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Parenting Lessons from the ER: Kids and Broken Bones

Parenting Lessons from the ER: Kids and Broken Bones

I knew one day that I would end up in the ER with one of my kids tending to a broken bone. I just didn’t think it was going to be this kid. My 3-year-old son is a physical bundle of energy who’s already forced me to learn all about the signs of a concussion. I foresee plenty of ER visits in the future. Bumps, bruises, stitches, and all the rest. None of it will surprise me. My daughter, on the other hand, is not timid, but she is careful. So when I got a call from her after-school program that she took an awkward fall from the monkey bars and they were pretty sure her arm was broken, I was in a brief state of disbelief. But here we are, in a big long cast, facing the first few weeks of summer with a ban on all water activities, including bathing. Lovely. But, it’s an experience we will share with thousands of other families this summer, so I figured I’d share of few of the parenting lessons I learned on our trip to the ER.

Parenting Lessons from the ER

  • Little girl with a broken armGoing to a “children’s hospital” has its upsides and downsides. While they have the specialists who treat children exclusively and are top notch in the specifics of this kind of care, the other three dozen kids who broke their arms that same Friday afternoon are also there, so your wait is likely to be longer than another hospital wait room that will prioritize children in their triage system. While we endured a torturously long wait, I’m ultimately glad we made the decision to go to Children’s Hospital in Boston, but any good hospital can be a good choice.
  • If you’re pretty sure the arm or leg is broken, bypass a visit your pediatrician and head straight the ER. There’s not a lot your pediatrician can do and you’ll just have prolonged the journey before getting in line for treatment.  I learned this from the dad who came into the ER with his daughter just after us.
  • Do not, however, hesitate to make the detour, if it’s a short one, to pick up your iPad or phone charger. We waited six hours before my daughter actually headed into the orthopedic room. That time would have passed much more quickly for both of us if she had the distraction of some iPad apps for kids, and I wasn’t paranoid about my phone dying, which it did.
  • Listen to the sounds around you through the ears of a child. While we waited in a room to be seen, we could hear a baby crying non-stop, a teenager crying out in pain, and EMTs filling the medical staff in on treatments delivered en route. It took longer than you might think before I heard these as more than the white noise of a hospital, but as potentially frightening for my daughter. I did ultimately turn up the volume on the TV in her room, but also made her feel better when I even acknowledged the unsettling nature of the environment we were in.
  • If you are headed to the ER for almost any reason, don’t give your kid anything to eat or drink. Our 6 hour wait for treatment would have been even longer if my daughter had eaten more recently given the sedative she needed for them to reset the bones.
  • While distraction can be a wonderful tool, don’t underestimate the power of sharing knowledge and information with your child. Of course this depends on the age and personality of your kid, but when my daughter freaked out from getting her IV she was nearly inconsolable. I offered to sing, dance, tell jokes, get goofy – none if it calmed her down. But when I finally asked her if she wanted to know WHY she needed the IV and how it worked, she nodded and calmed down to listen, making her less frightened and better able to cope.
  • As a working parent, use your time wisely. Even if your child conveniently breaks her arm at the end of the work day on a Friday, like mine did, you will likely need to be prepared to miss work for follow up appointments. So use that waiting room time to do what you can. Make a list of people who need to know: grandma, the school nurse and classroom teacher, athletic coaches, summer camp, your pediatrician (if you followed tip #2), etc. And if you followed tip #3, you might also be able to just e-mail them right from the hospital. I, on the other hand, had to do this over the weekend and in the early hours of my work day.
  • And finally, relax and enjoy the unscheduled break from your over-scheduled life. While it’s a bummer to be sitting on the sidelines for the Field Day water balloon toss and the 4th of July bike parade, my daughter and I are both not-so-secretly enjoying a few weekends with no soccer games, no skating lessons, and a good excuse to make every night, “movie night.”



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