In early September, on his birthday no less, our J-Man broke his right forearm – both bones. This is one of those injuries I’ve seen in my nightmares for years.
As if your child’s broken bones aren’t heart-rending enough for a parent, I honestly had no idea how we could keep a cast on him for several weeks or handle anything else for that matter. Like many autistic children, he’s already sensitive to even the most minute of deviations from his routine, and having his arm immobilized by some strange thing for several weeks, being unable to do a lot of his normal activities, and basically the life-altering changes that come with an injury like that were incomprehensible to me.
He broke it at one of those big, inflatable, bouncy houses while landing at the bottom of the slide. I was going down the slide with him, and some combination of him landing awkwardly and me running into him did it. And we were having such a good time up until then, too. He was as comfortable as I’ve even seen him there and was really enjoying himself. Let’s not even talk about all the parental guilt here.
We ended up at our local children’s emergency room. Between the ER and the urgent care we started at, I had to carry him and walk around with him in my arms for the best part of three hours. He refused to be put down, nor would he sit down with me except for a couple of minutes here and there. Usually when we tried, he went into a full panic.
How much of a panic? (Graphic description warning) He broke both his forearm bones so completely that his arm at one point was bent almost 90 degrees at the center of his forearm. I can’t imagine what kind of pain this is. But he was so panicked that he was trying to push away and fight people off with that broken arm. Not only could he have injured it worse, he could have done significant nerve damage. So, I carried him and his 55 pounds as long as was necessary.
I nearly fell apart when at least six of us were trying to hold him on a table in order to get an IV and sedation into him so they could set and splint his arm. The ER doctor, who may have been the kindest doctor I’ve ever met, kept talking to him softly as I hummed his comfort songs in his ear. She kept saying, “It’ll be over soon. It’ll be over soon,” to him. After a while, our minimally-verbal child who never asks questions screamed in agony, “When? When?”
My heart shattered all over that ER room floor. It still hurts and my eyes tear up even now as I write this. I started crying, draped across his chest, holding him down. I would have volunteered to have them saw my own arm off at that point if it would have stopped his pain. That same doctor started patting me on the back. The nurses worked as fast as they could. Finally, his little body went slack as the sedation took hold. I would have fallen to the floor if my muscles hadn’t all locked up.
As awful as all this sounds, and indeed was, I learned a couple of essential truths about us.
Our J-man is a lot stronger and more resilient than we give him credit for. After some pretty unhappy moments the day after, he settled into what would become his new routine without that much complaint. He never would wear a sleeve over his arm to keep it dry, so we gave him washcloth baths for 35 days. He couldn’t go out to the playground at school or outside at home, play in the dirt, water, or sensory table, or do some of the other things he typically does. He already ate left-handed and learned to switch most everything else to his left hand as best he could. We even noticed his handwriting is a little better left-handed! The main thing is that he adjusted, an amazing achievement all things considered.
We are stronger than we give ourselves credit for. I answered the question, How long can I carry a panicked, incredibly strong, 7-year-old, 55-pound child? As long as I had to. We had to make a lot of adjustments. September was very stressful. We were already close to burnout, and this obviously didn’t help. But we made it. We figured out what we had to.
I would like to say that we triumphantly made it through this ordeal, but it was, not surprisingly, more like limping and crawling to the finish line. We were thrilled when the cast came off and we could declare all this finally behind us. His skin has now mostly healed, and we’re moving on to the next thing.
But a victory here, as with many things, is in just getting through it. No one gives us style points or penalizes us if we don’t transcend our ordeal and become enlightened or whatever. We got him and ourselves through it. That is enough.
Remember that next time you are faced with a painful experience. Don’t undervalue the accomplishment of just getting to the other side of it. His arm is healed and within a couple more weeks he should be as good as new. In the end, it doesn’t matter if we fell off the balance beam a few hundred times and landed flat on our faces over and over again.