The day that my boy broke his arm shall also be known as the No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Day.
When the school call to say that boy-child had fallen and looks to have broken his arm, you are almost relieved. Not about him being hurt, but about not having to deal with work for the remainder of the day, and perhaps even the following day. As it was the second broken arm that he had suffered, you think you know what you (and he) are in for – a quick trip to the hospital, a long wait, an xray and a backslab plaster bandaged to his forearm. It would be done and dusted before the end of the day and we would be at home tucked up in bed as quick as a flash. Oh how wrong could you possibly be?
When you arrive at school, he is ‘sitting’ in the sick bay with two staff members trying to console him. You say sitting, but it was somewhere between sitting and laying down, he was unable to do either. No one was allowed to touch his arm, not even with an ice pack, but you could see that it was very swollen above and around his elbow. He couldn’t lift his arm or move his fingers. He couldn’t decide if he would be more comfortable sitting down in the car or in an ambulance. In the end, after he had me bandage his arm to his body to stop it moving, he decided he would go in the car with you to the hospital. He couldn’t manage to get into the safety of the back seat so you allow him to sit in the front, with the seat reclined to allow him to not bend his arm. You don’t dare fasten a seat belt around the break and drive the slow painful drive to the hospital.
Fortunately the Royal Children’s Hospital is merely a 5 minute drive away. It was the slowest and most painful trip you have experienced, and you are the driver. Every tiny little bump in the road caused him to wince in pain, train and tram tracks caused him to scream like a banshee. Throughout the drive you remain calm, plotting how the remainder of the day would unfold – who would look after girl-child, as well as how to cover other appointments and meetings.
You make it safely to the hospital and into emergency. You don’t even register at triage and they moved him, in a wheelchair into a room and had a doctor examine him within a minute. You are impressed by the speed and efficiency of the staff. Being in a place that he associates with feeling better, Boy-child had also relaxed somewhat.
The first dose of pain relief does little to take the contorted look of agony off his face, the second had the same response. They didn’t waste any more time and instead inserted a drip and some morphine. Finally he is able to relax enough to respond to questions, both from me and the medical staff.
When he is comfortable, he is wheeled through into xray. You waited with him and the xrays were taken without him having to move from his gurney. You see the images as they flashed onto the screen in the technicians cubicle. You have seen xrays of broken bones in the past, most frequently your own broken or damaged bones, often struggling to see where the break is. This isn’t the case here, you can see that a large chunk of his upper arm bone had snapped off entirely. Having a medical degree isn’t required to see that it was broken and a consult with the orthopedic surgeons is arranged. Surgery was planned for later in the day, to allow for the food that boy-child had just eaten prior to injury to continue to digest. In the meantime he is to be kept comfortable, but he isn’t allowed to eat or drink anything.
The afternoon passed slowly, really slowly. Thankfully you have an iphone to use as a trusty tool of distraction. Eventually my boy begins to tire of playing hangman and he requests that you put some music on, some slow relaxing music so that he can sleep. You flick through itunes and settled on Sting, the first song to play was ‘Fragile‘, making you sit and think and giving you time to truly appreciate just how precious and fragile life and the human body is as he drifts off to sleep.
Minutes became hours as you sat in the semi darkness as you wait and wait and wait. Man-child comes in to visit, but you send him back out again. There is no point in him missing out on ‘an opportunity of a lifetime’ to sit and do nothing other than wait.
Finally it is time to move upstairs to have your boy prepped for surgery. From the time you leave emergency you can see the look of panic increase on boy-child’s face. Both the orthopedic surgeon and the registrar came and speak to you and answered all of your questions. The real question you want answering – ‘How long will it take?’ can’t be answered, they don’t know how long it will take until they know the extent of the damage. Boy-child’s biggest concern is waking up. Like most kids, he believes that he doesn’t sleep, ever. If he does sleep, he wakes up really easily, or so he believes. The anesthetist is amazing in explaining how the sleep he would have is different from normal sleep and that the medicine would keep him asleep. She tells him that she would be watching him the whole time and that there would be computers watching him making sure that he stayed asleep and wouldn’t feel anything. She also lets him know that you would be there with him when he went to sleep, holding his hand and you would be there with him when he awoke.
It is strange, holding your first born’s hand, trying to comfort him and allay him his fears, watching as the various chemicals are pumped into his tiny little body as the anesthetic takes over. Then being rushed from the prep room to allow the surgery to commence.
Then the waiting begins again, sitting alone in the parents waiting area whilst his little body is being manipulated back into place. The maths is simple; the longer the wait, the more complicated the procedure. Best case, yet highly unlikely scenario – an external manipulation would move the dislodged bone back into place. Most likely and hoped for scenario – the bone would require a pin to hold the bone fragments in place and surgery would take place through a small incision. The actual scenario – an almost 3 hour procedure that found that not only had the end of the bone broken away, there were smaller fractures and a chipped bone that needed attention, as well as the dislocation of the entire elbow joint. Two screws are required to secure the bone into place and stablise the joint to enable the extensively damaged surrounding tissue a chance to heal.
Finally the surgeon comes to see you, to tell you that the surgery was a success but that the damage that he has suffered was extensive. He tells you of the repairs that have occurred and you sit their almost in disbelief as you imagine your child being rebuilt like a robot can be rebuilt out of meccano. He also tells you of possible outcomes after the surgery, consequences of having a still young and growing bone held together with screws. He tells you that ‘Yes he may be lucky and have no adverse effects’, but he also tells you of complications other than wound infection and pain, complications that may limit the movement of his arm, or its strength, or even its growth. All of a sudden it goes from being an obstacle that we overcome now, with only short term implications to possibly long term and even lifelong consequences. It all seems too much. Of course the surgeon reassures you that the surgery was a success and finishes with ‘Your son should be stirring soon, you will be able to go and see him’.
You wait to go and see him in recovery. Although only 30 minutes the wait seems longer than the wait through the entire surgery. You were able to read a book, chat on the phone and even watch a little tv when you know that he is in safe hands being repaired. You know that he is still in safe hands, but what is taking them from calling you in there to see him damnit! When you are finally allowed into recovery his tiny little body was atop a huge gurney. The plaster and bandages around his arm seemed to dwarf his frame yet he was sleeping like and angel. He does not wake, he barely even stirs. The staff want him, need him to be responsive and open his eyes before he can be transferred to a ward to sleep the night away. No matter what they do, he does not wake. Other children who are wheeled into recovery after him, they stir, their parents are called in and they leave whilst your baby sleps soundly in a drug induced sleep. In fact, one child is in the prep area waiting for surgery when you are called into recovery, he has surgery, spends time in recovery, chats to us and is moved to the wards before your boy showed signs of stirring.
We, the nursing staff, man-child and myself try everything – talking to him, pressure point massage, tickling his sides and his feet, blowing on his face and dripping water on to his forehead. Even an impromptu comedy routine by man-child with a light saber can’t stir him. After 3 hours in recovery, whilst still not fully responsive, he is moved to a surgical ward to begin the healing.
It is after 1am by the time the little boy is settled in his new bed and he is still sound asleep. Eventually you drifted off in the sofa chair beside his bed. You sleep soundly until 3am when your baby wakes with a ravenous appetite. You feed a still disoriented child jelly and yoghurt in the wee hours of the morning and follow it by reading a chapter from a favourite book. Eventually you drifted off to sleep again, only to wake at 6.20am to the declaration that your little boy is still hungry. Whilst waiting for his breakfast to arrive, you watch him devour more yoghurt, more jelly and even a fruit salad, and then a huge serving of cereal before asking for more yoghurt!
The morning drifts on and the boy-child wants to know when he can go home. You don’t know, but you suspect that it won’t be today. You wait for the doctors to visit to give you more information as to what will happen next. Unfortunately the belief that the boy will be required to stay another night is confirmed. The boy is devastated. He has held up extremely well with being confined to a bed and being uncomfortable, but he was barely holding it all together. You wonder where man-child is and why he isn’t in visiting yet. You call his mobile phone but remember that his phone has a flat battery. You call the home phone but there is no answer. Perhaps he has gone to his own doctors appointment, perhaps he is on the way to work.
Soon girl-child and Aunt Lil Sis visit. Being the ever thoughtful and caring person that she is, Lis Sis has already collected a get well card for girl-child to write on. She has even picked up some fruit and treats on her way in to the city. Together we help to distract boy-child from the fact that he is trapped in a hospital bed for another day.
You continue to wonder where man-child is, and keep trying to call. You begin to worry. It is getting late, he should be at work, he should be able to recharge his phone and call. He should be able to use the phone at home to call his son. Your moods swing wildly, from being pissed off that he doesn’t care enough to check in on his family to where are you? what has happened? are you OK? You don’t want to seem too paranoid, but when it is after 11 am, and your husband is unable to be contacted, you need to do something. You are so concerned you are trawling through your phone list wondering who you should call to go and check at your house, to make sure that man-child is in one piece. You can’t decide and you continue to procrastinate, slipping into the dream that if you pretend it isn’t a problem, then it will just disappear. As you ponder what you should do and who you should call for assistance, girl-child and aunt Lil Sis entertain the boy. It is all too hard, all too much, you curl up on the chair and drift off to sleep for a few minutes.
Fortunately the procrastination pays off and man-child calls. You are immensely relieved but you don’t know whether you are happy or pissed off. He has just explained that he has just woken up. He didn’t take a phone upstairs with him as the batteries were running low (hello! There is a charger beside the bed) and he didn’t know that I had even called. He doesn’t understand why you would even be concerned.
After a brief conversation, man-child declares that he has a lot of work to do today at which point you remind him he has a son who is in pain, who has been told that he can’t go home yet, who is wondering why his daddy doesn’t care enough to even answer the phone when he tries to call him. You think that perhaps he may have understood the errors of his way!
Man-child visits briefly, but can’t stay long. He promises to visit as soon as he can get away from work. You suggest that he says in hospital that night, to have a special boys night. The promise of fun to come later in the day is enough to temporarily distract the boy from being abandoned.
Girl-child is becoming frustrated with being trapped in a hospital room and boy-child is tiring, so Lil Sis takes girl-child out for an afternoon of shopping and fun and declares that she can have a holiday at her house again tonight so that you can get some rest also.
Later in the day, after boy-child’s pain medications are running low, he gets a visit from his fairy god mother. He is immediately distracted from the pain by more gifts and new entertainment. Unfortunately the distraction doesn’t last long and the boy looks for his pain relief, not realising that the morphine pump has been removed. He doesn’t understand that he needs to be able to medicate without an intravenous drip to be able to go home, that taking the drip away is actually making the likelihood of him being able to go home tomorrow more likely. All he wants is for the pain to go away NOW.
You try to explain that he can have medicine to make the pain stop, but he has to swallow it. New bouts of tears emerge. Now amounts of cajoling can get him to take the medicine from a syringe. The nurse returns with a capsule, he screams and refuses to take it. You try and mix it with yoghurt and still he refuses. You begin to get angry. You know that he needs to take the pain meds and you know that he can take the pain meds. You begin to wonder who is most stubborn, you or him. Eventually, he sips at the yoghurt and he manages to take some of the now dissolved capsule. He doesn’t take it all, but it must be enough to take the edge off, either that or he is so distraught that he has given up. You feel wretched, you never wanted to have to force feed your child anything and you are reminded of the phrase ‘it is for your own good’. It doesn’t help, you still don’t like the feeling.
The boy is resting quietly watching some mindless kids show on tv and you are talking to the fairy god mother and thankful for the company, when man-child arrives. He distracts the boy and cheers him up, but he still asks for your assistance to help himself get comfortable in his bed. It makes you feel better that even though you are the ‘mean parent’, you are still the one who fixes things. It isn’t much, but after such a long day (or so) it helps.
The boy is getting settled in for the night, man-child has come armed with a fully charged laptop and many boy friendly dvds. They are both more than happy to settle in for a movie night. You are exhausted. You don’t want to leave, yet you know that there is no point being there. You are of no use when you are physically and mentally exhausted. You try to leave a number of times, but the mere thought of it threatens to overwhelm you and the tears try to flow. Finally you kiss the boy goodnight, you don’t want to make eye contact and are barely controlling the tears that are threatening to spill. You practically run from the hospital.
You make it to the car and the door isn’t even closed before you break down and sob uncontrollably. You are feeling alone and overwhelmed. You can’t drive, your entire body is racked by shudders.
Eventually when you are feeling composed enough to drive, you go home. The entire drive you are crossing your fingers to make it home and inside before seeing anyone that you need to talk to. You almost make it, the key was in the front door and you are about to breathe a shuddering sigh of relief when a neighbour and class mate calls out. You try to convey the details of the experience without crying but you end up brushing them off and then escaping inside to cry uncontrollably.
Despite the physical and emotional exhaustion that you are feeling, you are to overwrought to sleep. You are feeling annoyed. You are annoyed that you insist on being alone, to remain strong and whole. You are annoyed that you know that there are so many people around you, at any time of the day or night that could comfort you but instead you wish to remain alone and stoic, to maintain the facade of staying in control. You are sorry that you can’t turn to the people that love you and care for you, now in your time of need or at any time, but you want those same people to know that simply knowing that they were there, willing and wanting to help is comforting in its own way.
It was an intense emotional rollercoaster of anxiety and sleep deprivation. I wrote most of this when I returned home from the hospital, but it was garbled and angry and painful, I have since edited the piece and added to it, to try and make the story complete and make sense. I’m still not sure why I had to write this, perhaps as a way to show boy-child of the arduous journey he has travelled. Who knows, but I am glad that I have written it – the story of Alexander and the No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Day.