When my toddler refused to walk after a fall, I took her to the ER doing my due diligence. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I was unprepared for a broken bone and cast.
We sat on the paper-covered bed in our little Emergency Department room, watching YouTube videos of baby animals as we waited for our doctor to come back. She giggled at the antics of a puppy on-screen, seeming perfectly fine-except that she had refused to walk since the night before. She had tumbled from the stage steps at our church’s Halloween party.
I was pretty sure the doctor was going to tell me I was crazy for spending my Sunday with a toddler in the ER. But when the door burst open, he didn’t shuffle around the truth.
‘She broke her tibia,’ he said. ‘She’s going to need a full leg cast, above the knee. I’m going to go grab someone to hold her down while we put it on. Do you care what color the cast is?’
“Wait–how long will she have it on? Does she need physical therapy? Will it affect her growth?”
My brain rapidly cycled through questions. Our doctor reassured me. The cast for less than four weeks; no physical therapy; the fracture was far from her growth plates. Relief washed over me for a second. She was okay, and I was not an idiot for bringing her into the ED (does anyone else second-guess themselves every single time?). But then a more pressing concern lit up my brain.
What on earth was I going to do with an 18-month-old in a leg cast for almost a month? Here are a few things that kept me sane:
First, I had to let go of my pride and say yes to the people who offered to help. People offered to bring dinners or help watch my baby. By no means were we in a dire situation, and I felt a little guilty for accepting help.
But the truth was, it was much harder to cook a meal or get anything done around the house with a sad, immobile child pleading for attention in the background. A few friends brought dinner over, and a woman from church played with my daughter for an hour while I mopped the floors. Those little acts of service made life much easier.
Dressing the cast
One of my biggest worries was how to dress this thing! The cold weather was just beginning. I wasn’t sure how I would keep my daughter warm when most of her pants didn’t fit over her bulky cast. For sleep, I bought a few fleece nightgowns from Amazon. During the day, my daughter typically wore dresses with leg warmers and one of her brother’s socks over the foot with the cast. We also found a few oversized, stretchy sweatpants that fit. To sum it up, we made it work.
Keeping it dry
I was very concerned about the cast getting stinky or wet. I knew after a month it was going to be pretty filthy, but I didn’t want to risk getting the cast any grosser than it already was. Despite my precautions, we experienced milk spills, melted chocolate, and sliding through the dirt, lending the cast a signature grungy style.
However, I did manage to avoid getting the cast wet in the bath (small victories!). I cushioned the counter and rim of the sink with extra towels, laid my daughter on them, and washed her hair salon style in the sink, then wiped her body down with a washcloth. On a few occasions when it was raining, I put a plastic bag over her foot with the cast to keep it dry.
The stroller became our best friend. That cast was heavy, and it was exhausting to carry my daughter all the time. Even on outings where I typically don’t use a stroller like preschool drop-off or church, I found it useful to have wheels at the ready to transport my daughter and her little dead weight leg around.
Relax about screen time
I used to be fairly rigid about avoiding screen time before the age of two. I’ve relaxed quite a bit on that just by virtue of having three children. But for the weeks my daughter was in her cast, I relaxed even more. While we certainly weren’t watching movies from morning till night, I tried not to stress if we watched a little more than the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation. Sometimes, after the tenth round of “Wheels on the Bus,” we spent a little quality time with Elmo.
At 18 months, my daughter is just beginning to enjoy art supplies without eating them. I hit up Dollar Tree and Target’s Dollar Spot and found some simple projects. Water Wow books, Magic Marker books, play dough, and stickers were big hits in our house, especially when she didn’t have the option of toddling away to try something more exciting. Plenty of inspiration for fun crafts and ideas are easy to find online.
We also loved singing interactive songs like “Wheels on the Bus,” “The Wise Man and the Foolish Man,” and “Baby Shark.” Doing the actions helped get some wiggles and energy out.
Even though my daughter couldn’t walk, we still made it to the park as much as possible. She couldn’t climb or run around, but I could lift her to the top of the slide or push her on the swing. This has the added benefit of being an excellent workout because lifting a 25-pound child with a 5-pound leg cast to the top of the slide repeatedly is not easy.
Life After the Cast
Despite my apprehensions, the cast was nowhere near as daunting as I worried it would be that day in the Emergency Department. When my daughter returned for x-rays, her bone was healed and her cast was cut off. The staff courteously gave her ear muffs so she wouldn’t be scared by the sound of the drill.
I expected my daughter to be running around in glee the day the cast came off.
But the truth is, it took her a few weeks to get back to normal. For more than a week, she continued to refuse to put weight on her foot and pointed questioningly to where her cast was. When she did start walking again, she limped for several weeks and was more tentative than the daredevil baby she usually was.
However, we are now two months post-cast. She is back to her rambunctious self, none the worse for wear; this will be a nice anecdote of her childhood. And I’m back to trying to keep track of her so we don’t end up with another broken bone.