Life is so fragile. Your entire world can change in an instant that you never saw coming. You could be lazily hanging out at the side of the splash pad, rotating your field of vision to capture both of your small children running about on the concrete, when suddenly you look over at one of them and notice them holding out a completely flat and dangling-from-half-way-down-the-forearm arm.
To you reading this, or to a paramedic, or a doctor it might be a simple broken bone. But when you’re the parent going through it, every bad parenting decision you’ve ever made flashes before your very eyes in a silent, screaming montage as you run toward your shocked and staggering 3 year old.
As you gingerly sit your caboose into a wobbly plastic chair, you will tears to come as you sit there and dry sob over your child’s slow death due to a broken arm. And it’s all so real because you’re present and holding this child’s Gumby arm in the palm of your hand.
When the paramedics show up, you promise them that you’re normally the Mona Lisa when it comes to emotional and physical strife, but there’s just something about seeing your daughter’s arm dangle at an odd angle that makes your stone-faced and icy-hearted demeanor slip into oblivion. They reassure you that it happens to everyone who rides in the back of an ambulance, and that your tiny little package that you spent an entire 75 minutes delivering into this world will survive and be quite OK. You’re not kidding when you ask for your own sniff of Fentanyl to help ease the phantom pain you feel in your very soul.
After X-rays are performed and the doctor brings a lovely Child Life Specialist in with her to show you the X-Rays, you mutter then scream an expletive that you don’t even reserve for the bedroom. The look of horror in your face proves to your child that they matter more to you than the laptop you are constantly glued to, but they don’t miss the bad words you uttered and can’t figure out why you’re crying over the most rad broken bones (yes boneS) in the solarverse.
You steel yourself like the Golden Gate Bridge and re enter the room, only to tell your doped up child that you had a very sudden and very major allergy attack when the doctor pulled the photos of the X-ray out and that’s why you had to leave the room so quickly. You’re very allergic to paper. With disgusting pictures on it.
The doctor talks about options which include possible surgery, but likely a simple “reduction” of the bones. You think, “Great! They’re going to make a sauce and pour it over my kid’s arm. Awesome. Because, you know, I’m totally hungry right now.” You find out that “reduction” means “reset” and you gnaw on the skin around your fingernail beds as you try to figure out why the hell they call it “reduction” when they could tell you they’re putting the flipping bones back together. You miss half of what the doctor tells you because you’re thinking about the dangling forearm and how you should have never had children in the first place because you’ll never be enough for them in any way, shape, or form.
Then your daughter reaches over to you with her good arm and smiles a dopey smile at you and tells you that she wants to be a princess when she grows up. You laugh through the dam of tears that threaten to overflow at any second and you reassure her that she’s certainly on the right path to royalty.
When the Orthopedic surgeon finally arrives and your daughter can’t wiggle a few of her fingers, he cuts the gauze splint off and finds blood and a bone poking through the skin. How the FRIDGE did they not see this at the scene? How the FEET did you not feel it when it happened? How the FLOCK did they not see it on the X-ray? You immediately scream and hurl yourself out of the room so that you don’t become a gooey puddle on the floor.
Your husband passes out.
The Orthopedic surgeon tells you that the break can still be reduced (turkey leg, anyone?) without surgery after the blood is cleaned up and a few stitches have been administered to the puncture site. They will sedate and use a mobile X-ray machine to make sure the bones are in place before applying a temporary splint and sending us home.
Your synapses go insane, firing all over the place like WWII and you can’t imagine being sent home with a terminal patient. The doctor assures you that broken bones happen every day and that your child is most certainly not terminal, but you feel like you’ve held them for the last time, and felt their last breath on your cheek, or their last sticky kiss on your lips. You mourn your child’s walk down the aisle that will most certainly never happen now, their high school then college graduations which you will definitely miss because they broke their arm at the age of 3.
When the anesthesia comes into the room you ask questions like, “so the morphine and ketamine don’t have any contraindications?” like your child is undergoing complicated brain surgery and you’re the one who has graduated from a prestigious school of medicine, not them. You then find out that ketamine is in the same drug class as propofol and you know what happened to Michael Jackson when he used it that one time.
Every second of that child’s life plays in a violent reel inside your head, set to the tune of “Hell’s Bells” as you are silently heaving at the thought that this could be your last moment with your baby. You tell your baby you love her and she asks, “Where are you going?” as though the only time you tell her that you love her is in departure. What if it is the only time you tell her you love her? You make a silent note to yourself to tell her you love her every time you think it. Then you place a mental sticky note on top of that one that says “Fall in love with your 3 year old”.
You nauseously pace the halls as though your child’s life hangs in the balance and her procedure is being performed by lemurs, where seconds feel like eons and you’ve only got one second of your own life left.
When the doctor comes to find you, you’re once again choking back tears because you just know something bad happened in there and they were unable to repair the breaks, or that the sedation didn’t take well, or that your child has lost all will to live because they won’t have use of their arm for only the stars know how long.
The Orthopedic guy shows you an X-ray of an almost completely put back together arm as your child comes to and starts talking about aliens and multiple teddy bears that she wants to take home with her. He releases you and tells you that as long as you can fit this blue whale of a splint into your child’s car seat, you are free to go home. You look at your spouse in sheer horror as you realize you now have to become a caring, empathetic nurse to the same creature who was just hours ago telling you exactly how you were going to run the household from then on out.
You smile like the Cheshire Cat because your very spirited child has pulled through a complicated, compound arm fracture with fewer tears than you, and you realize that you are now at her beck and call for several weeks. As though you weren’t already there.
When you get home and you have to care for your child’s splinted arm for 10 days before they will cast it, you realize that life, like bones, is certainly fragile. And that in an instant, it could snap in two and send you to the emergency room, then down memory lane. And you find solace in the fact that while you might not have always done the very best you could as a parent, you promise to laugh a little more, color a few more pages, watch a few more movies, and play ridiculous games more often, because while today was just a broken bone, tomorrow might be a lost life and you want the movie reel of life to always and forever be a good one.