Cast Chronicles: Helping Your Child Adjust to Life With a Broken Bone

One of my biggest nightmares as a mother came true two weeks ago when our daughter Marleigh (age 6.5) tripped in the back yard and broke her arm. Three days, one surgery with two pins, and a cast later, here we are.

The fall and break (supracondylar humerus fracture) happened at around 8:30 on a Saturday morning and we didn’t get an appointment with the pediatric orthopedic surgeon until Tuesday, which gave me way too much time to do “medical research” on Google. I searched for everything from how they administer anesthesia to kids, to what types of t-shirts are easiest to fit over a full arm cast for when she eventually returns to school and is required to wear “real clothes” instead of pajamas.

In my searches, I found that while there are a lot of medical articles on how bones break and heal, there were very few resources for helping kids actually deal with their injuries – and even less information for parents and caregivers on the recovery process.

Although I’m admittedly still very much a broken bone newbie, I figured I could shed some light on a few things I’ve learned thus far in our road to healing.

  1. Sending your kid off to surgery, no matter how “routine”, is terrifying. They definitely don’t prep you for this in the online medical journals. I shed more tears than Marleigh did on the day of her surgery, and the first day home after her procedure was hard on all of us (obviously, mostly on her). This whole thing is accompanied by a serious learning curve, of which I’m still trying to figure out.
  2. Breaking a bone is scary for kids. Having never broken a bone before, I had no idea what to expect with Marleigh’s recovery. The first few days after her surgery were rough, to say the least. Along with the physical pain of her broken arm, she had some serious apprehension about moving or repositioning herself to reduce swelling or find comfort. I was very worried about this for the initial 2-3 days after her procedure. We eventually let Marleigh somewhat lead the way with how many pillows were comfortable for elevation and allowed her to take her time, within reason, when it came to adjusting her arm. After 3-4 days, she was in a lot less pain and much more willing and able to lift her broken arm into an elevated position. The swelling in her hand went down significantly as a result, which was a huge relief.
  3. Having a kid in a cast is expensive. And no, I’m not just talking about co-pays and medical bills (Thank God for health insurance!). We quickly realized that Marleigh would be needing quite a few things to help her out for a month+ of healing. In addition to spoiling her with pretty much anything her heart desired the day of her surgery, we’ve had to purchase several items to help her adjust to living one-handed. So far, washi tape to hold coloring sheets in place, new puzzles and activity books, and extra soft washcloths for sponge baths have helped to make life easier for her. We also ordered a fun sling for her to wear since she wasn’t able to have the bright pink fiberglass cast she was hoping for; and we’ll likely need to buy some looser clothing (with no buttons!) for when she returns to school so we can get her dressed easily in the mornings and she can go to the bathroom unassisted when she’s not at home. Cha-ching!
  4. Giving into screen time is okay. I’m not usually one to let our kids park in front of the TV for hours at a time, but especially for the first week of post-op, we let Marleigh lounge and binge watch almost as much TV as she wanted. We also bought both kids an Amazon Fire tablet for Easter, which we ended up giving them early to serve as a welcomed distraction when Marleigh started feeling emotional or when the pain was getting the best of her.
  5. Breaking a bone is hard on everyone in the family. Obviously, Marleigh is feeling this the most (literally), but having her in a cast has definitely taken its toll on us, too. Both my husband and I have been up nearly around the clock checking on her, re-situating her pillows, giving her medicine, and worrying about her; her little brother is desperately missing his favorite playmate; and we could all benefit from some extra time to clean the house and do laundry!
  6. Remember that this too shall pass! Now that we’re a little over a week past the initial injury and surgery, Marleigh is back to doing almost everything she normally could, albeit with one functioning arm and hand.

Moral of the story: The first week after your kid breaks a bone, you will feel like you’re deep in the trenches. There will be a lot of tears, a lot of pain, and a whole lot of learning. But I’m here to tell you that it gets easier! Kids are so resilient, and if your situation is anything like ours, your child will amaze you at how well they cope with their new temporary normal.

If you have experience with helping a kid deal with a broken bone and cast, please feel free to comment below with any additional advice you have to offer! Here’s to fast healing for your kiddo, and strong coffee for you, mama!

Samantha is the founder and owner of Her friends call her Sam, Sammi, or Sammi Jo. Her two favorite people call her “Mommy.” Follow along with her ramblings on Twitter and Instagram, or on her personal blog, Kin + Kindling.

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