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Crosseyed and Painful

We had another interesting evening last night here at the Mohr-Whalen household. Around dinner time, I was helping Charlie up off the floor when he decided he didn’t want to get up off the floor. As I held his hand, he went all boneless and twisted away from me. Then I felt it: the tiniest little pop in his arm. The tears and screams burst forth and showed no sign of stopping. Normally Charlie is the kind of kid that can’t be bothered by pain. He recovers quickly because, after all, he has important playing to do. But this was different. He was hurt, and bad. When he had calmed down a bit, moving his arm even the slightest bit would bring new shrieks of pain.

So it was off to the emergency room for us. I rigged up a little sling that made motion tolerable for Charlie and we all piled into the Prius. Getting his car seat straps on (and off) was like torture, but ten minutes later I was carrying Charlie into the Seattle Children’s ER. Now, if there’s any hospital that’s actually pleasant to be in, it’s Children’s. They really go out of their way to make patients and parents comfortable. Still, it is a hospital and the wheels of medicine turn slowly. We went through the admitting process pretty quickly and were seen by a triage nurse within about 15 minutes. We were unsurprised that she thought it was nursemaid’s elbow, basically a dislocated elbow joint.

A few minutes later we were in an exam room and a few minutes after that a nurse practitioner came in and took a look at Charlie’s arm. She too thought it was probably nursemaid’s elbow and explained the treatment: a few seconds of intense pain as they reduce the dislocation, followed by almost immediate relief. “Most kids are playing and acting normal within a half hour!” Excellent! Next up was the doctor (who was wearing a “no pain” button). She took off my homemade sling, which elicited more howls of pain. She was less sure about the diagnosis. The pain was too intense and not in the right places. We waited a while for a nurse to bring in a dose of Tylenol, then trundled down the hall (and down another hall, and around a corner, and down another hall, and through a door, and down a another hall, and…) to have some X-rays taken.

I should mention that through all of this, Henry was the perfect big brother. He read books to Charlie, told him stories to distract him, and tried to be as helpful as possible. Nonetheless, it was clear that he was pretty upset, too. When we got to the X-ray room, one of the technicians told us that no one under 18 (except patients) is allowed to be there during the X-rays, so I waited out in the hallway with Henry while Kathy stayed with Charles. This turned out to be for the best anyway, as the biggest screams of the night were coming up as they manipulated his arm for the X-rays. Henry and I had a great conversation about parenthood and brotherhood and pain and medical treatment. Despite the screams coming from the other side of the door, Henry was much more at-ease after our conversation.

We schlepped back to the ER and waited. And waited. Kathy and Henry picked out a movie from the shelf outside the room and Kathy tried to get the VCR working. As it turns out, video signals can’t jump directly from VCR to TV without some sort of connection between the two. Who knew? Henry read a couple more books to Charlie and we waited some more. Charlie was practically falling asleep in my arms and all of us were starving. We’d been in the ER for three hours.

"Charlie's Xray"

Can you see the break? We couldn’t.

At last, the nurse practitioner returned with the bad news: Charlie has a tiny hairline fracture in one of the bones of his forearm (radius? ulna? I can’t remember which). She pulled the X-rays up on the computer in the room and showed us. Sure enough, there was a very tiny, very faint line part way through the bone. There’s no way we’d have seen it if she hadn’t pointed it out. It’s amazing that such a tiny injury was causing our little guy so much pain.

All of the sudden everything started moving quickly. The doctor was back in the room measuring his arm (“How attached are you to this shirt?” Snip, snip), then there was a flurry of activity around the sink as they wet the splinting material and laid it out on towels. In what seemed like a flash, they had his arm splinted and wrapped, then the RNP held his arm until the splint hardened. Then came a sling and we were on our way out. As we waited for Kathy to pull the car up to the door, I knew he was feeling better when he wanted to play with the toys in the waiting room instead of sitting in my lap.

So, we’ve had our first broken bone. Through it all Charlie was great. He told the doctor and nurses exactly was was wrong and where it hurt and even in the worst of pain he seemed to understand that it was all about, as he put it, “fixing my arm.” It’s not over yet, though. We have to follow up with orthopedics later this week and they’re likely to put him in a cast for 4-6 weeks.