How to tell if your child’s injury is real or imagined

Ten is a funny age. He still climbs into boxes and up trees making himself both small and tall- which of course he is. Right now he is cross legged in the laundry basket that he dragged down from the bedroom. He wants it to be a boat but instead settles on calling it a seat. I can tell by the way that he is holding the edges and rocking gently that in fact he is a boat on the water just as he was when he was three.

He chattering about the clothes as I fold them. That is our division of labor. He lugs and switches and I fold. Usually he dumps them on my bed and I fold in front of the TV but this time we have stalled in the laundry room. As he carried the heaping basket around the corner he hit his head on the wall. It was soft enough that I didn’t hear the clunk, but perhaps it was drowned out by the wailing. He fell face first into the laundry pile. “My head.” “My heeeeaaaaad.”

I know what he wants from me, this boy with legs full of bruises. He wants sympathy. Not just a little sympathy. He want sympathy on the level of his suffering which is catastrophic. “Oh sweetie” I begin. “you hurt your head.” He can tell my heart isn’t in it though and he peeks up from his laundry nest to check out my interest level. It is no good that I am folding laundry still. “My head. My head. Am I bleeding?” “Let’s see” I tell him examining his forehead. Not only is there no blood but there is no sign of injury at all. “That must have hurt so much…and while you were doing laundry. Double pain!” I have given him enough. He is back on his feet loading the washer commenting on his love for our detergent.

It goes both ways this sympathy. He collects it and he projects it. Anytime I have a small scrape he is there to comfort me. “Can I get you ice?” he asks. “Do you want me to kiss it? I’ll be gentle.” When I reassure him that I am fine and continue to fill my glass with ice he is aghast. “You sit down” he commands. “Let me do that! You are hurt.”

He brings me warm compresses and hot tea. He smothers me with kisses and smooths the blanket over my sick sleeping self.

He would make a wonderful nurse if only he weren’t a hypochondriac.

He has daily aches and pains: feet that keep him from running, lungs that keep him from breathing, cuts that will likely bleed out. It is difficult sometimes to keep up with his ailments but I try my best. In addition to exaggerated real problems there is the anticipated pain. It took over an hour to give him his flu shot and 4 adults to hold him down during a tooth extraction. During each of these events I tried comfort and then headed outside to leave it to the pros. Then stood outside the door listening to him wheedle and wail wishing they would just get the hell on with it.

Worst of all though are the injuries that he doesn’t complain about. Finally I have learned that when he is stoic I need to pay attention. When he was five he walked around for 4 days on a broken femur after a ski accident. We assumed that the kid that took to the bed with a thorn prick might not be on his feet with a broken bone. Wrong. Two years ago he broke his radius on a four square ball. He reassured us that it wasn’t a problem. Two days later I saw him silently wincing and we knew it was bad. He had not mentioned pain once and x rays showed two broken bones.

So here we were are in the laundry room and he is bored of his laundry boat. He makes his way over the cat food to the sports equipment and picks out a soccer ball. He is pretty good about not playing ball in the house but this room doesn’t quite feel like indoors. It has a wall of glass and concrete floors. So neither of us mention it when he starts working on soccer tricks. He is telling me about a new subject they are learning in math. I am listening and folding and feeling like things are moderately under control. Then I hear the thud.

“Babe” I head over to him, once again on the floor, this time his face in kitty litter rather than laundry. “Are you OK?” “Do you need a hand up?” “I’m fine Mama.” he answers. My heart drops. “I’m just going to lay here for a bit.” “Let me help you.” I continue. “No, really, I’m totally fine.” I lurk for a while until he gets up, hopping. He doesn’t cry. This is a problem.

He insists on getting his own ice but Oliver is quicker and we get him set up with ice and a book and a pillow to prop up his swelling foot. “It’s fine. I don’t want you to worry.” There is almost nothing that could make me worry more.

This morning I lay in bed with a small snoring dog and heard the tell tale clunk of the crutches making their way down the hall. There was a brave boy piloting them. “How is your ankle?” I ask. “So much better” he tells me. “I can move it.” I have to look very very closely to see the tiny twitch. He beams. “See. Nothing to worry about.”

When he insists on going to school instead of the doctor I know we are in trouble.

I think I know what we will be doing this afternoon and it will not be climbing trees.


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Anna Palmer

Anna Rosenblum Palmer is a freelance writer based in Denver, CO. She writes about sex, parenting, cat pee, bi-polar disorder and the NFL; all things inextricably intertwined with her mental health. In her free time she teaches her boys creative swear words, seeks the last missing puzzle piece and thinks deeply about how she is not exercising. Her writing can be found on Babble,, Great Moments in Parenting, Ravishly, Good Men Project, Sammiches and Psych Meds, Playpen, Crazy Good Parent, and YourTango. She also does a fair amount of navel gazing on her own blog at

11 thoughts on “How to tell if your child’s injury is real or imagined”

  1. When I was growing up, my mother figured you were injured if she saw blood or a bone poking out. I walked around for a week with a fractured arm and she made me do extra work because she didn’t like my complaining about the pain. She only had my father take me to the hospital to prove me wrong. When I came home with a cast on my arm, she was shocked.

  2. What sweet kids you have! I’m the hypochondriac and expecter of the worst in our family and the ONE time I didn’t take my daughter’s “injury” seriously and waited until the next day to take her to the doctor “because she was still moaning about her arm, GAWD!” it was broken!

  3. Knicks his head in the laundry room and it’s cause for major panic, broke his damn femur at a younger age and walked on it for four days #ThatsAMan, reminds me of young youth, monthly visits to the E.R. after banging my head against something that required stitches that I would laugh about. Get a bee sting and holy shit the world was coming to an end!

  4. Aww bless him! My sister has always been a hypochondriac and has severe emetophobia. So I was always the reverse. I don’t know if that’s my nature, or just a necessary response. It was understood that I had to be literally incapable of moving & pretending to be okay in order to admit to being ill as a child, because it wasn’t worth causing the panic for my sister. I was sick in a variety of unlikely places as a kid, due to trying to pretend to be okay. And my appendix ruptured while my whole family had thought there was nothing much wrong with me. Fortunately, one night after being ill a few days, something instinctively told me that I wouldn’t be okay if I went to bed that night. So I waited until my dad next asked if my stomach ache was any better, and casually told him it had become a very sharp pain in my right side. After some consulting of the medical dictionary, the emergency doctor was called and I was dispatched to hospital, where they removed it just as it had ruptured.

  5. Great information and suggestions. 10 must be an interesting age, as I only have a 10 month old right now! I do have experience with being a “nurse” as I taught 4th grade! You have to be the initial inspector of injuries and complaints prior to sending a kid to the nurse’s office. And, yes, I’ve been thrown up on a couple times.

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