I remember the day perfectly. It was a gorgeous, early spring day in Upstate New York. My then 18-month old son and I were at the playground near our house playing and enjoying the beautiful sunshine. I had brought my camera and was snapping pictures of him swinging and having fun playing. At this moment in time he had been walking for a few months but was getting faster and more steady on his feet each day.
After spending some time enjoying the swings we proceeded to the slide. It wasn’t a huge playground or even that big of a slide but my son was still little enough that I enjoyed going down the slide with him. This was not the first day we had gone down the slide together, either. I had done it before at other parks and probably several times at this particular park as well. We went down together, him on my lap, a few times before “it” happened. Then one uneventful trip down the slide and I heard some crying. I looked up and realized my son’s leg had gotten tucked up under us from the force of gravity going down the slide. He screamed. A lot. I immediately worried that something had happened to his leg. His right leg to be exact. He was screaming so hard. I immediately put him into the car seat and drove home, praying the crying would stop. It didn’t. But it was close to nap time and I knew he was tired. I decided I would try our regular nap routine and see what happened. He calmed pretty easily once we got to his room and fell asleep as usual. Whew, I thought. Maybe his leg was going to be okay. Surely he wouldn’t have fallen asleep so quickly and easily if his leg was broken, right? I quickly called my husband at work and told him what happened. We both agreed it was good that he had fallen asleep and decided we would assess how he was as soon as he woke up.
It was probably the first (and last) time I ever hoped he would take a quick nap but I paced around the house waiting for him to wake up. As soon as he did the crying resumed. I could immediately tell he was in pain. It wasn’t just the normal post-nap crankiness we are all used to. I didn’t even try to let him walk. I decided it was time to head to urgent care and get some x-rays. Several hours later my fears were confirmed: he had a broken tibia. He would require a cast from his toes to his hip bone for 4-6 weeks. The orthopedic surgeon wasn’t available that night to put the actual cast on so we were given an air cast for the night and directed to see the doctor first thing in the morning for the actual cast. My son didn’t do much sleeping that night (of course, he had this awkward air cast on and was in a ton of pain) and I didn’t either. I couldn’t shake the reality of what had happened:
I had broken my son’s leg.
It was the truth. Of course I hadn’t done it on purpose. But still. In my loving care and custody it had happened. And I was a wreck about it. He was in so much pain and the whole process was so traumatic for him, from the x-rays to getting the actual cast put on, to not being able to walk around anymore. It was excruciating to watch. I just felt so guilty. I had done everything I could over the past 18 months of his life to protect him and love him in every way possible. How could this have happened? And of course he was too little to truly understand WHY he wasn’t able to move around freely anymore or walk. It was just so difficult for all of us.
The morning after the incident we went to see the pediatric orthopedic surgeon to have the cast placed on. The doctor could tell how upset I was. Then he said something that really caught me off guard. He asked me whether his injury happened on the slide. I confirmed it did. He proceeded to tell me that my son’s injury is an extremely common (albeit preventable) injury that happens to children during the warmer months. He said he sees this particular injury all of the time. He told me that well-intentioned parents place their children on their laps when they go down the slide and experience the same thing that happened to us. I was shocked. No one had ever told me not to do that. And I was sure I had seen plenty of other parents do the same thing. How was something like this not in my parenting books? I was one of those crazy first-time parents that had read every article and tried my hardest to do everything perfectly. How did I miss this one?
So the moral of the story is this: kids should navigate the slide on their own. I learned this lesson the hard way but try to tell as many parents as I can about our experience in the hope that it will not be repeated. My son, now three and a half years old, is doing just fine and shows absolutely no lingering effects from his broken leg. We were lucky that he only had to keep it on for the minimum time period of four weeks. Although those were four very long weeks for all of us! But kids are so resilient. Despite having a full leg cast on from his tippy toes to his hip he was actually walking around by the end of the whole experience.