Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Breaking News

I walked out our back door this morning to find a beautiful late-spring day waiting on the other side. Sun, blue sky, green grass. Perfect. As I was dropping my laptop bag into the car I noticed a FedEx truck pull up in front of our house. I met the driver halfway down the walk and he handed me a box with the word “Crocs” printed on it – the girls’ highly anticipated shoes had arrived. A good day was getting even better.

I got in the car and was less than a mile into my morning commute when my cell phone rang. It was Gwen, who was dropping the girls off at school. I picked up and it was immediately clear that something was wrong… really wrong. With a shaky but urgent voice cutting through jarring background noise, Gwen told me that Ava had fallen off a fence in the drop-off area outside her school and broken her arm. BROKEN HER ARM. I immediately wondered how she could have offered up that diagnosis so quickly, without benefit of an x-ray machine, but I didn’t want to ask. I could hear Ava wailing in the background.

She asked where I was and if I could turn around and meet them at the emergency room, or at Ava’s pediatrician’s office, the destination was still a little unclear at that point and there was a little group discussion occurring among the parents on the scene as to how exactly to proceed.

“I’m right here,” I said, “I just left the house. I can meet you at the school.”

When I pulled up, about a minute later, Ava was sitting in her car seat. Gwen was on the phone with our pediatrician who said to come directly there. I looked into the car and saw my little angel, my 4-year-old, holding her left arm in her right hand and crying her eyes out. There was a distinct and dramatic bend just above the left wrist that should not have been there – think Joe Theismann’s leg after it had become acquainted with Lawrence Taylor. I tried to reassure her that everything was going to be OK as my stomach sank to my knees.

We did a high-speed convoy to the pediatrician. Thankfully enough, the girls’ doctor has an office in a big medical group that is basically a small hospital, with numerous practices under the same roof – including radiology and orthopedics. We parked next to each other and, to my utter amazement, Ava’s cries had by then been reduced to faint whimpers. I picked her up, she buried her face into the space between my neck and shoulder. I looked down at her arm. Still broken. The impossible twist was now accompanied by some obvious bruising. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and didn’t want to imagine what lay in store in terms of treatment. Did the break impact her growth plate? Was this innocent little fall off a fence going to lead to a permanent medical condition? Stunt the growth of her arm? We had no idea.

I carried her across the parking lot and into the pediatrician’s office, where we were met by a nurse who quickly looked her over, gave us a cup of Motrin to help with the pain and sent us down the hall to radiology. The technicians were nice, and friendly, and as blown away by the condition of Ava’s arm as we were. They weren’t sure whether it was her arm or her wrist that was broken – at one point they didn’t seem to know exactly which part of this tiny limb to x-ray. This did not instill confidence in two panicked parents.

We asked whether or not we should give her the Motrin but they didn’t like that idea, “in case they need to send her in for surgery, it will be better if she doesn’t have anything in her system.” I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that last part… send her in for what?

We only had a minute or two to obsess over the horror of that possibility when the radiologist came over and took a look at the x-rays. Both bones in the forearm were broken, but they were clean breaks and well clear of the wrist or any complicating factors. “It’s a very common break in children, they’re actually pretty fragile bones,” the doctor said. “They used to call this a nightstick break.”

“Oh really, why?”

“Because when the police used to hit people with their nightsticks in this part of the arm the bones would break, so they started calling them nightstick breaks.”

I never would have believed in the ability of a police brutality reference to so thoroughly warm the heart and calm the mind, but this one sure did. From this day forward, the image of demonstrators getting their forearms smashed to bits by police nightsticks will for me forever rank right up there with bunnies hopping through green meadows and winning scratch-off lottery tickets.

We walked down the hall to the on-site orthopedist, who saw us quickly. By this time we’d made Ava aware of the fact that she was going to get to pick the color of her cast, and pink and purple were on the list of options. Without hesitation she chose purple. I know there have been a few medical advances over the last 20 or 30 years, but this morning the advent of multi-colored casts for kids trumped them all.

The doctor explained that he was going to give Ava two shots in the arm – one for each broken bone – to deaden the pain before he had to straighten it out and wrap it in the cast. The shots and the straightening were our toughest moments of the morning, beyond the initial break, but once again I just stood there utterly amazed at this little world-beater’s bravery and resolve. Even the orthopedist, whose brusque bedside manner left a little bit to be desired, kept saying, "what a brave little girl you are... you're really a very brave little girl!" I got stitches once when I was in first or second grade, and the blubbering was so bad that the state of California got in touch to see about running a temporary aqueduct to the vicinity of my face. But Ava got through everything, and before we knew it she was flashing her cool new purple cast and smiling at everyone we came across.

We brought her home, she fell asleep on the ride and we bundled her up on the couch with her arm elevated like the doctor told us to. Gwen drove back over to the school the girls both attend in the morning to tell Madison that her sister was OK. The cast will be on for six weeks. Not ideal, by a long shot, but at the end of the day the best possible outcome we could have imagined out of something like this. She woke up from her nap this afternoon and told Gwen her arm was feeling better and she wanted to go back to the doctor to take this big purple thing off because she didn’t need it anymore. By the time I got home Ava was running around the backyard with Madison (who had already written her name on the cast with a dark purple Sharpie) and other neighborhood kids and giving us our first taste of the next six weeks, which will be spent urging her to take it easy, be careful, slow down. None of those things are high on Ava's agenda.

I snapped a few photos of the x-rays on my camera phone when we were in the doctor’s office. Showed them to the girls tonight and they were captivated by the images. “Oh, I know what’s the problem,” Ava said as she scrolled through them. “My bones are cracked open and that was a big, big problem.”

“Yes,” I said to her. “That was a big, big problem. But you were very brave and everything turned out fine.”

“Dad?” she responded. “Tomorrow can you get me some new Play-Doh? Cause I’m the one that’s hurt.”

No fool, our Ava.


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