Lou Schuler

Author, Journalist, Presenter

Posted 08/08/2009

Things Break

Yesterday started as a bad day, for reasons I won’t get into.

The work situation was under control, though, by the time I left for batting practice at noon. (It’s been a Friday tradition the past few years, usually four to six guys on one of the local ball fields.) I wasn’t having a great practice until my last turn at bat, when, inexplicably, I started driving the ball. Whereas I’d been popping everything up the first few turns, often hitting it off the handle, suddenly I was squaring up and putting the barrel on the ball.

Even better, right at the end I started getting good jumps in the outfield, catching balls I haven’t gotten to all summer.

But just when I was feeling pretty good about myself, something strange happened: On what seemed like a routine catch, a string in my glove broke. This is a glove I’ve had my entire adult life, handed up to me from one of my younger brothers, who was a serious ballplayer in his youth. It was disconcerting when something I’d come to count on as solid and dependable proved surprisingly fragile.

In the writing biz, we call this “foreshadowing.”

I got home, fired up the computer, and started the water in the shower. The phone rang. It was my wife, calling to tell me she didn’t think our youngest child’s leg was actually broken, but she wanted to bring her home and have me check it out, just in case I thought we should go to the hospital.

Kimberly had taken the kids for a playdate. There was an accident involving a golf cart. Turns out, Annie, our almost-9-year-old, was driving it at the time. (I know, I know. Trust me, everything you’re thinking has been said. Executive summary: “Kids, just because your friends say it’s okay for you to drive the golf cart when the adults aren’t looking doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.”) The cart flipped, everyone fell out, and Annie’s leg got pinned beneath the metal bar that supports the canopy.

The phone call lasted 15 minutes. I realized the shower had been running the entire time. I’d feel guilty about the waste, except when it rains almost every day in July and August, it’s hard to think of water as a scarce resource.

Kimberly brought her in and set her down on a sofa. I was prepared to be angry about the golf-cart business. I wasn’t prepared to see my daughter’s entire right lower leg covered with scrapes and bruises. I didn’t think this would be okay.

I ran through a series of mobility tests I’ve probably used a dozen times with the soccer players I coach on my older daughter’s team. Could she straighten her knee? Not easily. Could she dorsiflex her foot, lifting her toes toward her shin? Again, not easily. Could she plantarflex the foot, pointing her toe? This was a bit easier for her to do.

Could she invert the foot, pointing the toes to her left? No. She had to internally rotate her entire right leg. Same with pointing her toes to the outside — she had to externally rotate at the hip joint.

I’m not a doctor, but I was pretty sure that losing two major functions of the ankle joint after a crushing injury was a sign of a break.

We took her to the emergency room. There was a line at the front desk. We saw a woman we both recognized, someone who has helped one of our children get special help at school. She was there with her daughter, whose condition seemed a lot more serious to us than a broken bone. She’d been waiting two hours to see a doctor.

When I got to the front of the line, I said Annie had been in an accident, and we were afraid her leg was broken. They asked what happened, and it actually took me a moment to work up the courage to say her leg had been pinned beneath a golf cart that she’d been driving. Nobody wants to win the award for most negligent parent of the day at the emergency room of a regional medical center. But when it’s your kid, you have to suck it up and tell the truth, no matter how embarrassing.

Telling the story had a different effect than I’d expected. Everything changed. Annie was suddenly the top priority. A trauma nurse came out and ran through a battery of tests, checking her for internal injuries, asking if she’d been unconscious at any moment. They skipped the wheelchair and went straight to the gurney, wheeling her back to the treatment area without triage.

At one point we had three people working with us at once. A doctor examined her while a nurse checked her blood pressure and heart rate and an administrator took down our insurance information.

Within three hours she’d been X-rayed, the broken bone in her fibula had been detected, and her leg had been placed in a temporary cast.

All that was pretty straightforward, considering the circumstances. The only time it got weird was when they wheeled a body out of the room right next to the spot where they’d parked Annie’s gurney. Somebody hadn’t made it. Annie didn’t realize what was going on, which was a small blessing.

A broken baseball glove and a broken leg make for a bad day. But, for at least one other person, it was much, much worse.

Maybe we were the lucky ones.

  • Jeez, Lou. That’s a big day. I’m glad your daughter’s not seriously hurt.

    Have you turned off the shower yet? Sorry, that’s the Californian in me. We’ve been out of water since the caveman days.

  • Things brake – how deep and philosophical are those simple words? I mean – seriously. Things brake – all kind of things, alive, dead, sophisticated and simple. That reminds me that our life is just a part of all humanity journey thru time and will end so soon that most of us (the lucky part) won’t even notice a fact that they are already gone. Some things just brake more often or earlier, but it is an inevitable fact. I’m in some kind of philosophical mood today 🙂

  • Thanks for the kind words.

    I actually made a mistake in the post — it was the tibia, not the fibula. (I was misinformed verbally, but the hospital report clearly said it was the tibia.)

    She visited the orthopedist today and got her real cast. She was excited because it’s so solid she can hit the spot where the bone is broken with her crutches and it doesn’t hurt. We were excited because the doc didn’t find anything we should be worried about.

  • Great to have you blogging again Lou. This piece moved me.

  • Especially hope you and your daughter are doing OK with the broken leg! That can be so tough. There’s a web site that might help you with some ideas on how to help you and DD, it’s from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (I work there). http://www.AfterTheInjury.org. Hope this might give you a few ideas! Take good care.

  • Ryan, thanks for the compliment.

    Dana, thanks for the link!