By Marcy Phipps, RN, a regular contributor to this blog. Her essay, “The Soul on the Head of a Pin,” was published in the May 2010 issue of AJN.

Being a nurse has changed my reactions to situations at home. For one thing, I don’t get overexcited about non-life-threatening medical problems. I can hardly stand the thought of going to an emergency room (Steri-Strips and ice are my usual “go-to” treatment plans). I’d like to blame this on working in a trauma center—it makes sense that seeing catastrophic injuries every day tends to make less severe injuries look insignificant—but I’m not sure that completely excuses my recent diagnostic error.

My son, who’s 12, came home from school last week complaining that his hand was sore. He’d hit a wall in gym, he said, but it was a padded wall, and he hadn’t hit it very hard. Still, he was absolutely certain that, at the very least, he’d dislocated something, and that, most likely, he’d broken his hand.

To my defense, he has a history of overdramatizing situations, and I took his self-assessment with a grain of salt. Although the side of his hand was slightly swollen, nothing was bruised, and everything seemed to be moving all right.

We iced it, of course, and although hand pain didn’t seem to interfere with his usual activities, he proceeded to tell anyone who would listen that he’d broken his hand.

“Stop saying that!” I told him. “You did not break your hand!”

And so it went, for an entire week. Until his volleyball coach mentioned, kindly, that my son had been complaining quite a bit, and asked if I thought I should have his hand looked at.

So I took him for an X-ray, certain we’d be sent on our way with education about soft tissue injuries. I certainly didn’t expect to find out my son had a “boxer’s fracture” (see image above), or to find myself sitting in the office of an orthopedist I regularly see at work, explaining why it took a nurse a week to believe that her son could have a fracture in his hand.

No harm done (physically, I should say). My son graciously forgives my dismissive diagnosis, but I’m left considering the intersection of mother and nurse, and wondering which part of me I should blame for my error.

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