When her son broke his arm Aly found out the do's and dont's of having a kids in a cast the hard way... (Should note, Leo, said son is currently nursing a broken wrist! Boys will be boys!
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Picture the scene. My son has started at a new nursery. A great one. All the parents are new to me. We're at a new classmate's birthday party. It's a first-class party.
Everything's going well. (Although I'm already frantically re-planning his next party in my head if we're going to keep up with this crowd.) My 3-year-old, dressed as a pirate, asks unusually nicely if he can go on the trampoline. "Of course, darling," I reply loudly, to make it clear to everyone in earshot that his manners are always this good.
Four minutes later - and I still don't know how - he has managed to bounce out of the protective netting. And landed on concrete.
I rush over and he presents me with his elbow, which feels like a bag of marbles. His arm is hanging at a very odd angle.
Obviously my first concern is to comfort him and work out how to get him some treatment. But I'm also mortified about creating a scene - the whole party has come to a standstill, everyone's crowding round - and I'm saying things like "I'm sure it's going be all right, try and take a deep breath now".
Eventually we leave, in an ambulance (more on that below), with me still apologising profusely for ruining the party. That was the beginning of my six weeks of hell with a kid in a cast. His arm had to be set at a right angle because he'd manage to break his elbow as well as his arm. So to prevent you from suffering a similar fate, here are my top tips for coping with casts:
999 – Trying to get a child with a broken limb in a car seat or booster seat is pointless and painful, so bite the bullet and call the ambulance. Initially I just wanted to get the hell out of there, as soon as possible, and minimise the fuss. He wasn't in screaming agony so I thought it would be most sensible to drive.
But I quickly realised that trying to get his arm through the straps in his car seat wasn't a good idea. So, feeling even more of a drama queen, I called an ambulance.
Be patient with the ambulance people - Ours clearly did not have kids themselves, and must have recently been on a course entitled 'Communicating with Pre-School Children at the Scene of a Trauma' that involved lots of paperwork but no actual children. They spoke very, verrrry sloooowly. In a way that all the fascinated partygoers, let alone my son, found baffling and patronising. "Hell. O! [Inexplicable pause.] Have. You. Got. A. Hurt?"
There are also a lot of seemingly unnecessary questions before you can actually set off, and stop providing the 'party entertainment' that no one will ever forget. But it's the right thing to do, so take your own advice and take a deep breath.
Say ‘yes’ to therapy – No, not for you. (Though in hindsight, why not? I don't want to start having flashbacks every time someone starts singing Happy Birthday.) I can assure you that you'll get over the parental guilt eventually.
I'm referring to the 'play therapist' at the hospital. Although it sounds a bit of an odd job description, they are a wonderful service and explain the process of what the doctor is going to do, in a really clear and approachable way, taking the fear out of the whole process. If you are offered the chance to have one, grab it with both hands.
Take some distraction – Be it an ipad, book, or in our case, a party bag of course... Take something to distract your little one from the doctor, the bright lights, the scary noises and the inevitable pain. You might be at the hospital a long time, so entertainment and snacks are key - although check before you let them eat or drink, in case there's a chance they'll need surgery. You usually can't have a general anaesthetic if you've had any food or drink recently.
The first cast is just the beginning - A&E will put on a cast that takes you through the first week or so, before you get to the fracture clinic. These A&E casts are the old-fashioned plaster of paris casts we had as kids, but you can’t write on them. So make sure you ask them to do a smooth patch so that your little one can get their friends to graffiti to their hearts' content!
When you have your appointment at the fracture clinic, a fibreglass cast will be fitted, which is much lighter than it looks. Warn your child that when the guy is putting it on it will get very warm as it dries, but then it will go back to normal.
Don't promise them they can choose their own colour – they had run out of colours on our day, which made the whole process even more painful as we had promised him a blue cast. Big mistake. Huge!
Slings and things – Ask for a foam sling if it's an arm injury, as the fabric slings tend to cut into the back of their neck, which is uncomfortable. You are going to get enough moaning without this added problem. They will then give you a foam sling which will be much more comfy. DO NOT PUT THIS IN THE WASHING MACHINE when your little darling covers it in porridge, as I tried this and can vouch for the fact it does not come out the same as it went in.
If you are unlucky enough to get crutches, wrap some bandages around the handles to give them some padding, otherwise their hands get blisters pretty quickly.
Bathtime – It took me at least a week to realise that it wasn't actually necessary to strip wash him. Eventually I stopped making him (and me) cold and miserable, and I put him in the bath.
This is what you do with a broken arm: rest the arm on a towel on the side of the bath. Broken leg: sit them widthways across the bath, in very shallow water, so the legs are resting on the edge of the bath. Is it easy? No. However, please believe me, it's far better than a wriggly, sobbing strip wash, and the smell of them alone is all the incentive you’ll need to get you through.
There is also a product recommended by the hospital, called Limbo waterproof protectors, which claims to protect the cast even when submerged in water. I wasn’t brave enough to risk it, but if you fancy trying them I think they actually look pretty good www.limboproducts.co.uk . If you do try them, please leave a comment below to let us know how well they work.
Hair wash hell – Okay so here's some honesty. We didn’t wash his hair for five weeks. Five weeks. That's 35 days. But then it got so bad we were left with no choice.
As you'll know, if you're also the parent of a 3-year-old, trying to get them to do anything they don't want to do is tricky at the best of times. Mine never liked having his hair washed anyway. We experimented with three options – all of which are a two-person job:
1) My husband held him upside down, suspended above the bath, while I attacked him with the shower hose. It was fairly traumatic for us all, and the bathroom was soaked.
2) We got him to kneel with his head over the bath – a total disaster, frankly, as he kept opening his eyes so had tantrums galore. But maybe it would work well with an older, less dramatic child.
3) We positioned him outside the bath with his head leaning back over it, as they do at the hairdresser's. This was a disaster as we do not have professional hairdresser's chair, so the water went all down his back and he whinged continually that his neck hurt.
As a result we took him to a very sympathetic hairdresser's with said chair. More than once. This is one of those things that sounds like an extravagance, but honestly it's worth every penny.
The smell – It's gross. Sorry, but there's no way of softening this blow. If you had a baby whose umbilical cord stump took a few days to fall off, it might remind you slightly of that. My advice is to wash the fingers or toes of the affected limb lots as it only gets worse! We found that cotton wool buds were great for drying between the fingers and toes.
Don’t be too precious – Seeing your child in plaster isn't pleasant and all you'll want to do is wrap them in cotton wool. But trying to do so is a thankless - and pointless - task. Kids are extremely resilient and nothing shows you this more than when they are in plaster, as they just get on with it.
Trying to stop them running and jumping is futile, and will result in more arguments and tantrums than you'll care to remember. I guarantee you'll still try, because you love them, but don't beat yourself up if you can't control their actions all day every day.
Cast off – When that wonderful day arrives, be prepared for the fact that the fibreglass cast, put on at the fracture clinic, will be SAWN off. I nearly had a heart attack, but he thought it was the coolest thing ever.
You can touch the saw, and it just tickles, so there's really nothing to worry about. But the sound is still pretty scary. So make sure you talk about that before you get there, so it's not a surpise. Once it's off you're left with the flakiest, skinniest little limb you have ever seen, but that can all be sorted out pretty quickly with plenty of scrubbing and E45 cream.
I hope at least just one of those things helps you, if ever you're in the same situation. I wish I'd known more about it before. But now we're through it and out the other side, I realise that it's afterwards that the real challenge starts...how to make sure they don’t break it, or another limb, again!