I’m No Longer A Free Range Mom After My 4-Year-Old Broke His Elbow

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When we made it to the emergency room sweaty and hysterical I wanted to collapse from carrying 59 pounds of children there.  My son’s arm was so swollen and deformed I couldn’t stand to look at it.  X-rays revealed a broken ulna, or elbow bone, but there was too much swelling for a hard cast.  With a splint, an ace bandage, and a prescription for Motrin they sent us home.  The next day I called one of the best pediatric orthopedists in the city and literally cried to get an appointment.

This was the first time I realized I was morphing into a helicopter mom.  The doctor was first, his college professors down the road – isn’t this how it happens?  I didn’t care.  I didn’t feel good about the level of care he received in the ER and I wanted a second opinion.

Turns out, I had reason to worry.  The second doctor took a look at the x-rays and said he needed surgery immediately.  The bone had broken in a way that a piece of it was floating among the mass of joints and tendons in his elbow.  Without surgery, it would take a very long time to heal and probably never properly.  Given that it was Friday afternoon, the doctor didn’t want to wait until Monday and he agreed to stay the night to start the surgery after my son was cleared to go under by the anesthesiologist.  I frantically paged my husband at work and bribed my younger brother to miss his summer class and stay with my daughter for another six hours or so.  They were about to put three metal pins in my 4-year-old’s elbow.

Seeing my little boy all dressed for surgery, walking him into the bright operating room — cold and full of people — knowing how shy and skittish he is of every little new thing in his life, holding his hand while he fought going under anesthesia, his eyes rolling back in his head, his body convulsing like a seizure, was the most terrifying experience of my life.  The next few days weren’t much better.  They kept him overnight in the hospital for observation and sent us home with a prescription no local pharmacy could fill.  It took two days of writhing, crying, and sleepless nights to get his pain under control.

I understand that we’re not talking about a horrible illness or a rare birth defect. I know some families have it much worse than we did.  We’re talking about a broken bone!  This was something I had accepted as part of life, but when I saw the aftermath it didn’t feel like any real life I had ever known.  After all, I made it 30-odd years without a broken bone.

Before his fall, I have always said “kids are supposed to rough themselves up a little!” but I meant some bad scrapes, some “thank goodness he was wearing a helmet” moments, and a lot of crying as they learned their safety lessons the hard way.  I never imagined that scene in the operating room and the days that followed.  Though I never thought I would be a hovering overprotective mom, the chance that something terrible could happen in an instant is now too real for me to ignore.

I’m officially a helicopter mom.

(photo: Chris Radley)

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