'Sunburn' is clue to young daughter's hidden injury

August 15, 2013|Amy Dulebohn

When I arrived to pick up my daughter from the baby-sitter on a recent Friday evening, my 3-year-old met me with an unusually grumpy demeanor. She told me she fell off the couch while napping. My sitter said her young daughter saw my little one roll to the floor and hit her head on the coffee table.

Although she was grouchy from her nap gone bad, my daughter insisted her head didn’t hurt, so I scooped her up and headed to the car.

As I sat her in her car seat, she began to scream. She did not fuss, she did not cry, she screamed. I surmised she was just reacting to being tired. When we got home and I unfastened her harness, she screamed again. We better take it easy tonight, I thought, as I carried her into the house. When it was time for her bath, she told me her arm hurt, and she didn’t want to get it wet.

I thought I examined her left arm and shoulder carefully. I noticed there were a few streaks of pink on her tan skin around her shoulders. We are conscientious about applying sunscreen, and it had been an especially hot day, so I thought her pain could be attributed to sunburn.

I covered her shoulders carefully in an aloe-based cream and put her to bed. A few hours later, she woke up crying. Because she’s not susceptible to sunburn, I thought she must be sensitive to the uncomfortable sting.

We had a full slate of activities planned for the next day. And, every time we had to get in or out of the car, my daughter would cry and ask if she could just stay buckled up. “Wow, that sunburn is really getting to her,” I thought.

Things were not much better the next day. By evening, all traces of sunburn were gone, but she again begged me not to get her arm wet in the bathtub. I thought back to the baby-sitter telling me how my daughter tumbled off the couch on Friday. Finally, the long-overdue light bulb flicked on. She had hurt herself — badly — but presumably not on the head.

I went into a near-panic as I asked her to raise and move her arm, and she could barely lift it above her waist. Her left shoulder drooped as she stood, a look of defeat in her usually shining blue eyes; her little pink lips turned down forming a frown replacing the smile that normally adorns her face.

With books and toys to entertain her, and my sister along to emotionally support me, we headed to the emergency room, where I expected to be told she had a broken collar bone. The triage staff quickly ascertained that she needed X-rays, so we were ushered into a private waiting room with a private TV. I have to say, at that point, I couldn’t have asked for a better emergency room experience.

Soon, my daughter stood bravely for the series of X-rays in a cold, dark room, a heavy lead vest wrapped around her tiny waist.

From there, more waiting until at last, the doctor arrived, X-rays in hand. He informed us she had a tiny fracture in her left collar bone. He told us she would need to wear a splint, and referred us to an orthopedic doctor.

We saw the specialist for the next afternoon. We were told the crack would likely heal well on its own, but to keep her in the sling for three weeks and limit her activity.

Perhaps he has not spent much time with 3-year-olds.

At first, she was still in enough pain that his orders were easy to comply with. But after about the first week, she was feeling better, and keeping a handle on her activities was not so easy to do.

But we got through it, and the three weeks have come and gone. We returned to the specialist this week, who “graduated” her from his care, but cautioned she should still take it easy — no running, jumping or trampoline use for another two weeks. We’ll see how that goes.

We’re lucky the injury wasn’t any worse. People ask me if I’m angry at the baby-sitter for letting her sleep on the couch in the first place. Not at all. Accidents happen. I’m more angry at myself for going a full weekend without realizing my daughter had a serious injury. Hopefully next time she gets hurt, and no doubt there will be a next time, I’ll be more tuned in.

First-time mother Amy Dulebohn is a page designer and feature writer at The Herald-Mail. Her email address is

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