The Day I Broke My Daughter

by ParentCo. August 01, 2016

We made it 23 months without a trip to urgent care. I was proud of that fact.

My daughter is always on the move. Even in the womb, she was constantly kicking, stretching and flipping. Once she was born, she couldn’t be confined with the swaddle, hated the cozy newborn napper and loved to sleep taking up as much room as possible.

She never seemed to be in the same spot where I left her, even before she could crawl. She would roll, spin and shimmy around her crib. Once she started crawling, there was no holding her back. Soon enough, she was walking, running, climbing and tumbling regularly. We had bumps and bruises, bandages and tears, but none of it needed medical attention.

The day I broke my daughter was supposed to be a special day. There was a "truck touch" event not too far from our house. My husband dropped us off with the plan to walk back home together. I was four months pregnant at the time and had spent my first trimester fighting exhaustion. I was finally bouncing back, finally had the energy for leaving the house.

At nearly two, I thought my daughter would be excited to explore the vehicles. She wasn’t. The playground, which was designed for kids much older, caught her attention and the nearby ambulance couldn’t tear her away. Determined to get my $5 worth, I waited her out and when she finally got bored, I took her around the strange assortment of cars and trucks. She got a kick out of the police car, but thought the ambulance was lame. We climbed in and out of a UHaul and a UPS truck. But the day was hot and a toddler’s attention span was short. We began our walk home.

Despite my daughter’s desire to go at all times, she had developed a surprisingly healthy respect for the rules of walking by the road. She knew not to run into the street and was good about holding hands. Most of the time. This was not one of those times.

As we were crossing a street, she let go of my hand. It wasn’t a busy street. No cars were coming. I could have let her walk across herself, but I wanted to reinforce the lesson. We hold hands when we cross the street. No exceptions.

She took exception to that rule.

She dropped to the ground. I yanked her arm. She screamed.

I broke my daughter. I didn’t know it at the time. I was frustrated with her. I had no idea that she was hurt. Her tears looked like every other tantrum. At her age, we were well-versed in tantrums. I picked her up and carried her to the other side of the road, prepared to lecture her on staying safe.

“My arm!” she wailed. “My arm hurts!”

There’s a sinking feeling in your heart, in your stomach when you realize something is wrong, and it’s your fault. I put my daughter in the carrier I'd brought and continued to walk home. That half a mile felt like an eternity.

By the time we walked in the door, she'd begun whimpering.

“What happened?” asked my husband.

“I broke her.”

“You what?”

“I broke her.”

We searched for visible clues about what was wrong, but saw nothing. There was no swelling, no bruising. Her arm hung limply at her side and as long as she didn’t move it, she seemed okay. We sat on the couch, snuggled and tried to decide what to do.

There are some parents who rush to the doctor at the drop of a hat. Every sniffle, every bump, gets a call to the nurse’s line, at the very least. We weren’t those parents. We were the wait-and-see type. We gave her some Tylenol, put an ice pack on her arm and waited. But it didn’t get better. We called the after-hours line for our pediatrician and waited, more waiting, for a call back.

While we waited, I chatted with some friends, crowdsourcing for a diagnosis with other moms of small children. That’s where I first heard the term: nursemaid's elbow.

Nursemaid’s elbow is common in toddlers and preschoolers. When the arm is pulled, the bones of the elbow separate and the ligament can get stuck in between. At that age, the ligaments are still loose enough to move. It can happen when you swing your child around as he squeals with delight. It can happen when you yank on her arm to keep her moving.

When the doctor called us back, she confirmed. This was not a wait and see situation. This was an urgent care trip. We packed her in the car, gingerly navigating the car seat straps around her arm, and headed over to the clinic.

We checked in and waited. My daughter was subdued, alternating between standing with her lovey and cuddling against me in the sling. When they brought us back X-ray room. Signs warned me that pregnant women shouldn’t be around X-rays. I went anyway. And we waited some more.

After a once-over from the nurse, the doctor finally arrived. I told him the story of what happened, my voice full of remorse. He had my husband sit with my daughter on his lap. He chatted with us while he felt along her arm.

Then a yank, and a pop, and he was done. She didn’t even cry.

It’s easy to cause nursemaid’s elbow. Thankfully, the fix is easy as well. In less than five minutes, the doctor not only fixed my daughter’s arm, but engendered in her positive feelings about the medical profession as a whole. She walked into the hospital feeling sad and in pain. She left feeling happy, moving her arm easily, and chasing after the balloon she got for doing so well.

“The doctor fixed my arm!” she exclaimed.

“How does it feel?” I asked.

“It feels better!”

Similar conversations continued for months. At her two year appointment, she was a dream, letting the doctor examine her without so much as a squeak. Doctors are good. Doctors help her feel better. More than a year later, she has no memory of the incident. While the pain she felt has faded, her enthusiasm for doctor visits hasn’t.

And she still asks to be swung around. My husband obliges, but I won’t. I can’t. I don’t want to break her again.



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