Adjustment following AFOs: Seven tricks

These are the things that make us quite blue.

Here they are now:  Pain One and Pain Two!

Laelia  got new braces this week. Now you’re probably wondering why that means we missed an art show at the Park Gallery (where Laelia was one of the artists), a birthday party, church  and a couple of promised  trips to the zoo. Let me explain.

There’s nothing I dislike more than painful ankle foot orthotics (AFOs). My husband and I have considered surgery over  using AFOs (not a good idea by the way)  and had our worst parenting experiences following getting new AFOs.  Dark times.

We have been through this before, but that only makes it marginally easier. When you’re looking at getting casts off and seeing your darling child’s legs again all you think about is bath time and putting them in real pants. What no one seems to warn you about is that you’re in for pain. New AFOs that are really doing their job WILL make your child weep in agony. (My first experience with AFOs when Laelia was a bitty baby went something like this.)  This time we at least knew what we would be looking at.  Still we got our hopes up just a bit that it would be easier now that Laelia was older. It wasn’t.

When I was  younger I would get  the braces on my teeth adjusted and they’d hurt. It was done after school and all I could have for dinner  a few hours later was  aspirin. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep. And I was one whiny teenager during those first two days  following an  adjustment.  AFO pain is suppose to be comparable with that, only with a little kid who could probably out-complain someone who was just hit by a bus.

(Speaking of, Laelia scared me to death when she started to scream her head off in the middle of the night. It turned out  she was frustrated with the volume control for her movie. Of course everything is major when you’re in discomfort, but still.  I gave her a stern look and asked her, “When are you allowed to scream like that?” She hung her head and guiltily replied in her little voice, “Only when I’m on fire or being eaten by a bear.” That’s right!)

So how do we get through new AFOs? There are some tips and tricks.

#1. Send husband far, far away.  My super wonderful husband  is mush when his daughter cries. Plus he works two jobs to support us and our adoption and needs the sleep. (Plus I have a personal theory that hardship makes women stronger and reduces men to tiny, helpless children. *ahem*)

#2. Remember it always takes three days with AFOs. After three days life gets normal again. Keep your eye on the goal. You can do almost anything for three days, right? Plan on getting no sleep for those nights and treat it like having the flu. Call in sick and hunker down for some hard times.

#3. The trick is to  not ease up on the dorsiflexion  straps. Loosening the straps leads to a month of this and this. I’m serious. It also leads to months of whining about loosening the already loosened straps. This is the first time in our child’s life that I have not loosened the straps. I always have caved on this point in the past. (What can I say?! I’m weak!!) Don’t do it!

#4.  Medicate the kid. Now when it comes to medication I always hesitate. I hate “unnatural” things in my body, even when they’re good things. And being a first time mom I have been scared to put anything into my precious daughter’s system, especially when she already has to have meds after surgery. But medicine  takes the edge off. So this is the very first time I actively asked for a prescription for pain meds before starting this new AFO process. It made me feel icky, but I’m glad I did it. It helps on  a physical level and also on a psychological level. When Laelia knew she was taking the pain meds she started feeling  better. When we hid them in her food she only felt marginally better.

#5.  Take the AFOs  off and check the skin.  I know it’s hard to even look at these things let alone touch them. And yes your child will scream while you remove them and then scream louder when you put them back on. But you need  to check for redness, “work” the straps and change sweaty socks.  Wet socks  lead to  skin breakdown (click on that link only if you want to see bloody pictures of my child’s foot). Then you put those braces right back on  without loosening them! Stay  strong through the begging and pleading and shaking. (Kick your husband out AGAIN when he comes to make sure his daughter is not on fire.)

#6. Be super mom. It was hell the first two nights and  we got next to no sleep. We watched kid’s shows all night while I rubbed her back and legs and the tops of her feet with the braces on.  Hour after hour after hour. She cried and whined a lot. I had to sometimes leave the room to go punch a pillow and cry before coming back to her. (A crying child does not always result in sympathy, but instead you just want them to stop!) But I always  let her know I’m in this thing too. I stayed firm about  not loosening or taking off her shoes until she finally (30 hours later) stopped asking. We got through it together.

#7. Don’t loosen the straps.  Did I mention that already? :)  Some say to work up to the lines, meaning start out with them loose and work up to full tightness, but don’t ever start tight and loosen! Not worth it. (For the record, we didn’t do that. We started with them on the lines and stayed there. That way it would be really hard for three days instead of a little less hard for a week or two. Last time an ulcer developed. Then you back off. We were lucky this time.)

The pay off:  Last night (day three) she complained when I put on the straps but  then she slept for 14 hours straight with those braces on. She woke up saying that the pain meds had worked and  her feet  didn’t hurt. She has finally adjusted. And her feet, although a bit red in places,  look beautiful and have more range of motion.

Yay! Ugh. Now what day is it? *collapses*

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