One Arm Strong

Brought this artwork from last month home after finding out his arm was broken. Ominous.

Brought last month’s artwork home after finding out his arm was broken. Ominous.


So there we were. A boring typical Friday night at home. We had already finished dinner and doing the countdown before bedtime and the kids were running around like banshees. On what was to be the final lap through the dining room, we hear a thump from the doorway to the playroom and immediate crying. No strangers to this sequence of events, Mike and I gave it a few seconds and then proceeded through the usual spiel, “Uh oh. What happened? What got bonked?” Maxon emerged from the playroom crying, giving the recap through sobs and hitches. Nothing sounded out of the ordinary and when we inspected his elbow and didn’t see any cuts or scrapes, we figured he at least needed some ice since he didn’t seem to immediately spring back up to play again. He calmed down shortly afterwards and was ready to go to bed.

The next morning, I asked him about his arm and he said it still hurt but was better than the night before. The area right below his elbow was definitely swollen but not bruised and that was about it. We continued to give him ibuprofen for the swelling and iced it whenever he was sitting for a while. We went to the playground and Cooper’s swim lesson that morning, although he didn’t do very much and most certainly didn’t use his arm. I asked him again if his arm really was OK because if it wasn’t, we would have to go see a doctor. Maybe that was the wrong approach but we went about the rest of our day with zero complaints from Maxon.

The arm didn’t look any different on Sunday morning but Maxon said it was feeling a little better. We continued with the ice and ibuprofen, hit up another playground, and spent the rest of the day with a friend and her daughter. He still tried to swing the bat, catch and throw the ball, all with his left arm. He ran around, but was a little slower. Still no complaints from Maxon, but Mike and I started to get concerned. He never seemed to forget about not using his right arm and that swelling just wasn’t going anywhere. We decided to give it one more night’s sleep and if it didn’t look any better on Monday, we were calling the doctor.


Arm was still swollen the next day. Mike spoke with a nurse at our pediatrician’s office and before he could even get the whole story out, she tells him without a doubt that he should be seen by Urgent Care, and in fact, go straight to the Urgent Care department at the closest branch of Children’s Hospital. Right about that second, we felt like the most foolish parents ever. Of COURSE he should be seen by a doctor. We should have gotten the clue at least by Saturday morning. What the heck were we thinking?

Maxon and I arrived at Children’s Hospital as soon as we could and were checked in quickly. I had never had occasion to be at any Children’s Hospital before and I am still quite impressed with just how perfect it is for children. Colorful and bright waiting areas with very patient staff and relatively short wait times. We saw a doctor a few minutes later and he didn’t hesitate to send us over to get x-rays, where they confirmed he had an olecranon fracture, a fracture at the head of the ulna. The doctor seemed genuinely surprised that he wasn’t in more pain and that he was going about his kid-ness with no complaints. He was splinted and issued a sling with instructions to call the orthopedics department for a follow-up in the next few days. We headed home shortly afterwards, with a quick stop for a milkshake for Maxon, partially paid for by mommy guilt.

I called the next day to set up a follow-up appointment at orthopedics and was relieved to hear that not only could we come in the very next day but that he could be seen by a doctor from Children’s right here in Boulder. As soon as we got in the room at the ortho’s office, I could tell that the doctor was worried about something else. Several more x-rays later and a second opinion from the head of trauma surgery at Children’s, the doctor informed me that not only was his ulna broken, but the radius, the other lower arm bone, was dislocated. Before any bone-setting could be done, the radius had to be forced back in place and that could only be done in surgery. At that point, there were no decisions I had to make as he had already secured a spot in the trauma surgery agenda for Thursday.

Since he was scheduled for surgery and going under general anesthesia by 1pm, the typical no-eating rule was enforced starting at 5am. We made sure he had his favorite dinner that night and let him snack all the way up until bedtime. We explained the no eating and drinking rule and all that was going to happen the next day and he accepted it in his usual Maxon matter-of-fact fashion. He woke up the next day and was “treated” to apple juice and Gatorade for breakfast and he was ready to roll.


We arrived at Children’s as scheduled at 11:30am, two hours before surgery and were quickly assigned a pre-operation room. And that’s where things came to a halt. It was a good hour before a nurse came in to see us and that’s when we found out that his surgery got bumped and he wouldn’t be taken in until 3pm. But since it was already about 1pm at this point, he still couldn’t have anything to drink. Again, Maxon was a complete rock star. No complaints of being hungry or thirsty. No word of being bored or scared. Heck, I wanted to cry a little at how thirsty I was but I did not dare complain about my own discomfort, or even worse, drink or eat anything in his presence. He spent all his time waiting working on his math workbook and word searches. All with his left hand, mind you. I finally convinced him to take a break to watch TV and possibly even nap, which of course is when all the doctors started rotating through to get all the paperwork signed and go through what was going to happen during surgery.

And then it was time. According to the surgeon, once the radius was back in place, and assuming no other problems found, they were going to place pins to set his ulna and then put him in a cast, of which Maxon could choose any color he wanted. Surgery should take less than an hour, most of which would be making sure he was completely under anesthesia. I accompanied Maxon to the operating room and got him settled on the bed. I saw my first glimpse of fear and anxiety on his brave little face but the nurses quickly picked up the energy and started chatting away with him as a distraction. As they gave him laughing gas to relax him and put him to sleep, the nurse tried this little joke on him:

“Why did the skeleton not want to go to the scary movie? Because he had no guts!”

Maxon didn’t quite get the joke, but he was well on his way to sleep during the punchline and it was my cue to leave the operating room. It’s the second time I saw my child go under, and while a bit easier this time having a little experience under my belt, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t need a couple of minutes to compose myself before I went out into the general waiting room.

Forty minutes later, the surgeon came out into the waiting room to tell me everything was done and it all went very smoothly. I was able to see him once he started to wake and they didn’t there was any bad effects from the anesthesia. I appreciated that everything in Children’s Hospital seemed to be children-sized because I think it would have been heartbreaking to see his little-ness in an adult bed but there he was, my big brave boy recovering like a champ. He was extremely groggy and reluctant to stay awake, which is just so unusual for him! He seemed comfortable enough, although not entirely sure where he was. He took a couple of hours to sleep off the remaining anesthesia but once it started to leave his system, he was back to our lively, happy Maxon.

We settled back at home after an hour-long drive with Maxon eating almost the entire time. We were armed with typical over-the-counter pain medication but also had a prescription for a stronger painkiller if Maxon was having a hard time. Not surprisingly, Maxon didn’t need it and once the weekend passed, he didn’t even need Tylenol. He was back to running and jumping the next day, much to our dismay. Seriously, couldn’t he stop for like a minute?


Maxon goes back for a follow-up on July 6th and I’m hoping that we can bid adieu to the pins and cast that day. In the meantime, we have gotten into a rhythm of the new normal. He can wear pretty much any of his shirts, although there is a specific order in which his arms and head enter or exit said shirt. He takes showers just as often, but we now wrap his casted arm in a plastic bag plus a washcloth wrapped around it to catch any errant drops. Utensils and his drink are placed on the left side of his plate. He swings his bat with his one good arm. He writes and colors with his left hand.

This is how you heal gracefully

This is how you heal gracefully

And he tells jokes. Like the one about the skeleton that didn’t want to go to the scary movie. He tried that one the day after his surgery, completely unprompted by me. Actually, he muddled the question, couldn’t remember the punchline, and to this day, still asks me what “guts” are.

Maxon, my baby. It’s what you are made of.

2 thoughts on “One Arm Strong

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