Tips for Surviving a Broken Leg: Toddlers and Preschoolers

Did your kiddo break a bone? I’m compiling my best tips for getting through weeks of a full leg cast here. We made it almost eight weeks and I know you can too!

2020 was a YEAR for most everyone so when C was running around in the garage and I heard a loud pop followed by a blood curdling scream, I immediately went into survival mode because, well, I was already there!

During his time in the cast people asked me time and time again how it happened and honestly I can’t quite explain still. He was wearing rubber Native type shoes (Cheaper version from Target) and somehow he got them “Stuck” to the rubber gym mat flooring in our garage. It was a hot day so my only logical explanation is that the heat combined with both rubbers made it all stick together and when he twisted his leg to turn it didn’t twist with him.

After hours and hours of research after that day, I saw similar stories with rubber shoes getting stuck on playground slides and legs twisting and breaking that way. I’m wary of rubber shoes now obviously but the doctor reassured me that at this age (C was three when it happened) truly ANYTHING can cause a bone to break. Falling wrong, jumping off a couch (Which we do ALL the time in our house), or just running and slipping. as parents we hear horror stories about trampolines and playground equipment and while these things can certainly break bones — very normal freak accidents can also happen.

1. Get through the Splint Days

When C broke his leg, the first few days were total chaos but I truly feel it could have been made much more calm if I had understood how to advocate for him from the second we stepped foot in the urgent care. It was pretty apparent after I heard the “pop” in the garage that something bad had happened. It took us a few Horus to determine it wasn’t his ankle. Once we continued to encourage him to put weight on his leg and he refused we knew it was time to go in. The x-ray confirmed that he had a spiral fracture of his tibia. They put on a soft cast (a splint) and sent us on our way with instructions to give him Children’s Tylenol for pain.

This was my biggest mistake. Tylenol for pain? For a broken leg? I should’ve known better but we went home and followed orders and what followed was the worst 36 hours I have ever experienced with this little guy.

Every twist and turn set him off into gut wrenching pain and crying. He refused to sleep. Refused. He would close his little eyes, relax his body and immediately bolt awake in pain. (Another doctor later told us that this muscle relaxation and contraction that comes with sleep is unbearably painful). I laid with him and we watched movies and tried to make the best of it. We were told to call a orthopedic specialist Monday morning (his break happened Friday) so in my head I was just trying to get to that next step. But as he approached 36 hours of no sleep, I knew we needed to go back to the emergency room.

As soon as we got there the doctors were horrified to hear our story. They couldn’t believe he had been sent home with no pain medication. They gave him a steroid shot for the pain and prescribed prescription pain meds. My little guy finally closed his eyes for rest and luckily so because the orthopedic doctor wasn’t able to get him in til a few days later — and only after I tried calling five or six other offices too!

ADVOCATE!

Long story short. Advocate during this time. Advocate for pain meds. Advocate for getting him into the orthopedic specialist. The quicker this all happens, the less pain your kiddo will be in. The splint phase is just not comfortable.

2. Set up a home base

As soon as C got his hard cast on we turned a corner. The pain levels were night and day. The first thing we did was set him up with a home base in the living room. My hubs made him a little “desk” out of wood we had lying around but a lap desk would do something similar, We loved the bigger version because his sissy could sit next to him and keep him company!

Home base should include all the sedentary toys things you can find — legos, magnet blocks, coloring sheets, books of stickers, favorite books, portable cooking stove for pretend play, puzzles were our go to. My little guy is not a fan of sitting still. The first few weeks of doing nothing were pretty brutal but he wasn’t ready to be moving around yet and so we made it work. I joked with my hubs one day that I needed to get him a little bell. He was constantly calling me to get him things. It honestly felt like I had a tiny baby again. Mama was TIRED.

3. Figure out easy transportation

We were blessed that we already had a Veer wagon in our arsenal of kiddo gear, but honestly any wagon (or stroller after a few weeks) would do. In the first few weeks, keeping C’s leg relatively flat was key for comfort, hence the pillow shoved underneath him. After he got more comfortable, the stroller was fine to wander around and honestly he got to the point where he was hobbling/almost running around everywhere! In the beginning, I purchased tons of fun big kid socks that would fit over his cast to protect it but since our cast time was in the middle of summer most days he didn’t want the cast covered up. We did the best we could with keeping it clean but the bottom of his cast basically disintegrated by the time he got it off eight weeks later.

4. Cast covers are your best friend.

When they told me C’s cast was waterproof, I was ecstatic. Well that will make everything much easier I thought. WRONG. We tried one half shower with his cast and quickly learned we needed something to cover it and keep the water out. Yes, the cast dried over time but it was a really uncomfortable spongey texture that drove C wild. I also feel like the smell of a wet cast could get to be….eh. We used this cast cover and were so happy with it. We swam in the pool, took daily showers and baths and it stood the test of time.

On the subject of showers and baths. We found showers to be much easier and enjoyable. We have a bench in our shower that made things easier but something like this would also work.

5. Daily “Presents”

Not going to lie, eight weeks is a LONG TIME in kid world. We survived the first four weeks with a lot of little gifts people gave him. I would let him open one thing a day to add some excitement and after we exhausted grandma and family gifts I would wrap a new book, new sticker activity book or little lego set for each day. This was GREAT in the beginning when we weren’t able to do much and he was stuck to his home base.

By month two, C was MUCH more mobile and so I bought us an advent calendar for the remaining 25 days. It wasn’t Christmas themed, just a fun new comic character for him to open every morning and also for us to count down how many days he had left to get his cast off. Highly recommend this to keep enthusiasm up!

6. Plan outings and bring cast spray!

My home base tip above was really critical for the first few weeks but what became most important as we continued on was finding this to do. Mind you we were in the middle of a pandemic but we still worked to find outdoor, socially distanced activities to keep our days filled. We went to MANY playgrounds. And C hobbled and played his way all over jungle gyms and slides.

GET OUT. Go on walks. Go on drives. Anything to get some fresh air.

BUT… Bring cast spray.

Cast spray was key to keeping C comfortable during our summer month outings. It would get hot, sweat would drip into his cast and then he would be wanting to itch like crazy. And there is nothing worser than having an itch you can’t scratch! The cast spray has a genius thin straw that can stick inside the cast and spray cool air that stops itching. This item was life changing for us and without it we couldn’t have been able to be out and about.

7. Prepare for the cast to be…ICK.

By the end of our cast weeks, C was literally running with it on. The bottom had basically disintegrated so much that it warranted an earlier appointment. There was almost nothing left! C’s cast became part of him and life was pretty much normal. I think it bothered me more than it did him!

All this to say, if you are reading this Day 1 or Week 1, you will get through this. I remember reading something similar and laughing. Yeah right, I thought. This is a dumpster fire. I have two tiny humans one with a huge (heavy!) cast and now I have to carry him everywhere?! You will carry them and you will get strong! And you will also survive! All the hugs and all the WINE to you!!

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