Caring for a child after orthopedic trauma surgery can be stressful. The following tips can be helpful in caring for the child at home after surgery.
1. Keeping Comfortable: Broken bones are painful, particularly in the first few days after injury or surgery. Keeping the affected arm or leg elevated can help minimize swelling and pain. Ice can be used intermittently, but avoid direct contact with skin (wrap ice in a towel) and limit icing to 15-30 minutes at a time. Ice can help even through a cast, but it takes longer for the temperature change to take effect.
2. Pain Medication: After surgery, most children are sent home with a prescription for pain medication. Try to fill the prescription right away and follow your doctor’s instructions. If your child can’t swallow pills or doesn’t like the taste of the syrup, mixing medication into a favorite juice or food can make it easier to take. Alternatively, some pharmacies offer children’s medications in special preparations with a variety of flavors available. Consult with your child’s physician about medication.
3. Ins and Outs: Immobility, narcotic medications and changes in diet around the time of surgery can lead to constipation. A balanced diet with increased fluids and fiber, including fruits and vegetables, is helpful. If constipation is a problem or narcotic medications are prescribed, your doctor may also prescribe a medication for constipation.
4. Getting around: Your child may have a cast on, or receive instructions to avoid using or bearing weight on an arm or leg. Sometimes a temporary change in where your child sleeps is helpful so that getting to important parts of the home, such as the bathroom, is easier.
5. Dressing and Cast Care: Casts following surgery are typically not waterproof. As you can’t wash under a cast, the healing incision and build up of skin cells can sometimes cause itchiness. Blowing cold air down the cast using a hairdryer on the “cold” setting may help. Whether you have a dressing or a cast, it needs to be kept dry. Keep clean with sponge baths (wipe down the body with a damp sponge without actually sitting in a tub of water), or with a regular bath or shower as long as the cast or dressing is completely sealed from water getting in. Plastic bags and tape can be used to keep things dry, or special cast protectors can be found at the drug store.
6. What to Watch Out For: Fever, increasing redness, swelling, wound drainage, pain and changes in sensation, strength or skin color may indicate a complication after surgery. Contact your surgeon immediately if you have any concerns.
7. Follow Up: Children need to see their surgeon within a few weeks of surgery for a routine follow up appointment. Your surgeon wants your child’s surgery to be a success.
If you have questions after surgery about caring for your child, consult with your surgeon so that he or she can help your child have the best possible healing and rehabilitation.
Dr. Emily Dodwell is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery.