Thirty-three weeks ago I broke my oldest daughter’s arm.
I double bounced her on the trampoline and shot her straight into the cosmos with all of my weight, launching her into the crisp blue sky. When she came down, I heard a little pop noise and then she started to cry.
At first glance, there was nothing wrong with her arm. And it wasn’t until I grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her towards me to say, “What are you belly-aching about?” that I noticed her bone to be shaped like a crescent. Which is to say, her forearm had a very unnatural drape to it.
She was put in a cast for several months until we finally got it sawed off, exposing her healed, albeit pale and slightly atrophied, new arm.
And then you think to yourself, you kind of play the odds, because this is what we do – not as parents but as people. We kind of think like, “She broke her arm. Cool. Now that’s out of the way.”
Now that’s out of the way.
There’s this idea that, for some reason, statistically speaking, it probably won’t happen again, right? We see this kind of reasoning in Vegas all the time. “It landed on red three times in a row. It must land on black soon!” We’re all endowed with this logic that events of the past somehow affect the possibilities of these things recurring. We like to think that bad news somehow gives us a pass from more bad news for the foreseeable future.
And even as you read this and comprehend the reality of that statement, you still believe it to be true. There is this hope in us that continues to fight the hopelessness of everything going wrong always.
And it is in this state of mind that I’m sitting on my porch at sunset, sipping hot coffee and trading tales with a friend of mine. His daughter and my two oldest are both on the trampoline. Bouncing. Being kids. Being stupid. Being stupid kids. I watch as Quinn crawls outside of the protective netting, squats down and then jumps into the grass. Perfect execution. I give it a 10. Or I would have.
Her palms hit the ground as she tries to land in some kind of cat pose – her big thing is pretending that she’s a cheetah. She likes to run around on her hands and feet, actually galloping through the house. She cleans herself by licking the back of her hands and she drinks milk from a saucer. I could realistically spend an entire separate essay speaking about whatever that is but I don’t want to get off topic.
The next 30 minutes all happen very fast.
I watch as Quinn’s head pops up. She starts to cry. Something in my stomach feels wrong but I don’t move. Jade says, “Please don’t tell me you broke your arm.” Quinn stands up and starts running to the porch – not on her hands and feet but just on her feet, her left arm sort of dangling at her side and looking a little funky. Not bad. Not weird. Well, sort of weird. But mostly just funky. I’m looking at it while she runs and I’m thinking, “This is not looking good,” and then my second thought is this. “Thankfully it’s not a broken arm because she just broke her other arm a few months ago.”
That’s my thought. That’s my logic. It couldn’t be a broken arm. Her other arm was just broken. These things don’t happen twice. That survivalist hope is flickering in me. Not it!
Quinn runs up the porch step and heads to Jade, who says, “Which one hurts?” Quinn signals with her head – sort of nods towards her left arm. “This one,” and sticks her shoulder towards Jade.
I look at Curtis, sitting next to me, and raise one eyebrow that I’m sure he reads as, “Kids, man. They’re always falling into pits and getting hurt, ruining my nice coffee.”
Jade begins to roll up Quinn’s sleeve, one, two, three times. She rolls it all the way to the elbow and I breathe a little sigh of relief because her arm actually is fine and I kind of was starting to worry that this was going to– Jade moves Quinn’s arm slightly and my angle changes.
It’s funny how a new perspective on reality can shift your world.
Her arm is not all right. Nobody would ever describe that arm as all right. There is something fundamentally wrong with that arm. It is shaped like the letter U.
It’s broken. This thing has been snapped like a dried twig.
I put my coffee down and stand up. “Thanks for bringing over pizza, guys. I really wish we could eat more but it looks like we need to mosey towards the hospital.”
I grab the car keys, throw Quinn in the front seat with Jade and back out of the driveway and, insurance and the American healthcare system being what it is, instead of driving to the hospital four blocks from our house, we floor the silver bullet to ninety and gun the twenty minutes on the freeway to the closest Kaiser Permenente.
As I glide the mini-van back and forth between lanes, Quinn whimpers softly next to me. “Are they going to give me a shot?” I look over and see her forearm bent at ninety degrees and shiver. “Yeah, Quinn. They’re probably going to give you a shot but you know what? It’s going to make you feel a lot better. It will take the pain away from your arm.”
She sniffles a couple times and then gets quiet. Jade asks her what she’s thinking about. Quinn takes a moment to collect her thoughts and then yawns like she’s bored. Super lackadaisically she says, “You know what? My arm is actually feeling pretty good. I don’t think it’s broken anymore. We can probably just go home. We don’t have to go to the hospital.”
I look over and see that ragged skin bag holding the broken fragments of bone. “You know what, Quinn? Maybe it would be best to just let a doctor take a look. You’re probably right – it’s probably fine. But just in case, yeah?”
She sighs, resigned, and then falls to sleep, probably in a state of shock.
My heart breaks for her. There is a feeling of mad urgency to our movements. Urgency that must be thought through and defined. Every move must happen quickly. But we must be smart about it. Cooler heads will prevail. I can do nothing. I can just drive. I can just tell her it will be okay. I can take her to the hospital. I can do my part.
At the hospital we enter Urgent Care and find a line of eight people waiting to speak with the receptionist. Quinn is whimpering. Everyone turns around. A man with an eye patch at the front of the line says, “Is she, uh, okay?” and Jade says, “No. Her arm is broken,” and the man says, “Come on up here, lady. You can come on up here,” and everyone in line nods his or her head.
Thank you, humans. May good things come back to you.
A receptionist named Flora says, “Next,” and we approach. She takes our name and information and tells us there is about an hour’s wait. Jade says, “This five year old has a broken arm and she has to just sit with it for an hour?” The woman shrugs. “I just work here.”
I ask, “Can we take her to the Emergency Room?”
Me, “How much will it cost?”
Flora, “I don’t know.”
Me, “Will the wait be under an hour?”
Flora, “I don’t know.”
Me, “Do you have any pain medication she can take if we wait?”
Flora, “I’m not a doctor.”
Me, “Yes, I can see that. But can I speak with someone about some Advil or Tylenol or just a hammer we can bash her in the face with to knock her out?”
Flora, “You can speak to a nurse in about an hour.”
There is nothing I can do. There is only logic. Cooler heads prevail. Make the best decision with the circumstances provided.
We walk into the waiting room and I say, “Jade, do you have any cash on you?” and she says, “No. Why?” and I say, “Because I’ll just pay the person whose first in line. I’ll slip em a hundred bucks – that’s someone’s co-pay – we’ll slide in first.”
Jade says, “I don’t have any cash,” and I say, “Me neither. Plan B.”
We sit down and stare at Survivor on the tube.
Forty minutes later they call our name. I stand up and fireman carry Quinn through the door. In Room 9 I set her down on the bed, careful not to disturb the broken 2×2 that is her arm.
Everything goes fuzzy for me – we’ve been back from Africa for less than 48 hours and my brain is still eleven hours ahead. I can feel myself falling in and out of reality – my vision keeps going black – someone is standing in the room with us. “Time for an IV.”
A thin woman with straight black hair tells us to lay Quinn on her back. Quinn says, “What’s an IV?” and I say, “It’s one shot that they give you so that they don’t have to give you anymore. Does that sound like a good thing?” and Quinn quickly does the math in her head. “I guess so.”
The woman says, “Okay, so let’s have you say your ABCs and by the time you’re done, I’ll be done too. Sound good?” and Quinn nods as a tear rolls down her cheek. Jade takes her face in her hands and begins to run her thumbs along the corners of her mouth. I put my hand on Quinn’s chest and my other hand on her elbow, readying myself to restrain her when she kicks against the IV.
I would take your place if I could.
The nurse asks, “Are you ready?” and Quinn says, “A. B. C. D. E. F. Gee…”
I watch the needle slide in and I watch Quinn’s eyes turn into glass plates and I listen to her voice rise several octaves and I listen to the alphabet begin to tumble out of her mouth as she races to the end, knowing that it will all be over once she hits Z. “HIJKLMNOP!”
“Slow down, Quinn. Slow down.” I hate needles and I hate IVs and my stomach is running and rolling and my mind is wheezing and my hands are sweating. Just being this close to needles sends me into this very anxiety filled place. Be cool. Be cool. Show no fear. Stare at Quinn. Be cool. Be strong. You are a source of courage. Mother and Father are the name of God on the lips of children.
“QRSTUVWXYZ! Take it out! Take it out! Take it out! It’s done! Take it out!” Tears are racing down her face as she stares at the ceiling without blinking. “Take it out!”
I look at the needle and see the nurse pushing and pulling it, sliding it left and right, fishing around inside her arm. “The, uh, the vein keeps moving on me – keeps trying to get away. Try the alphabet one more time…”
“Okay–nope.” Still fishing. The needle is making me sick. I hate needles. I can’t even look at them sitting on a table without feeling like my soul is twisting up inside. Tears are streaming down Quinn’s face and her mouth is stuck in a grimace of letters, “XYZ! XYZ! XYZ!”
“We almost got it. You’re doing really good. Could you give me the alphabet just one more time?”
“Alright, I have it.” The nurse pulls out the needle and tapes it and stands up as Quinn says, “Zeeeeeeeee. Zeeeeeeee. Zeeeeeee,” and then falls asleep before the nurse has left the room.
I ask someone if there is a coffee station around and they say, “No.”
I slap myself around a little and pet Quinn’s hand while she sleeps. A doctor enters and says that he’s sorry about the wait but he’s ready if we are. We nod and a nurse inserts morphine into the IV while Quinn sleeps. Halfway through the syringe Quinn wakes up and sees a woman with a thing that looks like a shot poised at her arm and lashes back, “NO MORE SHOTS!”
“Sure, sure. Right. No more shots. There is no needle here.”
The nurse leaves and the doctor steps up. He’s a good looking Ken-doll type. Rippling muscles, beautiful face. Blond hair. A doctor. Lots of money. Has probably never broken his daughter’s arm double bouncing her on a trampoline. I look over at Jade just as she finishes scribbling her number onto some scrap paper. She hands it to him and mouths, “Call me,” and then winks.
Doctor Ken says, “Alright, dad. Let’s get her sitting on your lap and then you’re going to… I don’t want to say restrain… but it’s what I mean. You’re gonna want to make sure she doesn’t run anywhere.”
Jade says, “Is the morphine going to help?” and Doctor Ken says, “Uh… a little.”
I would take your place if I could. I wouldn’t want to. But I would do it.
He gently picks up Quinn’s mangled wing in his massive hands and feels it gently – touches it here and there. Tests it. Finds the sour spots. He says, “Do you know any songs?” and Quinn says, “I know uh, My Favorite Things,” and the doctor says, “I’d love to hear you sing it to me.”
And next is the moment wherein I realize two things. The first is that not much has changed in the last 100 years of medical science as far as bone-setting goes. The second is that I will never hear My Favorite Things the same again.
Quinn starts singing in a perfect voice, “Whiskers on kittens and warm woolen mittens!” and then Doctor Ken pushes the heel of one hand against the top of the break and the heel of his other hand against the back side of the break and I watch as his muscles strain under his shirt and his face distorts into a knot that looks like he’s trying to either pick up a heavy weight or fire out a huge turd.
Quinn begins to scream.
She doesn’t yell. She doesn’t shout. She doesn’t holler. She screams. And the worst part is that she does it while she continues to sing.
“Bright colored packages! Wrapped up in AAAAHHHH!!! Wrapped up in AHHH ribbons! AAAAAAAHHHHHH! AAAAHHH!! STOP! STOP! THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS! AAAAHHHH! IT HURTS! IT HURTS! WHEN THE DOG BITES! WHEN THE BEE STINGS! PLEASE STOP! YOU’RE HURTING ME! IT HURTS A LOT! WHEN I’M FEELING SAD! PLEASE STOP! I WILL SIMPLY REMEMBER AHHHHHHH! MY FAVORITE THINGS! AHHHHHH! AND THEN I DON’T FEEL AAAHHHHHHH! SO BAD!
The doctor releases his pressure and the assistant steps in and wraps her arms in gauze that hardens into a plaster cast.
“Is that it?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Pick up some medicine from the pharmacy. Get rid of your trampoline.”
We go home and eat the cold leftover pizza. We go home and I pick up my old coffee, a fly drowned and floating on the surface. I carry Quinn to bed and set her down between Jade and I.
She says, “Sing me a song.”
And without looking at each other, Jade and I both begin to sing an off-key duet of My Favorite Things as she drifts to sleep.
But I know this is not the end. I know this is not the last time. I know that she will spend her life being hurt and hurting. I know she will fall down and scratch her knee and cut her arm and maybe even break more bones. And I know Jade and I will be there to kiss them and bandage them and even take them to the hospital when it is necessary.
But it is the wounds that I can’t help heal that scare me. It is the broken hearts and the tumors of the soul that form when no one is watching. It is the wounds that cannot be healed with medicine. It is the day-to-day hopelessness that creeps into people that I fear for my daughter.
Someday she’ll come to me with a broken heart and what will I say? Someday she’ll come to me and say that she doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life and what will I say? Someday she’ll come to me and ask me hurting questions that I don’t have the answers to. Why did this happen? Why did that happen? It hurts me and I don’t know what to do. Why did my husband get cancer? Why did my child die?
I don’t know, Quinn. Life isn’t always fair.
But I’ll take broken bones over broken hearts everyday.