My seventeen-month-old daughter lived an entire weekend with a broken leg, and we had no idea.
I know, I know. That makes me sound like a shit mom. But I assure you I’m the opposite of a shit mom. I’m an excellent, attentive, loving mom. I’m as sure of that as I am of my own name. But even the most adoring parent can miss something once in a while, and that’s what happened to my poor, sweet baby girl. I missed the fact that she had buckle fractures in two bones in her left leg.
The first thing you should know is that my daughter is a late walker. She takes steps sometimes, and there is no physical reason she doesn’t walk more often. We’ve looked into it. She is able to walk. She’s just taking her time. She might need a little PT if she doesn’t get with the program soonish, but she’s okay.
The second extenuating circumstance at play here is that my baby had three giant, bulging, swollen molars trying to tunnel their way out of her gums. That will matter later.
Was missing a broken freaking leg my finest parenting hour?
Maybe not. But to be honest, I really don’t know how we could have done anything differently. Let me tell you how this all went down.
It was a Friday evening, and my husband and I had ordered pizza for the fam. We piled onto our big bed, ate pizza and watched a kid movie. When it was over, the boys disappeared into their room, leaving the baby behind as usual. My husband ran and grabbed a few of her toys, sat down on the floor, and called her name. They were going to have a tea party.
When she saw him on the floor, she did what she ALWAYS does. She turned around, hung her legs over the side of the bed and slid down to meet him. The drop is less than a foot, and she has done it a thousand times. My husband was sitting there to catch her in case she fell backward. We were worried she might stumble and hit her head.
She landed on her feet, then sat on her butt and let out a gut-wrenching scream.
I jumped up, and my husband immediately ran her over to me. We examined her foot, thinking maybe she landed on something sharp hiding in the carpet. We couldn’t see anything, and she had already stopped crying, so we stopped looking. I thought maybe she had just scared herself. I sat her back on the floor, and she happily played with my husband for a while until bedtime.
Here’s where the teeth come in: At her doctor’s suggestion, we were already alternating Tylenol and Motrin to help with the molar pain. Before bed, we gave Amelia her dose of Motrin, and then we continued alternating meds on Saturday. She was a tiny bit cranky, but the meds immediately helped every time.
On Sunday, we took her to my Dad’s pool, where she acted like a complete angel, never once letting on that her FREAKING LEG WAS BROKEN. It wasn’t until we were leaving that I tried to stand her up next to the coffee table and noticed that she was unwilling to put her left foot down. I called her pediatrician’s after-hours line and made an appointment for Monday morning, just to be safe.
Fast-forward to Monday afternoon.
I found myself sitting in a pediatric orthopedist’s office reassuring my sweet little girl while a technician applied a bright pink cast from her tiny toes all the way up to her chubby little thigh.
X-rays confirmed that when she dropped TWELVE MEASLY INCHES from the bed to the floor on purpose, my baby managed to break her tibia and her fibula!
“Buckle fractures,” the doctor explains, “Common. We see them a lot in perfectly healthy kids her age.”
How did we miss two broken bones? Simple. Our belief that she was in pain because of her teeth explained away any slight fussiness that we might have noticed otherwise. The meds we were giving her took the edge off her pain. Because she doesn’t walk, we didn’t have a chance to notice her favoring the leg.
It was a perfect storm.
She’s my third baby, and this is our first broken bone.
I’ve had two wild boys jumping from the top bunk, tackling each other gleefully, flailing through the air off of a still-moving swing, and just generally risking life and limb day in and day out. All of their bones have remained intact. I let my last one wiggle herself off the bed while being supervised by both of her doting parents, and her leg snaps in half.
Okay, that’s dramatic. But she did break two bones, and I had no idea. That’s bad enough. I felt so horrible when I found out.
As it turns out, I should probably give myself some grace.
According to board certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jonathan Cluett for Verywell, “A buckle fracture, also called a torus fracture, is an extremely common injury seen in children.” Buckle fractures “occur when the bone compresses and is therefore considered a ‘compression’ injury. The side of the bone under compression crunches down upon itself causing the bone to crumple on just one side of the bone.”
Basically, a toddler’s bones can bend a little and not snap, so these buckle fractures happen pretty often.
They require three or four weeks in a cast or splint, and usually your kid doesn’t skip a beat. Once the cast comes off, life goes back to normal.
Usually. My girl was still in some pain when the cast came off, so we ended up back in another one for a week or so to give her time to heal. Her x-rays look perfect, but some kids just need a little extra time to get better. She should be all healed up in time for a Fourth of July pool day.
I wish I had known that buckle fractures were a thing, how common they are, and that kids can sometimes tolerate them so well that parents can have no idea! Let my girl’s broken little leg teach you something I never knew.
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