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How to: Respond to a Broken Bone

By Karen Austin

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Broken Left Clavicle

As a child, I dreamed of becoming a nurse, until I started fainting at the sight of blood.  I slowly discovered that I am more comfortable dealing with ideas that need mending.

I am cautious by nature and a great indoor enthusiast. And at 53, I have never broken a bone. (Knock on wood.)

But now as a wife and mother, I live with three other bodies.   My husband, also a great indoor enthusiast in midlife, has never broken a bone.  Until this week, my kids each had at some time broken just one toe.  Each time, I buddy taped the broken toe and kept the kid in structured shoes.  Easy peasy.

This last Thursday afternoon, however, I was initiated into the role of caregiver the minute I heard the lifeguards page me at the local outdoor pool and water slide.  My 14 year old girl tumbled off her inner tube and bashed her shoulder against the side of the tube, causing her left clavicle to fracture.

The next 24 hours was a flurry of activity and emotion.  I think quickly on my feet when organizing people to talk about ideas.  But I had to reign in my emotions and concentrate extremely hard to figure out how to best care for my daughter’s injury and how to push off all my other responsibilities.

I didn’t always do a very good job.

Denial was my first incorrect response.  In the lifeguard station, I was chatting up the five teen lifeguards about their skills with emergency response and explaining that my skills were in communication, not injured body management. “I have a Twitter account,” I declared in support of my claim.

My daughter told me later that she almost started to cry at that point. I had no idea she was more than bruised. Nor did the lifeguards. “Take her home and give her Tylenol” was their best guess for treatment.  She was being very stoic. She could walk, she wasn’t crying, and the only visible injury was a discolored bit of skin the size of a grain of rice. Oops.  My bad.

I did flex my communication skills to call my husband, to work with the medical personnel, to contact people from church to delegate everything off my list for the next week, to renegotiate my daughter’s volunteer schedule at the library and to inform church leaders that she has to miss girls camp the upcoming week.

More challenging was offering a calm, peaceful environment for her, but I did that to the best of my ability, nearly.

I got her set up in our guest room in the basement that has an overstuffed chair in which she slept the first night, propped up with seven pillows.  I got her a variety of foods—some good for the body (such as Greek yogurt), some good for the soul (a small morsel of mint chocolate).

I helped her dad and her brother work with me to gather pillows, blankets, food, medicine, and her phone charger. We found the best water bottle for someone who can’t tip her head.   Daddy loaned his calm presence while I went out to buy pajamas that button down and a robe that zips—since she can’t raise her left arm over her head.   We’ve prayed for her recovery.

The next morning when my daughter was the most pain free since her accident, I drove to the next block and grabbed two tween girls and brought them to our house so that they could join her while I read a chapter out of a book that the three of them have been reading together.  That was squarely in my skill set.

I did not do a good job of feeding myself that first 24 hours. I only ate the remains of what I fed her.  I did grab two cheese sticks to eat, but they sat on a nightstand for hours and hours uneaten. There was always something to do for my daughter first. I didn’t stay hydrated. And I didn’t sleep well because she had side effects from the prescription pain meds she took that first night, and she was calling out for me.

True, I was at times a mix of emotions that first 24 hours—angry, sad, frustrated, and impatient. But I tried to pull myself together with mantras, prayers, scripture recall, deep breathing and any other handy, well-practiced tool I had in my tool bag of emotional/spiritual self-care.

But I am super verbal and super social, so what helped me the most were the expressions of support from my friends and the stories my friends shared about broken bones healing. My favorite stories are about broken clavicles that healed with no complications and no long-term problems.

Hooray for the power of narrative in the time of crisis.  And I’m hoping these and other stories help me better manage the social, emotional, spiritual and physical world of my household so that one little bone can heal.

How have you responded to a broken bone–your own, a family member’s, or a close friend’s?

[Photo credit: Web Wide Josh.]

About Karen Austin

After living in UT, HI, CA, VA, DC, WI, WV & KS, Karen now lives in Newburgh, IN with her husband and two children. She's been a BYU writing tutor, an English teacher, technical writer, director of academic support services, and aging studies adjunct. She's reinventing herself--again. New role still pending, but mature athlete, thrift store fashionista, and court jester are strong candidates. She maintains the blog The Generation Above Me.

2 thoughts on “How to: Respond to a Broken Bone”

  1. I've never broken a bone either. But I'm pretty good in a crisis–maybe a little too good. If you're the one hurt, I sympathize, but I expect you to deal with it without being a big baby. I do feel guilty, though, that I wasn't the first responder for my son when the middle school called to say he was hurt and I met him at the hospital, where we discovered both his lower arm bones were broken. And maybe my stoicism isn't a very good model, because he was too stoic and refused pain meds till we basically forced them on him with assurances that he wasn't a wimp. Nor was I at home when my daughter fell backwards on her wrist and broke it. I didn't even get to the hospital till after it was set. But I was right there when my 20-month-old slipped in our front foyer, twisting as she fell. Half an hour later, when she wouldn't stop crying nor would she stand, we took her to the hospital to find out she'd snapped her femur. A kid in diapers in a full body cast for 8 weeks is no fun. But after the crisis, we just move on. Our son went to Yellowstone in an arm sling. Our daughter wore a red cast to her brother's wedding. Our youngest was walking (like Frankenstein) in her body cast after week 6, to the amazement of the doctors. And they're all fine now. Best wishes to your daughter.

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  2. Wow. You have some resilient kids, Lisa, and you do display a calm demeanor. Every day she gets better at managing the limitations. And I'm getting better at multi-tasking. I like to plan, so when unexpected things happen like this, I get a little off kilter until I can adjust to the "new reality." But it's really about her and not me. She seems to be doing pretty well today! Thanks for telling me stories that end with healed bones and "all fine" kids. Love those stories.

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