An Unforgetable Night

Tori is my gymnast. She has swung independently from monkey-bars for the last 6 months. She loves to walk up the front of my knees, thighs, abdomen and chest only to backflip while I hold her hands and return safely to her feet. Her reward for good behavior is to be spun in circles as quickly as I can spin her – she giggles and laughs more than ever when she does. She loves exploring movement and I have never discouraged it.

So, last night, when my 2-year-old daughter was bored at her 6-year-old brother’s school event and began swinging back and forth from my arm in the gymnasium while I held her hand, I thought nothing of it. With my much larger left hand holding her smaller right hand and wrist, she began walking backwards and rotating to the left. “Spin me, Daddy,” she said.

Inspired by the upcoming Olympics I gently bent down and took hold of her right thigh, just above the knee and gave my beautiful little girl a twirl – 2 times around – before gently bending forward and placing her leg back on the ground, still holding her right hand/wrist.

Then she screamed a scream that I had never heard. It was a horrendous shriek – the sound of a nervous system’s threat salience system in overdrive as her own father unsuspectedly wretched the radial head of her radius from the clutch of its annular ligament.

Immediately, she knew what to do. There was screaming, crying, and guarding – she maintained her elbow in a flexed position while she held her forearm against her abdomen. Between gasps of air, she kept repeating herself, over, and over…

“It hurts.”

“It hurts.”

“It hurts.”

“Daddy…It hurts.”

My wife and I drove her home (dropping off AJ with a neighbor), gave Tori a teaspoon of Tylenol and drove 30 minutes to the pediatric hospital. There were moments of calm – when she did not have to move her arm, while watching Finding Nemo – that were interrupted by minutes of blood-curdling screams when I took her in and out of the 5-point harness in her carseat, when she was passed from me to my wife so that I could complete the requisite paperwork at the hospital and (of course) when the resident physician reduced her dislocation.

Within 5 minutes of the reduction, she began unconsciously moving her right arm once again. She did not know that she was moving it, and the motion was subtle, but it was there. She was fine; there would be no more tears that night. 15 minutes later, she was holding a popsicle in the same hand that had been immobilized with debilitating pain only 20 minutes earlier.

On the way home I asked myself many questions, none of which have definitive answers. What impact would this evening have on her in the future? How has a predictive nervous system been primed for future events?

What would her response be the next time she came in contact with a doctor? This one was wearing a mask (a precaution during flu season if the physician can/does not receive the flu vaccine) – will she be more scared now when she sees someone else who is masked too?

What will happen when she falls in the same gymnasium 3 years from now when she is in kindergarten? Will her pain be more intense than it would have been otherwise?

Will her autonomic nervous system activity change now whenever she sees a blue popsicle?

I visualized Melzack’s neuromatrix and I imagined all of the expectations, thoughts and beliefs that were influenced by this one single event on this one cold winter night; I was dismayed. This is what it is like to be parent who thinks too much…way too much.

When we arrived home, AJ was still awake. When Tori came upstairs, her brother lept out of bed and gave her a big hug. “What happened, Tori?” he asked her. “Daddy was swinging me and I was laughing. Then he put me down and hurt me,” she said.

I am trying not to think about that.

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