Rite of passage: the busted wing

Landon Hall

For my 5-year-old daughter, a broken arm actually has been a positive learning experience. She’s learned that her body isn’t invincible — and yet it’s not fragile, either. She’s learned how the body works, and how it heals.

On Aug. 2, she fell while playing hide-and-seek with the neighbor kids, smacking her elbow on the sidewalk and causing a hairline fracture of her left humerus (the upper arm bone). In the days afterward she was gloomy and despondent. She loves birds and fairies and unicorns, and lamented her “broken wing.” Now she’s back to her normal self, leaping off stairs and outdoor brick walls.

It helps that she has a cool pink cast. When I broke my first bone (a broken right wrist, caused by a collision with East Junior High classmate Brian Allen on the baseball field during Babe Ruth League play at age 13), we had one choice of color: creamy white, which turned into sweat-stained white after a day.

I talked with the kid’s orthopedic guy, Dr. Carl Weinert, and he said his practice uses 3M-brand Fiberglas casting tape, which comes in a dozen different colors, plus camouflage. Moisten the tape and it hardens within a few minutes. Weinert, who’s also director of the Musculoskeletal program at CHOC’s Orthopaedic Institute, says he encourages kids to decorate their casts with jewels, paints and gel pens (better than Sharpies, which fade).

Weinert mentioned that some kid came in to get his cast cut off, and had gone to the Big A and gotten a half-dozen players to sign the cast. That is one filthy keepsake.

Speaking of, there are ways to reduce itchiness and odor, Weinert says. Point a hair dryer up each end of the cast, on the coolest setting; that can relieve itching. There are also products, like the CastCooler, that suck the moisture out and can make the area more comfortable.

Also, they make a product, DryPro, that seals around the cast to keep it dry so you can go swimming. But it’s tough to find the right size, which should be a little smaller than you think so it can form a tight seal. You should know that both those products are on the expensive side, so we abstained. For baths, we used the tried-and-true bread-bag-and-rubber-band method.

Whatever you do, don’t do what I did to calm an itch: Stick an unfolded wire coat hanger down there to scratch it. Weinert says if you cut the skin, all the bacteria lying in wait on your unwashed skin will certainly cause an infection.

Luckily, kids don’t stink that much (which is why they don’t usually need deodorant), and their bones heal more quickly than those of adults. Em is due to get her cast cut off on Aug. 26, so she’ll have worn it for only 24 days.