A Broken Bone
You watch as if in slow motion as your child crashes his scooter or falls from the jungle gym, your worst fears realized as he screams and clutches his arm or leg. If the bone is actually protruding, don't move him; call 911. Otherwise, call your doctor or head to the ER, says Meridith Sonnett, M.D., director of pediatric emergency medicine at the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York-Presbyterian.
The Ouch Factor "Breaking a bone hurts right away and usually a lot," Dr. Sonnett says, so expect your child to reprise the Home Alone scream -- over and over. Younger kids may hate holding still for the x-ray, not to mention it could be uncomfortable depending on how they need to be positioned. And, of course, being immobilized for weeks or months in a tight, itchy cast is awful. Fortunately, if the doc does need to manipulate the bone extensively -- a horribly painful procedure -- your child will be sedated.
On-the-Spot Soothers Ask for pain relief right away -- in fact, insist on it. You'll be there for a while, and there's no need for your child to suffer needlessly. Then distract, distract, distract. "When my ten-year-old son broke his arm last year, we talked and giggled about the science-fiction books he'd been reading while we waited in the ER," says Frances Schagen of Kentville, Nova Scotia, Canada. Littler kids will feel better just snuggling with you -- ask if he can sit on your lap for the x-ray or even the casting. If your child is at least 8, look into whether he can have a removable, soft cast; if a hard one is inevitable, consider a waterproof variety. "The downside is it may start to smell after a while and so need to be replaced a few times. But for some kids, being able to swim all summer is worth it," Dr. Sonnett says. You'll still need to cover it at bathtime so that it will last longer.
Thinking Ahead Okay, no one really prepares for a broken bone, but if it does happen, try to take extra care about the words you use while waiting for the doctor. Even "broken bone" could conjure images of shattered glass in your child's head. Instead, you might simply want to say that it's hurt or injured, cautions Betsy Cetnarowski, a child life specialist at Akron Children's Hospital in Ohio. Older kids can handle more detail, so use simple medical terminology and walk them through what they may see, hear, and feel.