Hesitant Awe: A Story of Healing
She looked at me with tiny pupils, her face ashen— in shock at the state of her unnaturally twisted arm— and could only say one word over and over: “Mom… Mom…? Mom!?!” It all felt unreal. Like that couldn’t actually be my daughter with the arm that looked like an unrealistic, twisty-turvy, cartoon drawing: about halfway between her right elbow and her wrist, her arm shot out like a backwards “L”— sideways— with a hand attached at the end. When she bent her elbow to lift and look perplexedly at it herself, it seemed even more grotesque.
I didn’t know arms could look like that.
Just a half a moment before this, she and I had been riding bikes and laughing together, on our way back to the car after we had biked to downtown for a lunch date together. It’s such a rare occasion that I get such fun, uninterrupted time alone with her— so we were living it up while we had the chance.
On a paved bike path about a half mile away from our car, she swerved to avoid hitting me and, as she did so, she fell to the ground alongside of the path and her arm got stuck in a gopher hole. The force of the bike landing on her vice-gripped arm caused the break.
When she first tumbled and cried out, I assumed she was perturbed because of all the thistles that she landed on. I calmly got off my bike and put the kickstand up, reassuring her: “It’s okay, honey. Hold on. It’s okay, sweetie.” When I got to her, she was still on the ground and looked at me with panic: “Mom? Moooom!!! My ARM! MOOOOM!!!” It was then that I noticed the weird, curvy, sort of zig-zagged thing, vaguely resembled her arm, attached to her. I cocked my head and furrowed my brow. “Wait— what?!?!” was the only thing I remember thinking.
Something was very wrong here.
Instantly, everything felt like a dream. All my surroundings started pulsating and then went blurry; all I saw was my daughter and her oddly-shaped arm.
I rushed over to her and gently helped her stand up. I told her it was going to be okay, and then tenderly cradled the freakishly-shaped arm in my hands. It was just… wrong. I didn’t want it to look so wrong anymore.
Without even thinking about it, just going on dream-like instinct, I asked her “Do you want me to try and fix it?” She pleaded “Yes” and so, without even allowing time or mind-space to talk myself out of it, I gently, yet firmly anchored the top of her forearm in my right hand and, with my left hand holding the part that was askew, I pulled out and down, and torqued it back into seeming alignment again. I felt the bones cracking in the palm of my right hand and immediately thought “Oh shit!!!! What did I just do?!?!” She told me later that I made a screaming noise as I was torquing it back. I don’t remember hearing anything— either from myself or her.
Her face was colorless and stoic— clearly in shock at it all. I told her I was so sorry this was all happening. She said she was scared and she asked me what was going to happen now. I told her I was going to take her to the Emergency Room and they would probably give her a cast and give her medicine to help her not hurt so much.
Ridiculously, I asked her if she thought she could ride her own bike (with one arm) so that we could get back to the car (and then to the ER) quicker— she clearly couldn’t. She stared expressionlessly with her grey face, starting to look like she might vomit, and her left leg shook like a leaf as she stood there. I was afraid she was going to pass out on me.
A dad and his son were riding their bikes 20 yards away from us and I asked them for help. “She just broke her arm!” I stated. They said they’d “go back and get the truck” and rode away as fast as they could towards the parking lot where my own vehicle was. Confused, I had no idea what they meant or how that could help us. All I knew was that I needed to get her to an ER as soon as possible, so I heaped her on my back, ditched our bikes there on the path, and gave her a piggyback ride the whole way back to the parking lot.
She didn’t say much; she just kept wanting to drink water from our Camelback. She told me later it helped her stay awake and made her feel a little less like throwing up. So she drank water and I humped it as fast as I could without jostling her too much. On the way, I called my husband on speakerphone and let him know what was going on. He asked me if I was “sure” she had a broken arm. Silently recalling the bizarre sight of her serpentine arm and remembering how it felt to feel her bones crunching in my hands, I shivered and assured him there was no doubt about it. He told me later that he couldn’t believe how calm I sounded. The only thing about my voice that sounded different from usual was the fact that I was breathing heavy because I was carrying an extra 75 pounds on my back as I walked.
As we piggybacked to the car, I prayed out loud, thanking God that Abby hadn’t hurt her head and that it wasn’t anything more serious than a broken arm. Yet all the while my mind was feeding me flashbacks of that unnaturally crooked arm and reminding me of what it felt like to “fix it” myself… and I felt a strong, sickening lump of dread rising up in me: “What if I screwed her arm up even worse by yanking it straight again? What if, when we get there, the doctors tell me I should have left it in that horrific position? What was I thinking? Why did I do that?!?” I chastised myself.
But in the moment that I torqued it, it felt like the right thing to do. Somewhere inside myself I knew that if I didn’t break it back in that moment, while she was already in excruciating pain and having the benefit of adrenaline pumping through her body, the doctors would just end up needing to do it who-knows-how-many-hours later when we finally got in to see them, after the adrenaline had worn off. And then she would be reintroduced to a whole new level of pain and trauma. Plus, perhaps worst of all, she and I would have to keep seeing it like that— all twisted and cartoonish-looking— and that seemed unendurable.
I somehow got her into the front seat of our SUV and we took off. As I was about to climb into the driver’s seat, I saw the dad and son from earlier pulling into the parking lot in a grey truck. “We drove back to get you but you must have already left,” the dad said apologetically. I was buckling up by now, my door still open. Desperate for advice from someone, I confided: “She keeps saying she’s so tired… Have you ever had a kid with a broken arm?” “Oh, yeah,” he said knowingly. “Just let her rest up— she’ll be fine,” he reassured me. I thanked him and we took off toward the freeway.
As we drove, all my senses were on heightened awareness. I white-knuckled the steering wheel with one hand and gripped Abby’s good hand tightly the whole way there. I kept fearing someone might hit our car and, thus, cause her more pain. I wondered how long we would have to wait at the ER before she was helped. I wondered if anyone would steal our bikes that were left on the path. But mostly: I feared I might have ruined my daughter’s arm even worse by attempting to put it back into place on my own. I wondered what had possessed me to do such a foolish, impulsive thing.
I tried to make light conversation with her to distract her from the pain, but she wasn’t interested in chatting. She mostly just stared stolidly in silence during our 15-minute drive to the ER.
When I finally found a parking space that would fit our large vehicle, I parked horribly crooked. I grabbed my wallet, unbuckled my seatbelt, and started to climb out of the car. I then realized that I hadn’t yet turned off the ignition. I leaned back in and grabbed the car keys and took a deep breath, trying to slow myself down to make sure I had everything I needed. Another woman zoomed in and parked next to us, quickly getting out of her car and then running towards the ER. Between my shoddy parking job and hers, there was now no room for my daughter to be able to get out of her door. I climbed back in, re-parked the car, almost equally absurdly, this time leaving just enough room for Abby to be able to get out. As I heaped her on my back for another piggyback ride, she cried out in pain, and then we booked it into the waiting room.
We were immediately welcomed with a warm smile by a receptionist who introduced herself as Lynette and invited us to sit down in front of her cubicle. Lynette looked at me with compassion while I tried to figure out how to get Abby off my back and onto a chair without bumping her dangling, traumatized arm. She spoke kindly and waited patiently while my hands shook as I fumbled with my wallet, trying to find my ID and our medical insurance card. She nodded with understanding when I struggled to recall my daughter’s birth year for her.
After we got registered, we relocated to the nearest seats we could find and waited. There was a bare-breasted mom nursing her infant right in front of us, a curly-haired toddler climbing around her legs as she talked with broken English to the woman next to her whose baby had a small gash near her eye. An old man with a huge belly and a cane hobbled in and whispered something to Lynette; he was then escorted through the “visitors” door on the right side of the lobby.
Abby still didn’t want to talk much, but she wasn’t as deadpan anymore; she would wince and squirm every so often. I tried to distract her from her pain by showing her a silly YouTube video— she wasn’t interested. Just stared at the TV hanging on the wall and asked if Daddy was coming and when it would be her turn to see the doctor.
Eventually, a blond haired triage nurse named Katie kindly invited us in and asked what had happened and what Abby’s pain level was. Abby said 8 out of 10. After Katie left the room to check on something in the back, she returned and then swiftly escorted us to Room 11. We waited some more.
At some point, another nurse came in and asked what happened. It was at this point that I first learned about the gopher hole’s part in the break. Until that point I had just assumed Abby’s arm broke from simply falling off the bike. I had no idea the earth itself had trapped her and caused her arm to break the way it did. That realization made me feel nauseous all over again. Distracted by that new mental image, I forgot to mention to the nurse the part about me breaking the arm back into place. She left the room to go order an x-ray.
Soon Daddy arrived, kissed his little girl, and delivered a painting her big sister had sent.
Abby perked up a bit and seemed more capable of conversation once Daddy was on scene. Within a few minutes of his arrival, the nurse returned to roll Abby over to the radiology room. We followed.
As Abby was wheeled into the room, I told my husband what had been at the forefront of my mind ever since I felt that crunch of bones in the palm of my hand: “I broke her arm back into place,” I said in a quiet tone of confession. “Woah, I’m not sure I would have done that,” I faintly heard him whisper under his breath. Without missing a beat, he immediately said “I’m sure she’s going to be OK, Kristi. I’m glad she was with you when this happened. You are a good mom. I’m sure you did whatever was best… OK?” He looked me in my eyes. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re a great mom and she is so lucky that you were with her when this happened.” I clung to the words he spoke and hoped with all my heart that they were true. But I still doubted myself inside— and I knew he, too, wondered what would become of our daughter’s arm now. Finally out of sight of my broken girl, held by the arms of the man I’ve battled this life with for more than 15 years, I let myself cry a bit for the first time since Abby’s fall. He held me close and told me everything was going to be okay.
When we returned to Room 11 after the x-rays, Dr. Johnson entered for the first time. She was a fit, intelligent-looking, cheery-eyed woman who exhibited a genuine care for what our daughter had been through. She asked us what had happened and we explained. When I described what Abby’s arm had looked like after her fall in the gopher hole, Dr. Johnson looked with puzzlement at her arm now. I saw it: she thought I must be exaggerating. That was when I told her my deep dark secret: “So… if you’re wondering how her arm looked like that and now looks like this… it’s because… I broke it back into place,” I confessed apologetically. I felt relieved that a medical professional who had the power to fix my girl finally knew what had happened. Dr. Johnson stared at me with a look of wonderment. “You… reset it?” she asked, not with accusation, but with surprise. She looked back down at the arm again and squinted, examining it closer. “What do you do for a living?” she asked. “I’m just a mom,” I declared helplessly. “Wow,” she breathed. “I have never heard of a mom doing that before. And it looks from the outside like it’s pretty straight. I don’t see a bowing or a huge amount of swelling or anything. I’ll have to check the x-rays when they come in, but I’m really curious what these bones look like under here.” She looked me square in the eyes. “You are one tough mom,” she said. “Let me go check the x-rays and see if there’s anything else we’ll need to do. Then we can talk about pain control for Abby.”
She left us alone and, a few minutes later, came back with a smile of astonishment on her face. “Well, it looks like you did our job for us, Mom. You can have a job here anytime you want it,” she joked. “It looks like you lined up those bones almost perfectly. We couldn’t have done it better if we tried.” Then she turned to my daughter: “Your mom just saved you from a lot of pain, Abby. By fixing your arm right away she made it so that we don’t have to do anything for you right now. If she hadn’t done that, we would have had to reset it now— after your adrenaline has all worn off— and it would have hurt a lot more… Did it hurt much when she did it there on the path?” she inquired. “I didn’t even feel it,” Abby answered. “Everything already hurt so bad that I didn’t even notice it,” she admitted. “That’s amazing,” Dr. Johnson remarked with a smile. “You’ve got quite a special mom here,” she said, and looked at me approvingly.
I was in utter disbelief. I just stared with shock at what Dr. Johnson was telling us. I had been bracing myself for a far different set of news. She could see the doubt on my face. “Would you like to come see the x-rays?” she offered. “I’ll show you what it looks like.” “Yes, please!” I responded, and briskly followed her out.
We approached a large computer screen next to where one of the other doctors sat and she described to me what we were looking at. She pointed out the radius and the ulna and the huge, complete breaks on both bones. That was no surprise. Yet, much to my astonishment, just as Dr. Johnson had promised, those two bones were clearly lined back up to near perfection.
A couple other nurses stood nearby as she explained the radiograph to me. She asked me to recall for the other doctor and nurses once again what I did on the path a hour and half earlier. “Listen to this,” she urged. I used Dr. Johnson’s arm to explain to them what Abby’s arm had looked like after the fall and what I had done just seconds after I saw it. They all shook their heads in near disbelief. “I have never heard of that happening before,” the male doctor stated, chuckling with amazement. “That is incredible,” one of the nurses chimed in with a surprised smile. “You’re like Supermom,” the other nurse said.
I just stood there in hesitant awe.
I literally could not believe this was happening. How could it be true that my foolish, impetuous decision to ignorantly try to fix my daughter’s arm was actually the best thing I could have ever done for her in that moment?
Later that evening, as I posted a few pictures and a summary of events onto Facebook, I couldn’t believe the outpouring of love, support and affirmation that I received from so many friends and family members. Several of them remarked that they thought I was “so amazing” for having done what I did that day.
But here is the thing I just can’t seem to shake after processing through all of this: Even though I was there and my body did what it did… it’s like… it wasn’t really me. All I can come up with is that it must have been God. He must have just taken over and used my body as a conduit for Himself to swiftly put Abby back together. Because here’s the deal: I’m pretty certain I would have never done something so crazy and stupid like that. Why would I, a mother who loves her kids more than anything else on this planet, a mother who would never want to subject her child to more pain than necessary, a mother who has a tendency to overanalyze and who often struggles with fear and anxiety… why would I ever do such a silly thing like presume to know how to put two bones back into their proper places with one quick and simple movement?!?!? It is preposterous.
Yet it happened. Abby and I both saw and felt it happen. The x-ray confirms it happened. And… surprise of all surprises: it was the right and good thing to do.
Lord Jesus, I cannot thank You enough for leading me and working through me on Sunday. Thank You for keeping me calm so that my daughter could be as peaceful as possible. Thank You for helping me drive safely even though my insides were churning with nausea and my hand had to white-knuckle the steering wheel to keep it from shaking. Thank You for how You made the human body to help itself and heal itself. Thank You for whatever part of this incident was helped due to a basic Mother’s Instinct. Thank You that Your Holy Spirit is real and really does lead and guide us— even through those moments when we aren’t even aware of the fact that it is You.
You are so so good, Lord. I am so very grateful that You are in my life, leading me and loving me every single step of the way. Thank You for being with me and for being with my children— no matter where we are or what we go through.
The next morning, Abby and I went back to that path and walked back to that infamous gopher hole and plugged it up with some broken branches and some pretty wildflowers we had gathered along the way. And we told that gopher hole we weren’t afraid of it. And Abby spit on it. And we laughed and joked around as we walked back to our car. So yes: God has brought beauty out of even this as well!
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What about you?
In what ways has God used you—perhaps without you even being aware of it at the time? Have you ever been witness to or participated in a real-life miracle?
Please feel free to share your journey in the comment section below.