Years can go by and you can use a word in your everyday vocabulary for all that time. Then, suddenly, a single event occurs and truly defines the word . . . just one action or emotion or series of events gives you a new definition for the word.
That's where we are with the word "devastated."
We are, in a word, DEVASTATED.
First, let me put it in a timeline. I'm being cryptic, I know, so I'll blurt out the bottom line and then get into explaining.
Middle's back is broken.
Okay, there. I said it. Tears are flooding my eyes now. But I said it. I'll say it again and again until it the words stop making me cry. Middle's back is broken. She has a fracture. She has a fracture . . . in her back.
About four weeks ago, Middle began complaining of "a little" pain in her right side of her back, but only when she did certain things. And by things, I mean . . . getting out of a chair could illicit this odd twangy pain . . or switching positions at night, but she was fine at the gym doing skills for routines. It was when she, "bent over to pick up grips" or "stepped off of a mat crooked" that the pain came around.
So . . .
I brought her home. I did comfort measures with her and it worked. Ice helped. Heat helped. Motrin kept everything at bay. And the story was beginning to wind down.
But certain things were still bugging her, so I went to her coaches. Disclaimer for which I am not being paid: Her coaches are pretty stinkin' awesome. They are good listeners and they know her well enough to see through the tough facade. Finally, the "pain" happened during practice. Luckily, one of the coaches is a physical therapist with strong connections in the gymnastics community. During one practice, he looked at her. His assessment was to see a gymnastics specialized physical therapist. He recommended Allison, who is a former coach and gymnast that now sees all the team girls for injuries ranging from minor to major. We went. And it helped. It helped a lot. She had a pelvic torsion and a single joint in her back that was, simply stated, stuck in extension. That's that. Pelvic torsion is a relatively simple fix and the back issue was beginning to resolve. Incidentally, both of these things happened last year, during a "growth spurt; and we were able to stretch and work through it. So again, the story was beginning to wind down.
We continued comfort measures at home. She had a modified routine at the gym, working to tolerance on everything except walkovers. No walkovers. Period. Stretching, yes. Walkovers, no.
Then school started.
Things were going really well.
The first week of school with a full week of gymnastics sucks. There's no way around it. We've found that the best way to deal with it is to talk about the "tired" and acknowledge the whole situation with "this sucks."
Tuesday night, I picked Middle up from the gym and she was guarding her core and working hard not to cry. Once in the car, she cried and said she was getting frustrated with activity restrictions. Competitive season begins in two weeks and she admitted to feeling panicky about not having been able to do full routines. She's tired of being injured and misses being able to go all-out. We talked about injuries and inflammation and healing time, and we talked about getting more information at her final PT appointment, which was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. She was quite obviously in terrible emotional pain, but she said she "wasn't dying". She said that her back and leg were hurting and that she did a lot of dance during practice. The nurse in me always wants quantifiable information. She rated her pain at 4/10. Not that bad, really. (Incidentally, this is a frequent question in my house. I ask her to give me her pain number all the time. It's been a 1-2-3 pretty consistently.)
Wednesday morning, she was up early. Stretching. I put her on a TENS during breakfast. She took a Motrin with her breakfast and walked to school. No problems in sight. No intense pain. Nothing to write home about. In the early afternoon, I went to school to sign her out early so that we could make her PT appointment on time and she was in pain. Not her back. She was limping. As she described it, "it all settled in my hip." She said pain was the worst it had ever been and gave me a 5 out of 10.
* As a side note on pain scale . . . I have to say something about my daughter and it goes like this: Holy, Crap, she is a Tough Mudder. **
Weird. Hip pain. No back pain at all. All hip pain.
PT couldn't do much with her. She was a spasmy ball of mess. So I took her home and treated pain and did lots of comfort measures. She likes massage and the TENS best. We got an appointment to see the team's ortho doc. Amazingly, we were able to get an appointment for the next day. But for the grace of God . . . .
Fast forward to Thursday morning. 8:30 appointment. X-rays. Pain in good control. We were dorking around in the treatment room yukking it up about her gown and super-awesome shorts when the bomb dropped.
She has a PARS fracture at L4. I know Matt was talking to us, but we both stopped listening at "out for the season". I had to ask him to pause. I remember saying, "Okay, we need a minute. One or both of us is going to cry now." And we both cried. She sobbed those enormous body wracking sobs that come from the place so deep that you didn't even know they could be there. I cried because she was crying. In a moment frozen forever in my mind, I held Middle as she sobbed and glanced past her to where Mimi was sitting in the treatment chairs beside her. Mimi's face was so incredibly solemn and full of pain for her sister. She reached her little hand out and just started rubbing Middle's back. That tiny act of sisterly compassion only made me cry harder.
On and off throughout the day yesterday, we both cried. No reason. Some reason. Good reason. Tears just kind-of turned off and on like a faucet. The trick right now is for her to not look at me when she is crying, because it sets me off like a chain reaction. However, in all honesty, there were several times yesterday when we just cried and hugged and I said, 'I'm so sorry that this is happening to you." Late last night, she was still deep in denial. "Maybe it's a dream." "Why does it have to be three months?" She had begun to put a few words on it: devastated, crushed, disappointed, sad. And she had begun to ask questions, "Do I still go to meets? Am I allowed on the floor with the team? Can I march in with them?" And she had begun to ask logistics questions about level 6 qualifying scores, how she might obtain that, could she still compete as a 7 in the spring?
This is the worst timing ever. From a timing perspective, the season starts on September 8th. State is on December 1st. Our from diagnosis day for three months means she is out from August 23rd to November 23rd. That equates to ALL of the meets, except for one . . . state. And in order to compete at state, you must have been in a meet during the season to obtain a qualifying score.
And . . . as if that wasn't enough. This morning, she is having an MRI. We need to determine how old this fracture is. It would actually be a good thing if it were an OLD fracture and she had already begun laying down new bone. Also, discovered on x-ray yesterday is a congenital abnormality at L4, so we're looking to see if the left side is dangerously thin, has already broken and is healed, or is in eminent danger of fracturing, which would be catastrophic, as then the vertebral body wouldn't be attached to anything and COULD easily slide forward. Not a good scenario.
So, this is where we are today. This is where we are in this minute. Here are the things that have struck me:
(1) Middle has not yet entertained the notion of letting this be the end of gymnastics. I have not said, "Do you want this to be the end?" But throughout her whole life as a gymnast, we have, from a parenting perspective, always, always said, "Just say the word. If a time comes where you aren't having fun, don't feel successful or feel like the sacrifice isn't worth it, just say the word." I always add, "Just please say THAT word at the end of the month, so I don't pay on the 1st."
(2) She's tough. Man, is she tough. I'm in awe of her strength, and I'm really proud of her.
(3) She's growing in a way I didn't see until yesterday. She IS able to differentiate mental strength from physical and she's able to put words on it. She's able to talk to me about it.
And, I don't think I could end this without two more things.
First, I don't care WHAT kind of parent you are or what kind of athlete your child is, everyone thinks that gymnastics moms are nuts. Everyone thinks that mothers of gymnasts are just living vicariously though their child and that they should have forced them to quit, or maybe never started. I am very aware that when I record stories of gymnastics motherhood, I might get that. I understand. Now, please, everyone else understand that you can't possibly understand. Until and unless you are here or have been here, you simply can't understand. Just try to appreciate. And feel free to stop reading. If you don't want an honest perspective on what we are going through, don't read.
In the spirit of searching for a silver lining, I must write these things:
1. A bony injury is much, much, much better than a soft tissue injury, for both the short term and long term. So, if we're thanking someone today, I'd like to thank God for a fracture instead of a disc or spinal cord injury.
2. PARS fractures are common. Common fractures are a good thing to have. It means that there is a recipe for treatment and rehab. It's not an experiment.
3. There's no spinal cord at the L4 level, so ending up paralyzed, even in a worse case scenario, isn't possible. L4 fracture is much, much, much better than T3.
4. Lower body injuries are better than upper body injuries for gymnasts. It just makes sense. Think of the arm and upper body strength required for, well, everything. An upper body injury would put her out for the year, instead of just the season.
Breathe in. Breathe out.