Why does every family have an injury prone child?

Bandaids at the ready.
Bandaids at the ready. Photo: Shutterstock

Anyone who grew up with siblings can probably point the finger at the one most likely to end up in emergency. I was one of four children, and in our house, that injury-magnet was my younger brother – the third child. Throughout our childhood, blood or blood-curdling screams were mostly credited to him. Some of his more prominent injuries are imprinted on my memory.

There was his broken arm, that my mother initially thought was a bee sting. He was screaming in so much pain and he couldn't tell her what happened. She violently undressed him hoping to extract the sting, his arm flinging about, only to discover his radius bone at a right angle. Off to emergency, back home with a cast. Boys and tree-climbing: such a clichéd injury.

Not one to succumb to stock-standard childhood injuries, he upped the stakes, literally, by slicing his brow bone running into a garden stake. He was insistent that I contextualize this with the fact he was told to 'watch the ball' whilst playing backyard footy, and because he diligently followed that instruction, he did not watch for stray metal posts rising out of garden beds. Result: stitches and a nice brow scar.

One of the favourite family stories though, is a Christmas night injury. My brother decided he'd cut himself a bit of leftover roast meat. With all the adults too jolly to notice a young boy with a big knife, he wasn't guided through the safest way to cut. Instead of facing the knife away, he sliced towards his resting hand and slipped. Nothing like the sight of exposed bone to sober up the adults. A lovely deep incision all the way through skin, muscle, and tendon ended in a taxi trip to emergency, a blood-soaked Christmas tea towel and some pretty intricate stitches.

Now I'm the mother of four, I can safely say all our children have had their fair share of bruises and cuts, but there is one stand out. Our third child.

At three days old, the hospital staff discovered our son had a broken arm. Yes, three days old. The doctors struggled to find a clear cause as it was not present at birth. The assumption was made that an awkward turn by a midwife, while my son was in the humidicrib under lights, may have caused an oblique fracture. Although very distressing at the time, it healed quickly and he now uses that arm just fine to punch his older brothers. Obviously, he didn't break his own arm as a newborn, but what that initial injury did do was set up years of unassociated injuries and therefore prompt the question: was this kid injury-prone from birth?

He bit through his tongue as a toddler walking down some stairs, chewing on a piece of bread. There was enough blood for a homicide squad to suspect a massacre. No stitches, just a swollen face and mouth for a week while it healed. He still has a tiny flap where it didn't quite close over, which we've assured him will come in handy as a party trick later in life.

Riding his new bike, unaccustomed to hand brakes, he went barreling down a hill and smashed into a playground fence at high speed. Despite wearing a helmet, the wire fence paling slashed a tidy line down his forehead that required stitches. Melbourne Cup Day, of course. Public holidays are synonymous with emergency department visits (often in taxis).

I actually took him to the doctor at one stage because he had so many bruises on his shins, I thought perhaps he had some kind of bleeding disorder. The doctor assured me, 'He's a boy who runs everywhere. There will be bruises.' Thankfully he didn't think I needed to be reported to Child Services either.

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Kristy is a Melbourne mum of three, her third child Zara (I see a pattern forming), is only four but has already had two major accidents, including a dog bite on the face that required plastic surgery and a cracked head from a playground fall that needed stitches. Zara is the child with her head squished through fences searching out a yapping dog, and the one most likely to clamber to the top of the climbing frame.

It does make me wonder what is it about these kids? Are they simply attracted to danger and therefore more likely to sustain an injury? Are they klutzes who also trip over fluff and walk into poles? Are they spatially challenged, perhaps?

Kristy doesn't think Zara is necessarily injury-prone or clumsy, simply that "she's full of confidence with very little fear!"

I don't think my third son is clumsier than his siblings either. He doesn't show more daredevil tendencies, or seek out higher risk adventures. My only explanation is that he is unlucky. So even though he has clocked up a broken bone and stitches in his nine years, we are not on a first-name basis with the emergency department personnel, and we don't yet have to leave the Medicare card when we drop him off to play at a friend's house. Knock on wood (and hope for no splinters).

Do you have an injury-prone child? Is it your third child, by any chance?