Broken Arm

It’s Saturday night and we have plans. Our sitter is coming over in about an hour and we’re going out with our Chilean friends Francisco and Jimena to one of our favorite spots in Santiago–Patio Bellavista. Josh is giving Lennox a bath and he calls to me down the hallway, amidst normal baby-bath-screaming, that something is wrong.  Here comes Lennox waddling out of the bathroom naked–a sight I cherish–but she’s screaming crying.  I pick her up and she’s easily consoled but when I squeeze her right arm by her wrist she immediately shrieks.

I’m not boasting when I say I knew immediately that her arm was broken but sometimes you just know.  I am instantly filled with mommy-adrenaline. The kind that makes you sit down and breathe deeply.  In addition to normal mommy-adrenaline, we now have the added adrenaline of living in a foreign country. Which, by the way, in case you haven’t guessed, is really fucking hard.  The kind of hard that makes going to the pharmacy something we actually “prepare” for, talk ourselves into, have “you can do it” talks with each other about.  We have to take the baby to the emergency room.  Tonight.  Thank God we have a sitter lined up.  The baby is hurt.  But then.  Maybe it’s nothing, we tell ourselves, while she wanders off the down the hall to play, chit chatting with herself in her toddler way.  Laughing.  Playing.  Normal.  But every time we squeeze her arm she cries.  So, there we were waffling between, “her arm is broken; let’s go to the ER” and “obviously she’s fine, look at her playing?” except when we look closely it’s obvious she’s not using her right arm.  We look at each other and know that part of the waffling is that we don’t want to go to the ER in Chile. We don’t know how their system works. We don’t understand Spanish well enough. We’ll be lost and alone and it will be hard to get help.  It sucks.  It’s uncomfortable and hard and we just don’t want to do it.  We say these things OUT LOUD to each other and clear the air. Lay the fear out in the room.  Look at it.  Smell it.  Examine it.  And then laugh while we’re crying because, duh, we can do this.  I sit down with Lennox and have a good cry so I can get it out of my system and then we get down to business.  We get on the phone and Facebook and start looking up what hospital to go to and all the words associated with broken arms and dislocated wrists, etc.

First, we head off to Clinic Santa Maria where they take Josh’s drivers license during registration and tell us he can have it back when we pay.  Then we try and convince two triage nurses that Lennox really is hurt, maybe her arm is broken, while Lennox is smiling and waving and saying “hi” to them.  This is a hard moment because we don’t really understand what they are saying TO us but their faces are saying, “these are some stupid fucking Americans.”  Then we hear the wait time to be seen is 2-3 hours.  Meanwhile, our friend Tatiana, a pediatric neurologist, is texting us to please get a cab to her hospital, Clinica Alemana, where she is currently working on-call and isn’t busy and she can help us.  Driver’s license back in hand, we get another cab to Clinica Alemana about 15 minutes away.

There is no wait at Clinica Alemana but we do have a hard time finding the correct Emergency Room. That’s right.  There are multiple emergency rooms. One for just kids. One for trauma like broken bones. And one for all the rest.  Wouldn’t that be nice moms, an ER just for kids?  Finally, we meet up with Tatiana who whisks us away to the correct location, helps us get registered and shown to a room.  The pediatric orthopedist comes pretty quickly and asks for x-rays.  Off we go to x-rays, a brutal, horrible, tortuous experience for Lennox and for me, who has to hold her while she screams as the x-ray tech pulls and fiddles with her arm to get the correct images.  Finally, finally, finally, we are done and try and find our way back to our room.  This hospital is beautiful and clean and confusing to us foreigners.  It is likely one of the nicest hospitals I’ve ever seen in the world though.  As soon as a staff member sees us wandering with utter confusion, we are redirected and sit and wait for the results.  Tatiana comes back from her consultation in the children’s ER to check on us and sneaks a peak at the x-ray results before our doctor arrives.  Lennox’s arm is broken.  But it is a minor fracture.  It will heal quickly.  She doesn’t need surgery.  But she does need an extensive cast, at least in the beginning.  So we walk across the hall and get her casted up.  This time I make Josh hold her while she screams in pain as she’s casted.  Another family in the room is so kind to us it makes me weep.  (I notice that my new emotional standard while living in Chile is that every time someone is especially kind to me I cry. Or want to cry.  This is new for me. It is evidence of how emotionally vulnerable–ok, all kinds of vulnerable–I am here).  This other family in the cast room has four kids.  Their son has a broken arm too.  He broke both of his clavicles last year.  This mom is reassuring in her calmness.  Her sureness.  Her this-is-just-how-it-goes-ness.  I love moms.  I love how she quietly hands her four year old candy to give to Lennox while she’s screaming so she can be distracted.  While we are leaving another girl comes in with two broken wrists.  Josh and I look at each other and grimace.  It could be so much worse.

And then, we are done.  Lennox is calm but tired as it is now hours and hours past her bedtime.  And it is hours and hours past my bedtime and I’m so relieved but I just want to lie down and cry.  Because this was difficult.  Because this was not difficult.  Because we managed fine when we’d prepared to fail miserably.  Because sometimes when people like Tatiana–who stayed with us almost the entire time–are kind to you the instinct is to just lie down and cry.  Or maybe that’s just my instinct.  And for all the challenges Chile has thrown our way I will say that we have been stunned and overwhelmed by people’s kindness.  Their utter selflessness and hospitality and guarantee of our wellbeing.  Because one of the challenges of this adventure is that we don’t have our village, we don’t have our usual safe guards, and we sense that more than we know it, every single day.  But then we see that we do have a village, though a small and sometimes uncertain one.  We do have safe guards.  And we always have each other.

We check out, arrange for a follow-up visit next Friday, and get our bill for everything right then and there.  The entire bill. Wouldn’t that be nice?  And the bill is, wait for it, $280.  For everything.  Doctor, hospital, x-ray: $280.00  No, I’m not kidding with the decimals.  Wouldn’t that be nice in the States?  That your bill equaled services rendered.  AND.  GET A STIFF DRINK BECAUSE YOU’RE SIMPLY NOT GOING TO BELIEVE THIS: The prices were posted on the wall in the ER. THE COST OF SERVICES–POSTED–ON THE WALL!

United Statesians!  We could learn from this!

Clearly our Chilean adventure just wasn’t complete with all of our other day-to-day challenges.  So, ok, a broken arm.  A new challenge.  It’s a broken arm.  A tiny fracture.  A no big deal thing.  I get it.  I know.  Carter had a far worse injury at the same age.  He burned his hands on the lawnmower and it was ghastly.  Horrible.  Hands down awful.  I broke my own right arm when Quinlen was four months old.  Super painful.  A hassle.  A truly crummy time of our lives.  Josh broke his arm a year after that riding the mechanical bull at a charity event.  Ok, so bones heal.  No big deal.  We get it.

So, what’s the deal.  Where is the pain.  Why the anguish?

Part of the pain is knowing how fragile she is.

Part of the anguish is not knowing how or when it happened. At our friend’s house Wednesday night? Ok, so that would mean we didn’t notice for three days.  With the babysitter on Thursday afternoon. Ok, so that would mean she had an accident that no one told us about.  At school on Friday?  Again, an accident that we didn’t know about.

Part of the pain is just feeling all that more vulnerable here in Chile.  And having to ask for help.  And not being able wanting to ask for help.

Lennox is quickly learning how to manage as a lefty.  Tatiana is picking me up Friday and going with me to Lennox’s next doctor’s appointment when hopefully she’ll get a new, maybe even waterproof, cast.  And so it is.  But this morning Lennox woke up and walked out to the living room holding her cast.  Yes.  That’s right.  She had removed her cast.  So.  First, we gave her a bath (duh!) and then we MacGyvered her cast back onto her arm.  So far so good.  Because, clearly, we don’t want to go back to the hospital!









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