The summer trip you didn’t plan: Bored kids mean odd injuries and visits to the ER


“Two brothers were here just before you. They were playing Frisbee. With glass plates,” the emergency room nurse at Children’s National Medical Center told me.

I had finally stopped freaking out after my child showed me his bloody hand on the first weekend of summer vacation.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

Once the emergency room staff confirmed that the only thing lost that day was my cool and not his middle finger, I moved into the embarrassed-mother phase, beating myself up and apologizing to everyone for not seeing that little man was playing with Daddy’s Leatherman.

So, the nurses, always on hand to soothe patient and parent, started telling me the Frisbee story so I’d know I wasn’t alone.

“The glass literally scalped one of the boys,” she concluded. “You wouldn’t believe the things kids do in the summer.”

Katie Wormald does a back flip on a trampoline in Leesburg, Va. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

If you ever really want to worry about our country’s future, spend a summer day at your hospital emergency room. It’s like YouTube’s greatest hits of human stupidity.

I started calling hospitals to get a flavor for the kinds of things kids do during the summer. Turns out a bunch of the hospitals were working on their annual news releases on summer horrors — pool and bicycle accidents, mostly.

“In addition to warmer weather and longer days, summer means a dramatic increase in pediatric visits to our emergency department,” Katherine Fullerton, medical director of Inova Fairfax Hospital’s pediatric emergency room, said in the hospital’s annual safety announcement. “Not all accidents can be avoided, but many can. Focus on things that can be done to prevent injury — proper childproofing of your home and outdoor areas is essential.”

Yeah, yeah. Of course, there are those awful accidents associated with summer: fireworks and grill burns.

But I was after the Level Five mischief, the kind of stuff bored and creative kids do when school is out and they try to live like Phineas and Ferb, building nuclear subs in the koi pond.

I wanted to hear about the kind of stunts that would make effective congressional testimony for nationwide, year-round schools.

Turns out kids love to try to fly. “Jumping on beds and bouncing out windows, jumping out of trees, off of roofs, off stairs, off of swings,” said Joanna Fazio, a spokeswoman for Inova Hospitals in Virginia.

Of course, the Superman phenomenon isn’t new, but Bucky Balls are.

“We are seeing so much of that right now, the Bucky Balls,” said Vivian Hwang, an emergency room doctor with Inova Fairfax in Falls Church.

Bucky Balls are one of those Brookstone-type desktop magnetic toys, a stupid gift you give your boss.

Then, when the summer child care falls through and it’s a bonus bring-your-kid-to-work day, your toddler gets bored with the office-supply cabinet and the Bucky Balls start to look yummy.

“One magnet isn’t a big problem,” Hwang said. “But two magnets are bad.”

They end up attaching inside the child, clamping the stomach or intestinal walls.

Also on the summer menu: Desitin, spare change and grandma’s pills when children spend days at her place, Fazio said.

There was “one story of a girl biting her sister to the point of needing stitches,” Fazio said as she continued the laundry list.

“Electricity. Stories upon stories of kids blowing themselves across the room by sticking metal objects in outlets.”

And the top award for stupid?

A leg fracture that happened while a 10-year-old girl was aggressively trying to get on a pair of skinny jeans.


There are also lawn darts. Kids decide to launch all kinds of aerodynamics tests with them.

Stephen Teach, associate chief of emergency medicine at Children’s Hospital, said he’ll never forget the most tragic lawn-dart launch: It fell on top of a child’s head, with deadly results.

Trampolines are also on the ER’s top 10 elimination list.

By themselves, they are delightful. But take one bored kid who suggests soaping the whole thing up with Dawn dishwashing liquid, or another who thinks he can use it to slam- dunk but turns his face into pulp when hitting a wall, and you have a hateful backyard thing.

My husband loves telling the story of his cul-de-sac childhood take on the trampoline: the mallet dance. “All the guys put a giant, steel mallet on the trampoline, and then we’d bounce around, trying not to get hit by it.”

Human Whac-a-Mole.

And I thought Dad’s tools were my biggest worry.

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