It’s a really bad sprain, I thought. We settled her down, iced her elbow, and waited for her to bend and flex it to show us she was okay. But she didn’t, so we took her to the emergency department just to be safe. They told us it was fractured, put her in a splint, and made a follow-up with a pediatric orthopedist the next day. The orthopedist did an x-ray and announced that her elbow was broken and she would need surgery the next day to put in pins. So in about 48 hours, we escalated quickly from a typical evening of her horsing about the house to sleeping a full day from anesthesia with a cast over her whole arm.
The care we received was excellent at every turn. I have been reassured by nearly every medical professional we saw – and many medical professionals that I work with – that this is a pretty normal thing for kids. I’ve heard stories from plenty of other parents about what their kids have broken. We’re already a third of the way through her cast; it only stays on for three weeks. She is pain free, has mostly figured out how to use her arm and hand even with the cast, and was thrilled to show if off to her friends when school started back from the break. So in about five weeks, it will be like none of this ever happened.
That is a weird liminal space in which we are: between the breaking and the healing. We are doing all the things we are supposed to do to ensure the healing is full and proper. We keep the cast dry, we have her elevate it, we encourage her to move her arm and fingers. We have normalized the injury, hearing how common it is and decorating the cast and adjusting her wardrobe. When the cast comes off, we’ll do some basic physical activities to un-stiffen her elbow. The shock and pain and horror and fear are behind us, except in those few moments when I see that cast and wonder what would have happened if she’d landed on her head.
Two things I’m reminded of when I look at my child and think about that fateful fall last week. First is how fragile we are. We break easy. One fall, one landing in the wrong place on the wrong surface, and a bone splits. My child lives rather fearlessly; we are constantly telling her to be careful or to stop doing things that are clearly bad ideas. When she hops around in her gymnastics class I waver between pride and terror. My guess is that this broken arm will temper her fearlessness a little.
But only a very little. Because the second thing I’m reminded of is that we heal. Two pins and three weeks in a cast and her bone will repair itself. Much of this is due to her being young and resilient; I’m sure that my elbow would take much longer to fully heal. But it would fully heal. This is a crazy thing to be reminded of again and again. Our bodies repair themselves. We heal. If brokenness is the trajectory of the world outside us, wholeness is the trajectory within us.
This is the liminal space we are always living in: between the breaking and the healing. I know that I head into this new year feeling as if the world were a little more broken than most years. It’s really just as broken as always, tough as 2016 has felt. There is also healing taking place. It is not easy and it takes work, but wholeness is always ahead, even as things keep breaking. For 2017 I plan to celebrate the healing a little more intentionally even as I mourn the breaks. May the brokenness of the world never quench our fearlessness to be healing.