A Broken Tibia & the Gruesome Guilt

August 7th, 2019 - It was my typical Wednesday morning routine. I met a buddy at a coffee shop at 7am to do some 12-step work. I went home afterwards to meet Michelle (my fiancé) and my two sons. We were going to have a boys day while Michelle went to work for awhile. My 5-year old Chase had been excitedly asking to go to the new trampoline park that opened nearby, Funzilla. Both boys had been there before and we had a great time. So I checked the website and saw that there was an excellent sale from 10am-12pm. I packed the diaper bag for 1-year old Noah and out the door we went to catch the sale window. Upon departure, Michelle’s last words were “please don’t break Noah’s neck at the trampoline park” - basically saying, please be careful. Words that have been replaying in my mind for days.

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We arrived at Funzilla, put on our grippy socks, did a quick diaper change, and went for the trampolines. Both boys were excitedly exploring the grounds as I watched in fun spirits. There was another boy that was exactly Noah’s height and they found themselves on the same trampoline. It seemed like a good time until Noah grabbed the boy’s shirt with his thunder grip and I had to separate the two. Chase and Noah found themselves on a longer trampoline and were enjoying running up and down the bouncy surface. I began taking some videos and pictures to send to Michelle as I watched my children enjoy themselves.

More people began to arrive and I noticed some of the trampolines getting a little more active but I didn’t think much of it. The trampolines were bouncy and they were surrounded by padded mats. What was the worst that could happen? Well, Noah caught a rebound bounce from a fellow bouncer and was bounced a little higher than his normal 3 inch jump. He was bounced up, fell on the trampoline, and began to cry. I didn’t think much of it. I thought he was probably scared or at worst twisted his knee or ankle in a weird way. I hugged him on the trampoline but he seemed overly upset so I stepped off and headed over to the sidelines. The crying didn’t stop though. “I have the answer”, I thought to myself, “a bottle of milk of course". This would be the key to getting baby Noah calm and back to center. He began drinking and I felt a moment’s relief until he stopped drinking and started crying again. At this point I was beginning to think he might have really gotten hurt. But the fall on the bouncy trampoline seemed harmless so I walked around a bit with Noah in the stroller. When the crying didn’t stop, I knew that I had to leave to get it checked out. We arrived at 10am and we were on our way to the hospital by 10:30am.

With hesitance, I spoke with Michelle on the phone, “remember when you said not to break Noah’s neck? Well, it’s not his neck, but I think he might have really hurt his leg. We’re going to the hospital.” In a surprisingly calm manner, Michelle said that she would meet us there.

We arrived to St. Mary’s Hospital and they saw us rather quickly. The doctor examined Noah and said he didn’t see any signs of break but that he would get x-rays of the leg just to be sure. The doctor’s words were relief to my ears. After all he was a doctor and he seemed confident that there were no signs of fracture. I took Noah for x-rays while Michelle stayed and spoke with the nurse. We got back from x-rays and then the long dreaded wait began. In frustration and exhaustion, Noah eventually passed out on Michelle’s chest.

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The doctor finally came back in and said “I’m sorry but the x-rays show a non-displaced fracture on your son’s tibia on the outside of his leg. We’ll wrap his leg in a splint but you’ll have to go to a children’s hospital for further treatment.” My stomach dropped in disgust and disbelief. How could it be broken? How did this happen? How did I let my son fracture his leg while I was caring for him? Should I have been watching him more closely? Should I not have taken him there at all? I looked over at my youngest son who was still passed out on his mother’s chest and felt a guilty sadness dwell over me that I have not experienced in years.

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The following day we found ourselves at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia better known as CHOP. After a long wait, we met with a doctor who told us that Noah would have to have a long, hard cast for 6 weeks. The guilt grew heavier as I imagined my youngest boy, full of energy, who just learned how to walk, having to sit constantly for the next 6 weeks. The doctor explained that Noah would likely need physical therapy afterwards and he would likely have to learn how to walk all over again. My stomach did a backflip once again. Just when I thought the guilt couldn’t get more intense, it did! How could I let this happen?

The story that I have been telling myself: An innocent 1-year old boy was hurt because I was not watching him closely enough.

I have been reminded that the feeling of guilt can be a most powerful one. It can lead people to very dark places and I can understand why. The guilt became so much for me that I looked to escape it. I felt like I couldn’t handle it and I normally pride myself on being emotionally intelligent. So what did I do? I slept in as much as possible. And I ate. I ate everything. I ate sugar, fats, and sweets galore. Then I sprinkled enough caffeine on top of that to kill a small person. What does it do for me? It masks the guilt temporarily until it’s back again. Eventually I know that I have to face it.

The story that I have been telling myself: An innocent 1-year old boy was hurt because I was not watching him closely enough. Is it the truth? Maybe it is or maybe it isn’t. I began to try to see it from another perspective. I asked the employees at Funzilla if Noah was age appropriate. They told me it was fine. There were other children Noah’s age out there jumping as well. I never took my eyes off of him. How could this have been avoided? I could have not gone at all or I could have held Noah the whole time. Do I wish I would have held Noah the whole time? Well, now that his leg is broken of course the answer is ‘yes’. But do I want to be the type of parent that protects their children in extreme ways out of fear? Definitely not. So how can I reframe this? What is the new story I will tell? Because after all, I do get to choose.

The new story: I took my boys to Funzilla because I wanted them to have fun. Despite my staying near the kids, Noah got hurt. This is an opportunity for growth. It’s a chance to grow closer to my son as he heals. It’s a chance to get creative with him and find new ways to have fun. It’s a chance to have better communication with my fiancé as we move through this together. It’s a chance for me to be extremely present with my children without worrying about the next hustle and grind.

That is a story that I can get down with. That is a story that serves me and my family. It’s been 5 days now since Noah broke his leg. I wish I could say the guilt has vanished. It has lessened but it certainly has not been vanquished. It comes and it goes but it’s getting easier. Noah is adapting quickly. He is already starting to crawl with the cast, which amazes me. Michelle is extremely supportive, loving, and patient, as always. And Chase is even more protective and loving to his younger brother than usual. I am beyond blessed to have them all in my life.

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Life is full of ups and downs. Tragedies and crises happen. As this tragedy happened, I remind myself that maybe it is happening for us. Maybe this is exactly what we needed. Who knows? But I know that it feels good to believe in that. So I choose to do so, just for today.

May you heal fast and have fun while doing it my Noah Bear. If anyone can do it, I know it’s you! I love you, son!

Joe Beck