost as good as her right. I watched her figure out how to get around all the challenges that limited her mobility. And I saw her dance, and smile, keeping her spirits up all the way through. And maybe that’s the lesson I should learn from this. Not fear but hope, strength and determination. Because that is what my daughter learned from this ordeal, and for that I’m incredibly proud.