Monday, March 26, 2007


This is my story of the cast:

Z. broke her arm last September. She was a week shy of 19 months. It was the Monday after Rosh HaShanah, a gorgeous sunny day, and we were heading off to school. She pushed her stroller down the walk, too small to see over it. I opened the gate and maneuvered the stroller out. She wasn't touching the stroller. I turned to the right and took a couple of steps to pull two figs off our tree for her lunch. I turned back and she and the stroller were in motion.

My mother has a story about when I was little, probably around Z.'s age now or a little younger. She was on the phone and I was on a little ride-on toy. I headed to the top of stairs and said "Bye-bye, mommy, going shopping." She says she never moved so fast in her life.

By the time I turned back to see Z. launching herself into space, it was too late to move. There are five tall steps down from our yard to the sidewalk. The concrete sidewalk. The stroller was in flight, and Z. was in an arc over it. There was nothing I could do. In the instant it took her to fall, I calculated that if I threw myself after her I couldn't reach the ground ahead of her to catch her. I hoped, then despaired that the stroller would break her fall. She flew clear of it. She flew headfirst. I knew she would land that way, on her crown. The words "Oh, god, Z.," tore out of my mouth. I think it's the purest prayer I ever made. She landed on her side with her arm above her head, the thump the kind of sound you never want to hear. Instantly she was wailing, crying harder than I had ever heard her.

The crossing guard from the school on the corner had seen it all and came to find out if Z. was okay. I had no idea. I was imagining all sorts of internal injuries. I was trying to get her to nurse. She was crying too hard. I wrestled the stroller back into the garden, took Z. into the house, gave her arnica, called the pediatrician, gave her more arnica, called A. at work, gave her more arnica, called school, gave arnica. Z. was still wailing, just wracked with sobs. (But she didn't bruise at all.)

A. had the car that day. She had to come home to drive us to the hospital. A.'s school doesn't have enough spaces in the parking lot so the teachers practice the innovative technique of parking each other in. Those drivers had to be paged. Finally, maybe an hour or more after the fall, she was home. Z. was only just calming down.

The pediatrician had advised me to take Z. to the emergency room at a children's hospital, advice I was grateful for because otherwise I would have taken her to the closest one, and Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania is really a much better place for kids, and as un-scary as a giant, high-tech hospital could manage to be. (Fyi, CHoP was the hospital with the good NICU nurses where our friends' baby was treated for high bilirubin.) On the drive down, Z. was mostly quiet except when we went over bumps, when she half-cried, half-whimpered. When we got her to the emergency room, she was calm enough to play with some of the toys there.

The triage nurse asked if Z. was favoring either arm. That was when we noticed that she was holding her left arm carefully by her side and not using it at all.

Once we were taken back into the treatment rooms, we had a multi-stage wait. We weren't ever waiting for one person more than moderately long, but there were a lot of people to wait for. Z. was terrified all over again by the x-ray, which probably also hurt like the dickens, since her arm had to be held in place at a certain angle. Except for that, she was a real trouper. She finally nursed. We fed her from her school lunchbox. Finally, while we were waiting for the orthopedist, she fell asleep on the examination table.

She fractured her elbow in two places: the humerus just above the joint and the radius just below. Her cast went from across her palm to past her elbow. I bought her a laundry cycle's worth of oversize t-shirts.

Annoying Dog had a cone collar on at the time (the dog managed to impale her paw on a piece of garden edging two days after we adopted her, which had also required emergency medical treatment--and we adopted her only a week before Z. fell.) Between the toddler in the cast and the dog in the collar we had a lot of little falls and crises. Z. wanted me to hold her and carry her all the time and her sleep regressed. She fell down a lot even when the dog didn't knock into her. Annoying Dog learned how to remove her collar and pulled her stitches out three times--each time requiring a vet visit. Z. needed to get checked up at two weeks: more x-rays, more terror. At that point they extended the cast to just below the shoulder, making it even bulkier and harder to itch under. And the cast room itself terrified her. Then the cast got soaked in the bath when I wrapped it in a plastic bag that happened to have a safety-conscious row of perforations. So a return to the cast room for a brand-new cast and instructions forbidding full bathing.

(Silver lining: the new cast was much less bulky, since her arm wasn't swollen when it was put on, it was done all at one time, and the techs in the now-petrifying cast room did the wrapping, not the doc on call to the e.r. Since the season was changing by then, this saved us buying a bunch of oversize long-sleeves.)

When the cast finally came off we went to the toy store and bought the best damn digger in the place.

* * *

This story is the first story Z. ever told. First she told as I prompted/fed it to her when people asked what happened.

S.: Can you tell what happened, Z.?

Z.: Fall down.

S.: And what did Mama say?

Z.: "Oh gosh, Z."

S.: And did I scoop you up right away?

Z.: (nods)

...etc., ending in Z. showing the cast to the questioner, proclaiming its color "peupoo."

After the cast came off, at the end of October, there weren't as many requests for the story, but she would still say "fall down!" when she was leaving the garden, right at the top of the steps. Sometimes she would say it on other stairs, and she mostly wanted to be carried on stairs, even after "fall down" had mostly faded from her repertoire.

Sometime around January, she started talking about it again, saying "Z. fall down," or "Z. pushing dee strolleuh, fall down" or "Fall down dee stairs, go to dee docteuh." Falling down was definitely the topic. Being on any kind of stairway would trigger the topic. I took her to the chiroprator, who said she could work out any body/emotion stuff. Z. liked the treatment, but I didn't see any result. A. thought, and I think she's right, that Z. was just telling us about it because now she could.

Then last week she started talking about the elevator. That's right. The big, big elevator we rode in at the hospital to go to the doctor who put on her cast. She rode in it with Mama, you know, and she'll use the first person to tell you all about it. And this weekend she came out with something completely unexpected. When her cast was cut off for the second and final time, I had them give it to me. I tucked it quietly away in our bag and did not mention it to her after. She showed no sign of noticing at the time. It has been hidden in a place she can't reach. And yet, yesterday she said "Mama bring home my peuple cast in a plastic bag." (And indeed, they did wrap it in a plastic bag, long since discarded.)

Working through trauma and cognitive development, intersecting before my eyes.

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