Sprains and Pains – an evening at the ER


Ten years of being a boy.  All those falls learning to walk and ride a bike.  All those tumbles off the playground equipment and that time he flew off the ski trail.  Six years of hockey, baseball, lacrosse, soccer, track, yoga, basketball and dodgeball.  All those lightsaber battles in the back yard and bigfoot hunting expeditions into the woods.  Paddleboarding, mountain climbing, snorkeling, zip-lining, wrestling, dog walking, lego making, watersliding and no major injuries.

Two weeks of football and we’re headed to the ER.

Waiting for the doc at St. Joes.

Waiting for the doc at St. Joes.

It’s a common enough injury, trying to make a catch and the ball jams the finger, in this case, Zane’s left index finger.  Happened to me a few times.  Happened to pretty much anyone who’s ever tossed the old pigskin around the yard.  While not particularly serious and certainly not life-threatening we felt it was worth getting checked out just in case.  As the injury occurred around 6 at night, our options were limited as to where to go.  Based on the advice of our neighbor, a nurse, we headed to St. Joseph’s ER where they have the x-ray facilities to diagnose the damage and a pediatrics’ ward if need be.

This was not Zane’s first trip to an ER.  We’d rushed him to EMMC the day after his second birthday when he got stung by several bees or wasps and had a pretty severe reaction.  He recovered with some Benedryl and mama love.  He’d also been to the St. Joe’s ER not long ago when his dad fell through a trap door and broke three ribs and punctured a lung but this would be the first trip he’s likely to remember as a patient.

So we dropped off his little brother back home with mom, grabbed a book and headed to Bangor.  We should have grabbed two books and maybe the ipad and certainly some snacks because the vending machines eat up your stray quarters pretty quick and there’s not much else to do in a waiting room except wait.

After checking in, I quickly noted that Zane was not the only young athlete present.  There was a girl in a youth soccer uniform sitting in a wheelchair with what appeared to be a sprained ankle.  Another girl would be helped in by her family shortly thereafter having suffered a concussion playing field hockey.  Later a boy would arrive with another soccer related ankle injury.

Each child was checked in, evaluated and, eventually, shown to a room for treatment. In between we waited just like everyone else.

The best was the jovial, older gentleman with the large float lure hooked into the palm of his hand.  Zane thought that was the coolest part of the night and the fisherman obliged his curiosity by showing him the embedded hook.  I got to say a patented dad thing like, “And that’s why we’re always very careful with our lures, Zane.”

What do you say about catching a football?

DAD: And you need to be very careful as to how your reach out to pluck the football out of the air, son.  You could lose a finger if you do it the wrong way.  Your Uncle Pete once lost his whole arm trying to make a catch in the State Title game.

SON: How’d he do that?

DAD: They were playing the Tigers.  Real tigers.  Tiger ripped his arm right off.


Sports are great.  Youth sports are even better.  They help keep our kids active, healthy, and happy.  They teach them about hard work, perseverance, dealing with adversity, teamwork, pride, humility, etc. and so on. And yet by allowing them to participate we are also subjecting them to the very real possibility of injury.  Sometimes catastrophic injury.

Recent Boston University studies show that 87 out of 91 NFL football players were diagnosed with CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) to the brain as a result of playing the sport.

Camden Hills just announced they are suspending their football program due to injuries including concussions and joint sprains making them unable to field a competitive team. There is always the rare threat of paralysis from a tackle gone wrong.

Soccer players suffer torn ligaments, concussions, sprained ankles and shin splints.  A broken nose can happen in softball or baseball and basketball takes aim at ankles, knees, and feet.

Cheerleaders crash onto hardwood floors, gymnasts smack into vaults, hockey players crunch into boards.

There are hunting accidents in the woods, shark attacks in the water and sometimes boys go fishing and never come back.

But what can we do?  Encase our kids in bubble-wrap and sit them on the couch?  They’ll sprain their thumbs playing X-box and get diabetes from not moving.  We can we do but hope?

We hope our kids don’t get hurt and we hope our kids’ friends don’t get hurt and we hope the kids on the other teams don’t get hurt and they get to enjoy the games they play.

And we can be thankful.

Thankful that there are nurses and doctors not very far away to tape up fingers and reset bones and we have insurance  We can be thankful our kids are getting hurt playing games and not having to run for their lives from a war.  Thankful they’re swimming for a medal and not for the shore.  Thankful some nut case isn’t shooting up their school.

Next week, Zane puts his football away.  Hockey season is starting up and that left hand will be inserted into a heavily padded goalie glove.  We’ll lace him up and strap him in and then we’ll send him out on the ice to have buckets of 6-ounce vulcanized rubber pucks shot at him.  His first game of the year takes place in Yarmouth at the Travis Roy Arena, named after the young man who broke his spine eleven seconds into his first shift with BU in 1995 and has since become an advocate for safer play.

We’ll hope Zane stays healthy.  We’ll be thankful every time he comes off the ice with a smile on his face.  And we’ll keep a few extra books and some spare change in the car just in case.


Travis Baker

About Travis Baker

Travis Baker grew up playing baseball, basketball, football and soccer. There was a brief stint with karate and a briefer one with fencing but he would not return to the glory days of youth sport until he moved to Maine and had a couple of boys, Zane (11) and August (7), of his own. Inspired by his lads, he learned to play hockey at the age of 35 and now plays every Monday night in Brewer. Thanks to a number of former students, he’s learned a wee bit about lacrosse, field hockey and track and field. When not helping out in his kid’s activities, is the award-winning playwright of One Blue Tarp and Hair Frenzy, both of which premiered at the Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor. Travis is the author of Night and the Texas Sky, and numerous short stories and essays. He is married to the founder of Maine Yoga Adventures, Holly Twining. Currently, he coaches hockey, baseball and serves on the board of the Maine Junior Black Bears as the PR Director.