Lessons from a 3-year-old’s broken arm

Status post Snoopy sling and ice cream!

A friend of mine – someone who I really respect – sent me an email about my first blog post.  Though she’s an accomplished specialist in the world of dentistry, an expert in head and neck anatomy (trust me, the most complicated part of the human body!), and an adored professor for medical and dental students, she wrote:  “Enjoy the DAD part the most – it is the most difficult part, but the most rewarding.”  Though the other words of support that she sent meant a great deal, I did not initially focus on her analysis of being a parent.  And then, a whirlwind of stress, fear, tears, relief and love surrounded my family for the past 48 hours or so.

When my wife arrived Friday afternoon at the spectacular daycare program that cares for our three-year-old daughter, she immediately recognized that the crying emanating from the playground belonged to her offspring.  A quick report indicated that Ysabel had fallen off the “monkey bars.”  After ice was rejected, the tears were absorbed by the sponge of a mommy’s hug.  Though the short ride home was uneventful, Ysabel’s arm hung almost lifelessly by her side as the evening moved from dusk to dark.  Breaking my promise to never examine my children (you would not believe how many times I have rejected my wife’s pleas to examine an ear or a sore throat), I did a decent orthopedic evaluation of Ysabel’s baby-soft, miniature arm.  I was relieved to find no gross abnormalities but disappointed to see her wince in pain when I touched her shoulder (the proximal humerus, for some of you reading this).  Seeing pain in your child’s face – real pain like what she exhibited Friday night – leaps from their facial features and stabs you in deep in the heart.

After a deep breath (by me, not Ysabel), I telephoned our concierge pediatrician (my best friend and Ysabel’s Godmother), who shared her years of training and practice as a physician, and convinced us to give Friday night a chance to deliver some magic healing.

Though Hurricane Earl spared us, a major storm of pain erupted in Ysabel’s big-girl bed as she tried to sleep.  Each time that slumber came, she rolled over on her fragile wing and woke with a shriek.  Ultimately, I “slept” in her bed, holding her in place so that the tiredness that filled her sad eyes could win the battle for sleep.  Joined by her vigilant dog, Johnny, we watched her find peace and we watched the clock turn from night to day.

In the morning, Ysabel’s arm remained disconnected from the frenetic movements of our very active, “Denise The Menace” little girl.  After telephone calls and consults, we loaded up the team (going anywhere with a three-year-old and an eight-week old is, as my friend Eric used to say in reference to his girls, like “packing up the circus.”) and went to our pediatrician.  His examination was the same as mine and he reached the same conclusion that I had:  the collarbone (clavicle) had been spared but the shoulder (really the humerus) required imaging.

Ysabel could not have been a better sport while resting on the x-ray table preparing for her first dose of radiation and what we told her were special pictures of her arm.  (Each time Liz, the x-ray technician told her to stay still for the picture, Ysabel smiled at the “camera!”).  After getting a 25-carat-sized pink ring and a purple bracelet from the x-ray folks for being such a good listener, we returned to the waiting room to rejoin Mommy and Baby Dylan.  After a few minutes, we were told that the films revealed a buckle fracture (Not a true break but a common injury among children).  My heart sank.  I wanted to cry.  The news made Ysabel’s “boo-boo” far more real.  I had a brief flash of anger:  How could this have happened?  How did I let this happen?  And then my medical school training reminded me that buckle fractures were minor in the world of broken bones and that a few weeks in a sling (assuming we can convince Ysabel to protect her shoulder) should allow her rapidly remodeling bones to recover. 

After a quick trip to get a “Snoopy” sling, we did what was tradition for me whenever I forced my parents’ hair to turn a little grayer by taking me to the emergency room:  We went for ice cream.  Ever-resilient as children are, Ysabel ignored the scratchy strap of the sling against her neck and excitedly ordered what her parents had pronounced was a special-treat lunch:  “French fries, banilla and chocolate ice cream with [whipped] cream and rainbow sprinklers.”  (No typos in that quote!)

When we arrived home, Ysabel took a nap.  And, so did I.  I was exhausted.  The stress of the day had accumulated:  worrying about the unknown; holding hands and wearing a lead gown while photons penetrated Ysabel’s pink tank top shirt and her flesh until the calcium atoms of her bones absorbed them to create an image of her wound; the tears of a child – my child; negotiating with Ysabel to wear a sling (“It has daddy’s favorite “Snoopy” on it!”); and even the greasy meal at Friendly’s.  When I awoke, I was relieved to find that time, the sling and regular doses of ibuprofen (q4 hrs.) were conspiring to make my sweet little girl smile.

Trying to catch up on lost time, I quickly checked my email and found a reminder for an event held today to raise money for the second annual Big Wheel Derby fundraiser.  The Big Wheel Derby was inspired by 5-year-old Alyssa Temkin, a typical happy child who was born with a rare genetic metabolic disease called Glycogen Storage Disease Type 1a (GSD).  (By coincidence, we studied this rare disease in medical school.)  Alyssa has difficulty eating by mouth and relies upon her parent’s round-the-clock (q90 minutes) tube feedings because her body does not store glycogen (fuel) like most people.  The second annual Big Wheel Derby is an opportunity for kids to help other kids by raising money for Alyssa’s Angel Fund and finding a cure for GSD1a. A portion of the money raised will help families with children who have GSD1a travel to and receive care from an expert in Florida. The other portion goes toward gene therapy and finding a cure for GSD1a. 

Sometimes broken bones don’t seem so broken.  We all need reminders about keeping life in perspective.  When I practiced law, I would regularly remind panicking colleagues that “no one died.  So, relax.”  When I came to medical school, I had to delete that phrase from my vocabulary.  Alyssa’s struggle and her parents’ remarkable resolve are inspirational on so many levels … even for a dad whose heart was broken over the smallest of fractures.

As my dentist/professor/Mom friend said, being a parent is the best and most difficult job.  It was truly difficult as we sorted out Ysabel’s little arm.  And today (less than 24 hours after her x-rays), watching her peddle a “big wheel” with one hand (and the other in the sling) to help other children, I was honored to be her dad; honored to have the best job in the world.

To support Alyssa’s Angel Fund, contact Jane Pasternak, (860) 231-6342, jpasternak@mandelljcc.org.  For more information, visit  http://bit.ly/9gbFXx .  Like all of us at some point in our lives, they could use a little help.

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4 Responses to Lessons from a 3-year-old’s broken arm

  1. Elissa Aten says:

    I think I may give up books and just read friends’ blogs! This one caught my attention because our son broke his arm last fall when we was just 3. It was our first attempt at camping (in a cabin, we aren’t hard-core by any means) and we were in Moab. He had to be put under anethesia for it to be set and I grilled the doctor who showed up to the hospital … his first impression didn’t really establish trust. No “Dad” after his name – then again, he was wearing a Harley T-shirt at the time, if I remember correctly (no offense meant here, either, just that there was no white robe for initials). Anyway, glad your daughter is doing well and think it’s great that she jumped on her big wheel! On many days, keeping things in perspective as a parent is one of the most difficult things to do. Keep up the writing!!

  2. Gayle Temkin says:

    Thank you for including our daughter Alyssa in your blog- and yes, being a parent, we may all face difficult situations at one time or another, or in our case each and everyday…. But I believe that it is our responsibility to protect our children and give them the safest and happiest life possible. As long as we do not place the weight of the difficult times on them, then indeed we have done our job!!!!
    We are so happy that Ysabel was able to participate in the derby, and if only for 1 hour forget about the pain she had to endure!!!

  3. Richelle says:

    As usual, your teaching continues. Thanks for the lesson, and glad Ysabel is on the mend. 🙂

  4. Dena says:

    Ahhh the joys of three! Hard to remember as your heart feels outside of your body connected to a tiny invisible string whose other end is connected to Y and baby D, that we as parents need to take their lead on these matters. She confirmed for me tonight, as I watched her run amuck, that she is already healing, happy, and unfazed by this incident. As her God-mother, my heart is on that tiny string as well… but as a pediatrician, I know this is barely a bump in the road. Loved to see her smile in all its teethy glory, and was reassured that “this too shall pass.” BBDS.

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