Yeah, So About that Time (Yesterday) When I (Accidentally) Popped My Toddler’s Elbow Out of its Socket

Photo credit: Meredith Carroll
Her right elbow in happier times (on Tuesday)

Peony, who is now 18 months old, and I were having a delightful day yesterday.

She cuddled in bed with me after she woke up. After my husband took our older daughter to preschool, she was tickled when I told her we could take a shower together, where she thought it was hilarious to wash my toes with the nonexistent soap she tried unsuccessfully to squirt into her hands from the dispenser. She took half of her nap in my bed instead of her crib while I worked quietly next to the sounds of her light breathing. It was gloriously sunny outside so we went for a walk after lunch, and when she realized I forgot to bring her sippy cup, she just took it upon herself to realize she could eat snow instead to quench her thirst. It was just one of those lovely Wednesdays that aren’t worthy of a mention in the baby book but contribute to the gleeful, content feeling of a happy childhood nonetheless.

Until 4 o’clock hit, that is. We picked my older daughter up from school and when we parked the car back at home, instead of me carrying her up the stairs to our front door, she indicated she wanted to walk instead. Since her most tried-and-true method of ascending stairs is crawling up them, she had to hold onto my hand in order to stay vertical. All was well — we’ve done this before — until we were three steps from the top, at which time she spotted the neighbor’s dog and got distracted. Had I not been holding her hand, she would have fallen backwards.

But instead of just steadying her, I decided to lift her up by the hand that I was holding onto the landing. I thought I felt a bit of a pop and even remember thinking to myself that I was lucky I didn’t break her arm.

And then she started crying. And clutching her right wrist with her left hand. And cradling it. And crying some more. We went inside and it continued. Crying. Clutching. Cradling. My guilt kicked in, too, knowing I had caused her whatever pain she was experiencing. The thing is that I couldn’t beat myself up for this one-time thing because it wasn’t a one-time thing. It’s an often-time thing. When we’re walking I’ll often pick her up by her hand that I’m holding when we reach a curb that she can’t quite conquer or if I want her to avoid, say, a pile of dog poop. It’s basically a lazy move on my part in an effort to keep moving. I also frequently pick her up by her hands and swing her around, knowing she loves it. If I saw someone else do that, I’d scold them because it’s dangerous. But I’m her mom and I know best, so clearly it’s OK.

Except, of course, it’s not. I called my sister and whispered, “I think I broke Peony’s wrist.”

“So why are you on the phone with me instead of taking her for an x-ray?” she asked.

It was 5 o’clock — dinner time and an hour before bed time. In other words, it was prime meltdown time, even without a potentially broken limb.

I knew the orthopedic office wouldn’t be open to a walk-in at that hour, but our pediatrician’s office was still open for another 30 minutes.

“May I just speak to our pediatrician before we go to the ER?” I yelled to the receptionist on the phone so she could hear me over the din of Peony wailing. “I’m sure she needs an x-ray, but if I can avoid it I’d at least like to try.”

She called me back a few minutes later and told me to just come see them.

We were there in a flash and sitting in an exam room when the doctor came in.

“It’s not swollen or bruised,” I said. “And I just gave her some ibuprofen, but her right arm is hanging like it’s lame.”

The doctor looked at Peony’s left arm first and then felt up her right. She nodded.

“What?” I asked.

“Her elbow is popped out of its socket. I’m going to pop it back in.”

Peony was crying from being touched, and then I started crying at the idea of what had happened and what was about to happen. If I draw blood from a ripped cuticle I feel nauseous; knowing my baby’s elbow was literally out of joint — AND IT WAS ALL MY FAULT — was enough to render me eligible for a mental institution.

But within a few seconds it was back in place. I’m not sure who was bawling louder: me or Peony. But she stopped crying pretty quickly, which made me realize I probably should, too.

“She won’t even remember this tomorrow,” the doctor said as she watched Peony laugh as she pointed out her own belly button. I should be so lucky to move on that quickly.

As it turns out, it was a day worthy of the baby book — just for all the wrong reasons.

Photo credit: Meredith Carroll

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