M had been anxiously counting down, fretting that the day might never come, but finally it arrived with just over a week to go until the end of term and I had left him at school that morning absolutely buzzing with excitement about everything planned for the day. It had been marked as an important day ever since his last fracture clinic appointment 3 weeks before, which you may remember showed that the break was not mending as quickly as the orthopaedic consultants would have liked and left M sporting his rather snazzy sarmiento cast for a few more weeks. During that unexpected extra time, M had really made the effort to use his leg even more and became scarily fast and adept at using his crutches in every situation. The last week saw even more development as he more or less abandoned his crutches at home and finally started putting his full weight on his left leg. All this to ensure that that cast would well and truly be removed that afternoon and be needed no more.
Our afternoon started with a DEXA scan at the rheumatology department of our local hospital to assess M’s bone density. The severity of both this break and his previous broken arm alongside the longer than anticipated recovery time had rung a few alarm bells for his gastro team and they wanted to check that his restricted diet and years of malabsorption issues hadn’t had a detrimental effect on his bones. Although the blood tests done during his December admission at GOSH had suggested his calcium levels were fine, this additional test would give us a clear picture of his bones and hopefully put our minds at rest. I had been warned that M would need to lie still for up to 45 minutes, something I doubted would be do-able without a lot of persuasion, by which, of course, I mean bribery, but he promised to try his hardest as he realised how important it was to get these results. Fortunately, the scan itself actually took less than 10 minutes to complete and whilst M did have to lie very still, he closed his eyes and tried to relax as the bed and scanner arm twisted and turned around him to take images from all the necessary angles.
DEXA scan over, we had just enough time to walk across to the outpatients department for his fracture clinic appointment. With our timing near on perfect, it was almost straight into the x-ray suite, where M chatted away with the radiographer as if he was an old friend and went through all the motions to get the perfect set of pictures of the fracture site. From there, it was straight into clinic and minutes later into the plaster room to have his sarmiento cast removed. Ear defenders were quickly put into place before the saw was started and M’s expressive face reflected his nerves and the mild discomfort as the plaster technician cut through the cast and the vibrations disturbed his sensitive leg. The front half was removed and trimmed as M wanted to bring it home as a memento of the last 6 weeks and I flat-out refused to bring home the back half, covered as it was with layers of dirt, sweat and oodles of dead skin.
M and I sat waiting for the orthopaedic consultant to look at his x-rays before giving us his opinion, so I tentatively peeled back the tubigrip stocking that had been the only barrier between his leg and the plaster for the last 3 months. His left leg was a little skinnier than his right, though not as much as we had feared it might be, but was also incredibly hairy, something we hadn’t anticipated at all. A little research told us that when a cast is in place for an extended period, it causes constant irritation of the skin and so the hair grows to form a protective layer between the skin and the plaster cast. It was a completely unexpected insight into what M might look like when he eventually hits those dreaded teen years and puberty – and he really wasn’t impressed! In stark contrast to his skinny, white and very hairy leg, M’s foot was almost orange in colour and as scaly as his bearded dragon thanks to 13 weeks of no washing and hot weather. I snapped a quick photo to show it to M and the entire fracture clinic must have wondered what was going on as he and I dissolved into fits of giggles as we tried to decide the best way to remove layer after layer of the dead, scaly skin. For the first time ever, M couldn’t wait to get home and jump into the bath and he stayed in it for a long time that evening in an attempt to remove both dry skin and hair.
We were sent home with a walking boot and crutches to help ease him back into the routine of walking and exercising without his leg in a cast and within 3 weeks both had been abandoned to one side. We’ve been back for our final fracture clinic, where M was discharged with a clean bill of health and permission from the consultant to participate in as many of the activities as he wants at next week’s activity camp. Unbelievably there is no physiotherapy available for M through the NHS, but we have an excellent private physio in a nearby town and M will have a couple of sessions there to get him well on the road to recovery. He is having to learn to pace himself, something my hyperactive 10 year-old is not very good at doing, but the aching leg that results from a couple of hours running around our garden with G is a harsh reminder that his leg won’t just bounce back to where it was at the start of the year. It will take a few months to recover the strength, muscle tone and mobility that M is used to, but some hard work and focus will get him there in the end.
Most importantly, M got the happy ending he’d been hoping for since that miserable day in April. He was able to spend his last week of Year 5 back in school without crutches and even had some time back outside in the playground with his peers. And nothing will beat the absolute joy I felt as I watched him disappear from the classroom surrounded by his supportive friends on the last day of term.