Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Living with a Hip Spica Body Cast

I wanted to jot this stuff down before baby comes. Life with a toddler in a hip spica cast is no picnic, and we wished we had known about some of this stuff from the beginning instead of stumbling upon ideas after weeks of struggling through. In case other parents, like us, are searching online for ways to make life a little easier for those 6-8 weeks I wanted to make note of some things that helped us.

Anyone in a cast will start to smell, it's just too hard to keep perfectly clean all the time. But a two-yr-old still in diapers? That's a whole different kind of stench! We started out giving Cody sponge baths as the cast brochure suggested, but realized a complete soak in the tub every 2-3 days was a better option. He could be scrubbed down with soap while playing with toys almost weightless in the water - it's  probably the only time when he doesn't feel weighed down by the cast. The down side to full baths is that Monte has to get in there with him as he's too tricky to man-handle from outside the tub, and it takes a good 30 minutes to dry his cast between letting him drip dry to toweling him down to using a hair dryer to eliminate moisture inside the cast. Baths are a good 45-minute, 2-person process. We also discovered that while we weren't allowed to put powder or lotions on his skin under the cast, we could sprinkle some baby powder on the outside of the cast, to the parts that were particularly stinky. It didn't take away the stench completely, but it did take it down a notch or two.

At first we would take turns doing other things while one of us just watched him to make sure he wasn't going to slip out of the kid-sized camping chair we had carefully set him in. We soon realized that our poang chair from Ikea was the ideal shape and angle for Cody, stuffing towels/blankets under his legs, bum and back to accomodate him at the 45 degree angle he'd been set in. Someone built a tray with extendable legs for him, to set over the arms of the chair so he can play with toys, colour and eat finger foods without assistance. We also realized quickly that even though the angle he's at doesn't allow him to either sit or lie down, he was still very comfortable playing on his tummy. He even started scooching himself around as his leg started to heal, and you could tell he enjoyed having a little sense of freedom.

Bodily functions posed a number of problems, even though we double-diapered him as the hospital suggested (a size 3 diaper inside and a size 5 or 6 on the outside). We'd pick him up out of bed and he'd be dripping pee everywhere out the sides of his diaper. We'd set him on his tummy to play and pee would either leak up the front of the diaper or up the front inside of the cast, soaking his shirt and the floor beneath him. We learned that tucking the large diaper on the outside into the leg parts of the cast (so it sealed around his skin) kept from leaking out the bottom, and a cloth stuffed down between his tummy and cast would catch pee from leaking out up top, and always having him lie on a towel would keep me from having to scrub the carpet from constant smelly messes! It's been a lot of laundry, but much easier to throw everything into the washer than to take a rag, water and cleaner to the floor when you're 8 months pregnant!

We couldn't figure out for the longest time the best way to feed him meals... we wanted him to be part of the family at the table but there didn't seem to be an option that worked. So we usually had him sitting on our lap, on a towel (to catch pee leaks!) so he could feed himself for the most part and feel included. The down side to this, for us, was that Cody is a very slow, picky eater and so most mealtimes last a good hour for him with us constantly motivating him to eat. An hour with a 50 lb toddler on your lap will get very uncomfortable and annoying! We finally figured out that an office chair with armrests and an adjustable height would allow him to sit on his own at the table. We have to help him eat, but it's a much more freeing alternative than having him keep you a prisoner at the table on your lap for forever! And, with a big brother around to liven things up, a ride around the main floor in an office chair on wheels will keep two otherwise very bored boys occupied for a good amount of time.

Nightmares. Nobody told us that nightmares are quite common in younger kids after going through a bad break like Cody's. He slept great the first few nights home, but then soon after that he was up screaming and crying every hour to every 10 minutes. We were getting almost no sleep which was making life during the day unbearable. We started talking to Cody about what happened, how his leg had owies caused by his brother, but it was an accident and Nate loved him very much and soon the owies would go away. We'd talk about it throughout the day, whenever Cody complained about the pain in his leg, and then again whenever he'd wake up with nightmares. It didn't occur to us at the beginning that he'd need to mentally process what had happened, but it makes sense to us now. It must've been pretty scary and traumatic for him but since he can't talk much we just didn't realize how important it was to work through it with him. Monte ended up sleeping on his floor for about a week, so he was there to catch the nightmares before they erupted into full screaming episodes, and they eventually went away after a few weeks. A fellow mom who's a public health nurse suggested looking into the infant mental health program offered, most likely through the health unit. We would've pursued that had he not gotten over the nightmares when he did. There are apparently health workers trained in "counseling" kids that are too young to talk through traumatic experiences, and it's usually done through therapeutic play. Something else we had no idea about until we were pretty much out of that stage.

We have hopefully only another week and a half left in the cast - we're excited to get out to BC Children's on the 22nd and see what they have to say (and hope that the baby doesn't decide to arrive around that time!).

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Latest Baerg Happenings

Life has not felt normal here at the Baerg household, not for months. We sold our house - the one Monte grew up in and the one we had planned to stay in until the boys grew up and moved out - and moved into a house with a suite that would accomodate Monte's parents as well. This move happened at the beginning of December, just in time to add to the chaos of Christmas! We were blessed to have Monte's sister and her family out from Quebec for two weeks for the holidays, but having just moved our home never quite felt "settled." Our dog ran away two weeks before moving and got hit by a car, so she was a nervous wreck for about a month! And I was working part-time from home for Focus again, plus making a go of my etsy shop and growing another baby boy in my belly! Nope, not normal life for us at all and it just kept going...

Between the four of us, we'd all been fighting a cold or flu of some kind since the middle of November. Antibiotics, inhalers and loads of tylenol for the littlest guy with a double ear infection - we were not in the best of state and looking back most likely our immune systems were probably extra-susceptible to sickness with all the changes/stress going on in our lives. So sleep was a rarity in our house and the lack of it was starting to catch up with all of us. I had started the morning habit of having the boys play quietly in their room while I took my time getting up and ready for the day... I'm not a morning person at the best of times, let alone pregnant, sick and sleep-deprived! One February morning as I was slowly waking up I heard Cody screaming and crying. Nothing new in our house, since he still can't communicate well and therefore resorts to outbursts that sound like murder but are much less extreme in reality. I've gotten used to tuning out some of his screams, and have been trying to let the boys work things out on their own as much as possible since in just a couple month's time I'll have another little guy to tend to. I remember saying to a friend recently "at least they're not at the age where they can physically hurt each other." Boy, was I wrong. After a few minutes of tuning out Cody's non-stop crying, I ran to the bedroom to see what was the matter. He was on the floor pointing in pain to his leg while Nate tried to help him up. Nate explained he had wanted Cody's Iron Man toy but he wouldn't give it to him, so he yanked on his leg and Cody fell. I tried to pull Cody up on his feet to see just how hurt it was, but he refused to put any weight on it and fell into my arms screaming. After changing his diaper and removing his jammy pants through pain-filled cries, I called Monte realizing I'd be making an improptu trip to emergency. Thankfully Monte ran right home and took Cody himself, and Nate & I met up with them there about a half hour later. X-rays showed a terribly long spiral fracture of his femur (thigh bone) - one of the worst breaks he could have.

And there the nightmare began. Would he need surgery? Just a cast? Should he be transferred to BC Children's hospital? Enter social worker number one. We were questioned about the leg break and then informed that we would each be interviewed by Child Protection Services, both together and separately, and with police present, asap. Suddenly I was not allowed to be left alone with my kids - Nate particularly since Cody was admitted at the hospital so there would be enough nurses around to "protect" him from me, should I be an abusive mother. Just a little later I spent a good hour away from comforting my son (who was lying in peds in so much pain despite the constant flow of morphine to his little body) to answer to two workers from Child Protection as to what kind of mother I am and the events of that day. Monte followed in his own interview, while I went back to Cody's room to have a good sob. It was just such a slap in the face, and humiliating, not to mention that it took both of us away from being there for our frightened little 2-yr-old. A nurse caught me in the midst of my breakdown and was thankfully much more sympathetic than the social workers, as I blubbered on through sobs about how I wasn't a terrible mother and please don't let their views of us as potentially abusive parents affect how they take care of Cody. It was one of the longest days of my life, not knowing if they might suddenly decide to take one or both of our boys away from us during the investigation.

Almost nine hours after being admitted we finally saw an ortho surgeon who wanted to just slap a cast on Cody's thigh and send him home that night. Monte fought to have him transferred to Children's as we discovered they had a surgeon who specialized in recognizing bone breaks from abuse - it was our hope to immediately clear our names and move past the investigation, since we had nothing to hide. So by ambulance around 10pm Monte & Cody went to Children's in Vancouver where they quickly saw a pediatric ortho surgeon who had a very different opinion of what Cody would need to recover properly. Three to four days in traction, minimum, and a cast that would enclose half his body. Thankfully the next morning they discovered just how well the bones had lined back up and felt traction wasn't necessary. And the surgeon specializing in child abuse saw Cody and confirmed that Nathan could have in fact caused the break, the first and most important step in clearing our names.

Meanwhile, I had to have my mom come stay overnight with Nathan and I so someone could witness my every interaction with him, as per Child Protection Services. And both he and I needed to be questioned by the police before they could consider me a suitable guardian for him again. The worst part was that Nate wasn't allowed to have anyone else present in the interview and it had to be done at the police station - he was so scared, it took me 45 minutes just to convince him to talk to the detective alone. But he finally agreed and did great in the interview... he even got the detective's business card which he taped to his chest proudly. And Monte & Cody spent two nights at Children's before coming home. We were given a special car seat for Cody since his legs were set too wide to fit into a regular seat. It's been just over two weeks since he was put in a cast, and we're counting down the days before it can come off! As if a two yr old isn't stubborn and assertive enough - try taking care of one who can't do half the things he used to do only weeks ago! He's cranky and irritable, and for the first little while he wasn't getting much sleep because of the nightmares he'd have over the incident. It's been a long haul, but going back to Children's this past week for his check-up made me realize just how fortunate we are... this is something so temporary, and there are so many kids out there who are battling long-term diseases and conditions. Families who don't live anywhere near the hospital have to relocate and turn their lives upside down to take care of their child's health. While sometimes the day-to-day challenges of carting around what feels very much like a giant, opinionated, vocal baby bring me to tears feeling discouraged, there are kids who are in far worse states and I thank God he's granted us our overall health.