I think we knew her arm was broken a soon as we looked at it. The way she fell from the monkey bars mid swing so she was off balance landing hard on her bottom with an outstretched wrist and that gut churning thud. The fact it was over concrete. Then of course the fact that her wrist was misaligned and just looked sickeningly wrong.
I wrapped her arm in Mel’s scarf and we set off. China day 1 and we are running down the street, a wailing Zoe Grace in my arms frantically trying to find the hospital we had walked past earlier. Out and about in the Chinese border town of Hekou on a carefree dusk stroll, exploring. You could throw a stone across the river to Vietnam. Then suddenly we were in the middle of the travelling nightmare.
An angel of a woman saw us and pointed us back the other way. We didn’t understand but she kept pointing and talking in Chinese. She saw we didn’t understand so she hailed a taxi, gave the driver some money and instructions and hustled us in. We got out at the emergency and checked her arm again. She had calmed down a little and Zoe could wriggle her finger without pain. Maybe it was just a bad sprain? Maybe we had over reacted? Maybe this was like a waking nightmare where you are falling then realise that everything is fine.
We thought it safer to check so we carried her in and within minutes were sitting in front of an orthopaedic surgeon who then sent us off for X-Rays. In retrospect it was a marvel of efficiency. Without a word of common language we flowed seamlessly from triage nurse to doctor to X-rays back to the doctor.
Then the reality check that she had broken her arm. The classic “children’s break” high up near her wrist where she took the impact of the fall with an outstretched hand. I was taking iPad photos and sending them home to Dad and then getting his version of the diagnosis from Australia.
The staff were amazing. Within minutes they had organised an interpreter. Not a paid staff member but the daughter of an ex staff member who they knew could speak English well. She appeared like an angel before us and started translating.
Yes it’s broken. They will need to reset it. They want to do it right now. They don’t want to use anaesthetic.
I spent several agonising minutes in discussion about that last bit. They did not feel safe giving a six year old anaesthetic. If they did they would need to do hours of blood tests before hand. Their advice was do it now.
So we went. I won’t go through it or describe it but it was the most harrowing experience of our 10 years of parenting if not our lives. Mercifully the realignment brings instant relief from the pain so within minutes the heroic, stoic, warrior Zoe Grace was asking gingerly if the next bit (the splint) will hurt. Asking what that thing is, what this thing is. She was back.
One more x- ray and the smile on the doctors faces told it all. One even gave the other a little man-hug on the walk from the X-ray ward to the hospital ward. They seemed happy and relieved. As did our angel interpreter Shirly who had stood in the room at Zoe’s head and watched the whole affair. Just the unpaid daughter of a hospital staff member who hadn’t asked to go through this at 8pm on a weekday.
Then just like that we are back in the hotel, Zoe’s arm in plaster, all a little shaken up, adrenalin, anxiety….but this certain relief having faced something that I had quietly been waiting for since we boarded that plane for Dili.
I was convinced that it was going to be several days holed up in a hotel with someone vomiting, but not this. I am a scientific man and am not superstitious but I have always quietly pushed aside any creeping thoughts of “gee things are going smoothly”.
I remember as a youngster surfing with my brother and friends. The days when it was big and a little scary. When wild outside set waves would creep in and send you scrambling for the horizon. You weren’t allowed to say “we haven’t had a big wave for a while” because invariably you would then be pounded under a violent set that snuck in as you sat there all content.
The same has been happening recently. Most coincidences are a trick of the mind. You believe you had a premonition but in reality your mind selects events from the past to fit your supposed premonition. I believe this but I also can’t shake the feeling that for the past 4 weeks or so I HAVE been thinking “gee things are going well.”
But as soon as that thought crept in I would crush it. I would stop myself thinking it and quietly touch wood because I just didn’t want to face the travellers nightmare of a medical incident where the hospitals are foreign, where you can’t speak the language, where you daughters suffer.
But it has happened, Zoe can’t actually remember how bad it was (Mel and I have asked quiet questions of “so….Zoe….what do you remember from the other night?” to see if we have caused permanent psychological scarring) and now Zoe is walking around with her little arm in plaster like it has always been normal.
And for every single stupid hindsight “what if….I hadn’t” that inevitably arises in my mind another one counter acts it. The “thank God…..it wasn’t…”
A head injury, a spinal injury or maybe just one simple day earlier so we had to face the crowded, festering chaotic Vietnamese hospitals we had seen.
Instead it is a bone that is already healing, she can still walk and explore and the border town hospital was probably quicker, smoother and more efficient than what we would have got in Melbourne. Plus the whole thing cost about $80…..
So we are back on the road. Kunming, then tomorrow onto Chengdu and a taste of the Tibetan Plateau before moving north to Xiian and Bejing. Long trains, big distances and hopefully – or the girls will kill me – snow and big mountains.