An oblique fracture, more specifically. That's what doctors saw on the X-ray of my son's femur.
My son is a walking, talking, energetic boy of 18 months. But a strange string of events at day care last Friday - a twist, the catching of a foot on a table leg, a toppling over - has immobilized him. Doctors put him under, and set him in a spica cast. It's a nearly full-body mummification of both legs, down to the toes, and up the torso, to just under his little arm pits. His legs are splayed open, so he looks a bit like a cowboy who's just gotten off a very fat horse.
All of this means your health care reporter will be out for a few weeks, caring for a little one who can't sit up, can't walk, can't roll over, can't bend, etc. The tough part is witnessing his frustration at not being able to move, or to be independent. The fun part is watching what he can do, even with such a huge limitation. He can wheel himself around on a makeshift scooter, pawing the floor with his hands, terrorizing the cat, for instance.
I'm grateful it's just a broken bone. That's something that will heal, and be forgotten in time. Some parents aren't so lucky; their children face lifelong limitations, or worse. My heart goes out to them.
Meanwhile, you can't be a health care reporter and not have a few things to say about an experience like this! So, a few insights about emergency rooms, hospital stays, and healing:
- Thank goodness for ERs: We have great emergency medical care in this country, from the ER doctors and nurses to the ambulance crews, to the specialists.
- Speak up: I had to speak up and advocate for my son because he couldn't do it for himself - except to cry when anyone manipulated his leg. I could tell when he was in pain before the nurses could, because I know him. It's a good reminder that we should be advocates for ourselves, too, in health care. Doctors and nurses are fabulous, but they're busy, and in my experience they appreciate it when you ask for clarification or express a preference.
- Upon discharge: Advocating becomes even more important after you leave the hospital. While you're in the hospital, everything is taken care of. But when you're discharged, you're often on your own. You're given discharge instructions, phone numbers, medications. But it's up to you (or your caregiver) to keep the follow up appointments, take the medication as prescribed, and get further needs met. We had to track down a special car seat to accommodate the cast, and it took several phone calls to keep our request from falling through the cracks.
- Put it out there: Friends, family, co-workers - they've been incredible. I figured the more people we told about our son's predicament, the more advice we'd be given about how to help him through the toughest month of his little life so far. So I Facebooked it, tweeted it, sent some emails. And that's exactly what's happened. We are so grateful for the advice, the offers to help, the wishes for a speedy recovery. A friend of a friend's child just went through the same ordeal, and we've been given each other's contact information so that I can learn from that family's experience.
I look forward to getting back to covering health care in Rhode Island, and to a little boy who can walk and run and wiggle as much as he likes.