The Fractured Clavicle That Broke My Heart

It’s a rough thing when your child gets sick or injured, but I know the drill.  There is a surge of adrenaline that causes you to take charge, care for your baby, and take down anyone who steps in your way.  Repeated experience just doesn’t make it any easier.

My eight-year-old son broke his clavicle at soccer practice.  Someone ran into him from behind, he felt sudden, searing pain, and Dad called me to say we need to take him for an x-ray.

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Urgent care said they didn’t see a fracture in the x-ray, and he was good to go to play soccer or whatever else he wanted to do.

Dad went back to work overnight, and shortly after my son went to sleep he went into a night terror.  I knew it was the pain.  He took a very long time to pull out of it, and was still very scared and confused for a while afterwards.  He wasn’t moving, but the pain was still jolting through him.  The Motrin just wasn’t touching this pain.  He was scared and tired.  I wanted to lie with him, but didn’t want to bump the shoulder that was giving him so much pain.  I climbed in bed with his sleeping brother next to him, so he could see me close.  I turned on audio Winnie the Pooh stories, and we both tried to sleep.  It was no use.  The pain kept waking him, despite his lack of movement.  I resigned ourselves to a night of wakefulness, and promised us a good, long nap the next day.

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Knowing an orthopedist should make the final determination, I called the pediatrician.  We would have to go there first.  This pain was no bruise, and when I compared his clavicles, the hurt side had a bump.  It was likely fractured.  The nurse practitioner saw him, also suspected a fracture, but delivered the bad news that we could only go to one, undesirable hospital for orthopedic care, as the insurance recently changed their contracts.  She rushed the referral, we got the authorization, but the hospital had no plans to see my son any time soon.  I got a call from urgent care saying the radiologist’s finding was a clavicle fracture.  He said we needed to see an orthopedist.  The hospital said it was absurd to expect to hear from them in the first week.  I wanted his fracture looked at and treated right away (as did everyone else in his medical team), before it mended incorrectly.  Was it normal for him to have so much pain?  How do we manage the pain?  When will it be safe for him to play again?  I soon found this hospital did not intend to answer any of those questions until after three weeks.  I had made several follow up calls and they said they still needed to review everything before scheduling.  I urged the insurance to make an exception and refer us out of network, but they wouldn’t allow us to get treatment elsewhere.  I contacted everyone I knew at the insurance, and the manager I’ve had to dispute problems with at this hospital in the past, and got no responses.  The weekend had begun, and we had received no care.  The pediatrician suggested going to the ER, but knew they would only give him a temporary bandage and tell us we need to see an orthopedist.  If only!  We never did sleep that day.

Monday morning came, and my phone rang.  The hospital wanted to know if I wanted to make an appointment.  Really?  We were to be seen Tuesday.  Finally we would know the extent of his injury, how to properly treat it, and what his prognosis would be.  I took him out of school for this quick appointment, but we would soon find the nightmare of this hospital was only going to get worse.

My son was feeling good, with his pain finally at a manageable level.  We were called from the waiting room, and to my dismay, the medical assistant grabbed my son by the shoulders to guide him to the exam room.  My son is an intelligent eight-year-old, and can follow instructions to “room 3” just fine without anyone further obliterating his fractured clavicle.  He had his mother right there with him, should there have been any doubt.  The medical assistant proceeded to ask him to climb onto the exam table.  It was pretty high, and he only had one arm to climb with, so it was a perilous request, but he tried to please her.  I would have helped him, but she stood between him and myself.  He stood on the stool to help himself up, but as he stood on it, she pulled the stool out.  Pulling the stool out from under him caused him to fall hard on his fractured clavicle.  I realized the extent of his injury when his face turned red, he started crying frantically, and asked for help to lie down.  He has a high tolerance for pain, and rarely cries.  He was scared of what had happened to him.

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We waited quite a while for the doctor.  When he came, I told him what had happened.  I explained that we had been very careful to make sure the fracture wasn’t touched or bumped since the initial injury on Thursday, but then a visit to this office had just injured him anew.  The doctor didn’t say anything.  He proceeded to show us our x-ray from last week, and how well the bone was positioned for healing, in a nice line.  He explained that even if the break had made the bone parts uneven or overlapped, it would still heal.

Upon leaving, my son said his pain was at a level much higher than before we came.  He said the fall did damage to his fracture.  I took him back inside and said he needed to be evaluated.  We waited a very long time, while the doctor saw to every other patient.  When the doctor finally came in, I explained the pain had become much greater after the incident.  He quickly dismissed us with an order for an x-ray.  We waited again.  We saw the new x-ray showed the pieces of bone not in a line, but jutting upward.  The doctor reminded me that he had said, even if the bone pieces were overlapping, they would heal.  I told him the bone was not like this in the first x-ray.

We left feeling robbed, degraded, helpless, hopeless, hungry.  My son had missed the entire day of school.  He was star of the week in his class.  We had planned to go to ice cream together, but at this point we had to race to pick up his brothers on time.  He didn’t even get lunch.

I still haven’t heard from the hospital about the incident, nor do I expect to.

All we wanted was help for our son, and never expected we’d be worse off than without care.  I feel like I advocate for my children’s needs, but there is so much patients have no influence over.  Like everything.  I couldn’t make the hospital see him.  I couldn’t make the insurance allow us to see someone else.  I couldn’t make the medical assistant’s hands not do what they did.  I feel so close to protecting them.  I work so hard.  But I can’t say I made my son’s situation any better than it would have been if I’d done nothing.

I miss not being on the phone.  I miss my kids.  I miss my normal heart rate.  I miss my son having no pain.  I miss the world where organizations are accountable for their actions.  I miss having access to health care.

This stuff is totally not my husband’s thing, which can totally make me feel isolated.  What happens or doesn’t happen with my son’s care feels completely on me.  But my husband is supportive.  He has prevented me from dying from over-indulgence in cheese, mochi ice cream, Flaming Hot Cheetos, Twizzlers, Dr. Pepper, those little bits of licorice covered in sour stuff, which I think is only available at the hospital a couple towns over, Cactus Cooler, chocolate glazed donuts, Funyuns, slurpees, dry ramen, boba, Buffalo Bleu Kettle chips, Abuelita, krabby patties, Skor bars, Swedish fish, honey mustard Snyder pretzel pieces, and all things Haribo.  I may be speaking too soon.

This seems like a really self-focused post.  Because it is.  I can’t speak for my son.  I can only imagine the pain he’s going through.  He’s very strong, and doesn’t complain.  I have to drag information out of him.  He says he’s used to the pain now, but it’s still worse than before he saw the doctor.  I want to spoil him, and give him things we usually hold back on.  I want him to have whatever he wants.  I can’t even think of what I can give him that would make me feel better about all of this.  I’m so grateful for good friends who share my heart and spoil my baby.

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I’m grateful it isn’t a more serious injury, and my heart goes out to the kids dealing with so much more.  It hurts to think how many kids have to wade through all this red tape before they can feel better.

I won’t say the worst is over, because I thought it was when we got an appointment.  I will say it’s not easy when your kid needs medical care.  And I wish it could be better.

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