The Anatomy of a Broken Bone

lgg3.jpgSince 1993, our three sons have played in just over a thousand soccer matches. Throughout that time, we’ve suffered our share of bruises, abrasions, sprains and pains, but never a broken bone. But unfortunately, that streak has come to an end.

This past Saturday, Number Three’s U14 team was nursing a 1-0 lead in the closing moments of their first round match in the Atlanta Cup, one of the most competitive (and roughest) soccer tournaments in the Southeast. The ball was rolling loose about 25 yards from our goal and their center midfielder, a rugged and skilled Hispanic youth weighing about 150 lbs, began to run onto the ball to take a shot that would have undoubtedly tested our keeper in the extreme.

Into the breach stepped Number Three who attempted a slide tackle to clear the ball away from the charging middie. Seeing Number Three stepping up, the opposing player changed his mind on the shot and also attempted to slide toward the loose ball. Number Three made contact with the ball, but his opponent did not. Instead, with his studs up, he crashed into Number Three’s right lower leg.

I was nearly even with the play and clearly saw Number Three’s lower leg bend backward from the force of the blow and heard a distinct SNAP! My son is a tough-as-nails, battle-hardened defender who rarely complains about the nickle and dime dings that he accumulates nearly every match. So when I heard his painful wail and saw him flopping in agony, I knew that things were going to be very different this time around. I also felt like somebody had kicked me in the gut.

“Oh no, oh no,” I remember saying. I held my hands over my mouth and knelt and waited on the sideline while his coach tended to him, and moments later, the referee pointed toward me and motioned for me to come onto the pitch.

Now most of you know that I’m an optometrist, and although I had covered legs in first-year gross anatomy, it had been a few years since I had dealt with something so low on the body. But I do know a thing or two about triage, and as I knelt by Number Three’s side, these are the thoughts that were racing through my head:

  • I can’t stand the sight of my son rolling and screaming in agony, but this is 1000x better than the sight of him motionless and silent.
  • I don’t see any exposed bone
  • His leg isn’t bent into a pretzel, or at some unnatural, Joe Theisman-like, ninety degree angle, nor is it flopping about unhinged–all good.
  • I ask him where he had been hit. He says, “My shin!” Sure enough, there’s a black welt–complete with Adidas stud marks–about midway on his lower leg which appears to be expanding rapidly.
  • I ask him if his knee was involved and he says no. Good again.

A moment later, I was joined by our keeper’s Dad, Dr. M, a podiatrist and someone who thankfully knew the difference between a tibia and a fibula. He palpated the area and felt comfortable enough to recommend moving Number Three to the sideline. The two of us carried him there, while his shocked and concerned teammates gathered around. Coach reminded them that they still had a game to win, and they returned to the pitch and did just that.

A couple of our players’ siblings retrieved Dr. M’s medical bag from his car and we proceeded to wrap an ice pack around Number Three’s swollen limb. He was starting to settle down a bit, but was still in considerable pain. At no time during this whole episode at this so-called “prestigious tournament” did a field marshall appear to help, nor was there any sign of a trainer or EMT anywhere on the premises. Not all tournaments have these, but many do, and I would have surely thought that this one would.

After the match concluded, one of our parents did manage to find a tournament official who then drove a John Deere Gator to pick up Number Three and carry him to the car. Had there been signs of a serious fracture, I would have insisted on an ambulance, but I decided that we could probably manage on our own. I was still hoping at this point that this was a bad bone bruise, that the loud SNAP I heard was the sound of his shin guard becoming dislodged, that things weren’t as bad as they had first seemed.

I talked with my wife and told her what had happened. I told her my plan was to get him back to the hotel, elevate and ice and use ibuprofen, and watch him closely for an hour or two before deciding whether to take him to a hospital. Still, I tried to keep my eyes open for an urgent care center or hospital on the way back to the hotel. Any other time I would have seen a dozen, but today there were none in sight.

I’m glad I called my wife when I did. Moments after we hung up, she received a call from a friend whose husband had found about Number Three’s injury while attending a tournament in Memphis and then called her. Bad news travels fast, indeed.

Once back at the hotel, I used a luggage cart to get Number Three up to the room where I gave him a couple of ibuprofen, repacked his ice bag and elevated his leg on a pillow. The afternoon was generally marked by improvement. There was a decrease in pain (along with an increase in appetite–always a good sign), as well as a reduction in the swelling. He fell asleep for awhile and awoke refreshed and comfortable enough to watch some college football on TV. He managed to hop around the room some and at one point was able to put the injured leg on the ground enough to balance himself while he took a shower. His team lost their second match, and he wanted to go down to the lobby to greet them when they returned.

Later that evening, we went to dinner and he ate his usual wheelbarrow full of food. But the leg started swelling noticebly during dinner, and by the time we got back to the hotel, the pain was starting to return. He still couldn’t put any weight on the leg and I began to suspect more strongly than ever that it was fractured. But it was Saturday night in Atlanta, and I didn’t have a clue about which hospital would be a safe one to go to. I gave him more ibuprofen and determined that I would get up early in the morning, pack him in the car, and make the run back to Huntsville and more familiar turf.

That turned out to be a good decision. We made the trip in just over 3 hours (a new record for me), picked up Eyegal, and headed straight to the pediatric ER at Huntsville Hospital. There we were met by a small army of nurses and technicians who were sitting idly in an otherwise empty ER, but who quickly sprang into action went they saw they had a patient in pain. Number Three’s doctor turned out to be a former college soccer player–and defender–and the two of them joked and shared some battle stories about the nasty things that defenders do to cocky, prima donna strikers.

After the X-rays, the doc returned with the verdict–a clean, through and through break of the tibia, the large “shin bone” in the front of the lower leg. Fortunately, the bones are aligned and it doesn’t appear that it will require surgery. He applied a temporary splint and indicated that we were probably looking at six weeks of healing time in a hard, above the knee cast. We’re hoping the orthopedist will permit something below the knee which will allow for a little more mobility, but it still likely means the end of the fall soccer season for Number Three.

And that, dear readers, is the anatomy of a broken bone. Here’s hoping that our first one will also be our last.

  1. Kathy smith

    Wow! Reading this reminded me so much of when Ben broke his leg when he was 3. He was in exruciating pain for a while and
    then calmed down, so we let him sleep with us and the next morning when he still refused to put any weight on his leg, we knew something was wrong. Sure enough, it was broken.
    Thank God those things heal! It sure is hard to watch your child in pain though.

  2. Hal

    Wow. I was feeling sorry for myself because I had a cold this weekend. Thanks for putting my sore throat in proper perspective.

    Since you have acknowledged that it’s been a long time since you had gross anatomy I hope you don’t mind that I nit-pick your spelling. The other bone in the lower leg is called the fibula, rather than fibia.

    I hope that #3 heals quickly.

  3. Kevin Nowin

    Glad that Josh had a clean break and the injury didn’t turn out to be a messy one. We will surely miss Josh on the field. He was playing well and having a good season. Given what happened with Tyler’s back we know as a family and a player that it is hard to sit out any part of a season and feel good about it. But, I think that last fall when Tyler was cheering from the sidelines he had a chance to learn alot about himself and his team from an entirely different perspective. I know this can never make up for being on the field but your injury Josh doesn’t take away from the fact that you are on this team and that we need your support and will play harder seeing you at the games.

  4. Laurie

    How awful for your son. If he’s like my son and his teammates, it’s especially bad that it happened so early in the season! I know they measure the severity of an injury by how much of the season they’ll have to miss, early injuries being the worst.

    I felt a stomach jump of empathy reading this one, having felt the the terror of seeing one’s son go down. My older son used to play keeper and had a couple of carry-him-off-the-field incidents. Fortunately in his case nothing serious. He’s also been the one responsible for injury. One of his teammates got between him and the ball as he was going in for a slide tackle, and he broke his teammate’s ankle in two places. Not my son’s fault, but he was devastated. It was much harder for him that being injured himself. It wasn’t long after that that he started begging to play on the field rather than in goal.

    Thoughts and prayers for a speedy recovery.

  5. Donna

    Ouch!! I sure hope his recovery is quick and complete. I know there is no pain worse than watching your children hurt and have no power to stop it!!

  6. kenny simpson

    Way off topic, but did you see the Harding player made the Eagles practice squad? As an alum I am going to be pulling for him.

  7. Mike the Eyeguy


    Yes I did. Good for Tank (for those who don’t know who he is, click here). Hopefully, he’ll get picked up by another team soon.

    To all–

    Thanks for the kind comments and well wishes. Number Three is reading these and appreciates the encouragement.

  8. Mike the Eyeguy


    Ok, fibula it is. Thanks for keeping me straight. I told you I was lost when you start talking about below the waist.

  9. Karen

    Praying for healing. I broke both my tibia and fibula in a car accident when I was 7 (no, I wasn’t driving)… I can vaguely remember the pain. But I do remember being in a full cast for a while and then getting a below-the-knee cast.

  10. DAVID u

    Our prayers are with #3! Thanks for allowing us to share in your experience. I am so sorry!

    In HIM,

  11. Brady

    Sorry to hear about the broken bone. The story made me “quiver”. Hang in there, number 3. You are in our thoughts and prayers.

  12. kenny simpson

    Hope he gets well. I know from watching kids that are not even my own how hard it is to see someone go down, couldn’t imagine if it were my kid.

  13. Jason Bybee

    Whoa! My computer’s been on the fritz for a couple days, so I’m a little delayed in making the rounds on all the blogs. I had no idea he was banged up! Here’s hoping #3 will recup in a timely manner. Maybe CT and I can swing by and bring him his favorite snack or something.

  14. Number Three

    Thanks everybody. I really appreciate all the nice comments and stuff.

    Jason and Corey, I like Slim Jims and Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups. Mom says to call first since I’m going to the doctor today.

  15. hooteewho

    Number 3 son…sorry about the break. Dad, I felt as if I was there with you. My leg hurts reading about what all you went through.

    My Number 3 broke her arm, and I let her go a week before acting on it. I took her to a gymnastics birthday party and when I picked her up, the gym owner met me at the door and told me to get her to a doc. I felt so bad to learn it was broken, there went my Mother of the Year nomination!

  16. Mike the Eyeguy


    The funny thing is, Number Three and his brothers would be the first to tell you that you have to be practically on your last leg–reckless pun intended–to be taken to the doctor, much less the ER around our house.

    Our common response to most illnesses and soccer-related aches and pains is: “Drink some water and take two ibuprofen.”

    This time was obviously different.

  17. Jason Bybee

    Number 3,
    Not looking like we’ll make it today. But tomorrow, I promise to bring you a boatload of Slim Jim’s and Reese’s. And tell Mom I’ll definitely call first.

  18. Number Three

    That’s cool, thanks.

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