Here’s a quick quiz for you. See how soon you can figure out the answer.
What do you get when your six-year-old daughter…
-Tries to imitate 1984 Olympic Gymnastics Gold Medalist Mary Lou Retton…
-Only instead of sticking the landing, she does some insane tumble out of the school sandbox…
-And, as a result, ends up breaking her left humerus bone?
Well, if you’re anything like me, your daughter gets a glow-in-the-dark cast that can be seen from Mars. And you get to spend the better part of 27 hours skulking around, and occasionally napping in, your friendly neighborhood pediatric hospital.
Oh, and your daughter gets to spend the upcoming spring soccer season on the disabled list, too.
Broken bones are a part of childhood. Well, at least they seemed to be when I was kid. My memory is probably cloudy, but there were times, especially between second and fifth grades, when it seemed like every week another kid showed up at school with his arm encased in a souvenir he got as a result of flying off the monkey bars or crashing his bike while trying to do a wheelie down the street.
And you can best believe that when he crashed his bike there was a 99% chance he wasn’t wearing a helmet or any other kind of bodily protection like the Transformer-style armor kids are practically required by law to put on today if they even want to think about putting their feet on some pedals and hitting the road.
But all the playground padding and parental precaution and paranoia in the world can’t stop the genetic need of kids to do stupid stuff that lands them on the ground holding their unnaturally bent arms and sends them straight into the emergency room. Which is exactly where we made an unplanned visit on a recent weekday evening.
Maddo had her accident at her school just as my wife was there to pick up her and her sister. As such, she drove them to the nearest hospital and I left from our house to meet them at the E.R. Of course, if you have ever been to a hospital emergency room due to something involving your kids, you know what’s awaiting you.
You’re never the only ones there. Even after you check in, the size of the crowd says, “You’re going to be waiting out here for two hours, minimum, sucker.” There’s always at least one crazy guy talking to someone who isn’t there. The most-common language you hear in the waiting area is “Kid Whining”. It’s an experience that’s only slightly more desirable than being waterboarded at a CIA black site.
Being the Prepared Dad that I am, I showed up loaded to settle in for a siege. I brought a backpack full of iPads, chargers, extra kid clothes, boxes of apple juice and a bag of these peanut butter-filled pretzel bites that you get at Trader Joe’s and which are so good it was a miracle I didn’t finish them off on the road. I also brought Twinkies because…well, Twinkies.
Eventually, and by that I mean four hours after we first got to the E.R., we were told that Maddo was going to be transferred by ambulance over to the Children’s Hospital in Oakland, where we live. I groaned, knowing that this was going to be our second hospital of the night, and the one that we probably should have gone to in the first place. And it was at this point that logistics became an issue.
That was because the hospital wanted either my wife or I to ride in the ambulance with Maddo. This became an issue because we had two cars at the hospital. One of us could ride in the ambulance and one of us could drive a car there, but, that still left one of our rides stuck out at the first hospital. And knowing what was likely ahead for us for the rest of the night, we didn’t relish the thought of having to drive 40 miles round trip the next day to pick up our abandoned car.
Enter my wife’s aunt and uncle. They graciously drove out about 20 miles from their house, met us at the hospital, then not only picked up our car, but also took our four-year-daughter, Little Sis home with them, too. With the little screamer beginning to lose her mind, and demanding her favorite Kraft Macaroni and Cheese for dinner, Uncle and Auntie valiantly gave up much of their evening, and a good piece of their sanity, to let us deal with the long night ahead of us.
Not that Maddo was too aware of the time going by. She was more excited about riding in the brand new ambulance that chauffeured her and my wife back to Oakland. And “time” is a factor that takes on a new shape when you’re at a hospital. There’s a lot of Hurry Up And Wait going on, and all of it takes longer than you think it should. Various doctors and nurses checked on Maddo probably every 15 minutes, each of them asking what happened to her, and each of them wondering how a kid could have broken her arm falling out if a sandbox. But I know how these things work; they certainly had to have Child Protective Services on their minds as I am sure they have heard plenty of stories from a kid who “fell” and broke something, only to have it turn out to have been the work of a mad father and a baseball bat.
After a while, we had been at our second hospital of the night for around four hours and it was, at last, time to Maddo to go into the operating room. Her break was serious enough that the on-call orthopedic surgeon felt the need to come in to the hospital and fix things up, even as he needed to have at San Francisco Airport at 9 a.m. for a flight to India, where he was slated to teach a technique for setting a broken arm without having to perform invasive surgery…a technique he hoped to perform on Maddo.
Around 1 a.m., the doctors began dosing the kid and then wheeled her into the O.R. The surgeon was pretty confident there wouldn’t be any problems.
“I did two of these on Monday,” he told us. “Kids and playgrounds keep us in business.”
My wife and I were pretty beat by this point. And we were regular zombies when, at about 2:15, the doctor found us in the hospital cafeteria where we were passed out in a booth like a pair of drunken hobos. The procedure went without a hitch. Best of all, the doctor was able to, in effect, jam the broken bone back in place and secure it with three pins without having to cut into the arm at all.
When we then went to see Maddo in the recovery room, she was as out of it as we had just been. She soon shook off enough of the anesthesia to open her eyes and acknowledge us before falling back to sleep. By this time, it was 3 a.m. and we knew that there was no point in even dreaming about bringing her home before sunrise. My wife went up with Maddo to occupy a bed next to the kid in her room while I headed for home to relieve a friend of ours who had taken over watching Little Sis from my wife’s Aunt and Uncle a few hours earlier. By the time I got to bed, it was 3:45 and I had been up for 22 hours.
And by the time Little Sis woke up to tell me the sun was out and that she wanted to go for donuts, it was 6:45. My head felt like it had been knocked around with a 2×4. The low-level head cold that I had been sneezing through the day before had turned into a full-on sinus explosion, which I’m sure had Maddo’s doctors wondering if I had brought a case of walking pneumonia into their E.R So I had that going for me, too, which was nice.
The rest of the day was about what you would expect when one of your kids is laid up in a hospital bed and the other’s preferred pastime is running around the house naked. When you have small kids, you can’t just leave them at home by themselves, so I took Little Sis home for a while so she wouldn’t go stir crazy, as my wife spent the day holed up with Maddo and the never-ending parade of doctors and nurses and estimates as to when the kid might be allowed to leave.
Finally, come 7 p.m., we were given the green light to depart. It had been a long 28 hours since Maddo first tumbled out of that sandbox—maybe almost as long as it’s taken you to get through this tale of the experience—and we were all tired. But there was little time to rest. Four weeks of cast-wearing recovery lay ahead.