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When patients and carers have no choice but to be innovative…

Patients and carers across the world are constantly coming up with new ideas in relation to the management of medications, achieving daily tasks with limited mobility, tracking symptoms and even finding ways to remember medical information. I myself even came up with the MediStori – a personal health organiser – while caring for my dad who was on 22 medications!

And this last week, for us, it was no different.

This time, however, it was not because of one of the many chronic conditions each of my daughters have – it was simply because my youngest daughter had slipped on a path, and upon going to the Emergency Department we were told she had ended up damaging the growth plate in her little ankle. Upon learning of same, 10 year old Mackensie was brought into the plaster room; a lovely nurse explained everything that was happening to her, and a cast was put on. She was given little crutches to walk on.

Sound serious? No, not at all – especially in the greater scheme of things.

Yet, over the next few days we found out the complications that come with the joys of having a cast and crutches combined – and along with the fact that she has a condition called hypermobility – poor Mackensie was finding it extremely difficult to do just simple day to day tasks.

All of my creative brain had to kick in to help her feel “normal”.

  • The first issue was her hands. After just 15 minutes of using the crutches her little hands became red, swollen and chaffed. All of the pressure was going down on her hands to carry her full body weight as she lifted her entire body for every step she took. 

File 27-08-2016 9 03 47 a.m.Solution 1: Get soft bandages and wrap them around the handles of the crutches.

Result 1: The bandages wore down in no time at all and chaffed her hands even more.

Solution 2: Cover the handles of the crutches with slipper socks.

Result 2: While they were soft, their bulkiness widened the span between her thumb and forefinger, and with having hypermobility, this caused more pain in the tendons and ligaments in her hands.

Solution 3: Ask my friends on Facebook!

Result 3: I was told to use the wrapping for Hurley sticks –  but this too caused chaffing on her hands – much like the bandage did.

Solution 4: Ask the pharmacist!

Result 4: Get pipe insulation – now, this at long last, worked a treat – and was cheap too!

  • The second issue was the stairs. An easy task for most but when you add a heavy cast and crutches to follow – not so easy!

Solution 1: Go up the stairs on her bottom.

Result 1: She found it difficult as she had to put more pressure on her hands while lifting her full body weight for each step.

Solution 2: Go up the stairs on her front.

Result 2: Both her legs would bang off the steps as she moved up each step, causing bruising.

Solution 3: Hop up the stairs on her good leg.

Result 3: This caused pain in her right hip – where her hypermobility affects her the most – and we were afraid she’d fall.

Solution 4: Have mammy or daddy lift her legs as she went up the stairs backwards.

Result 4: Even though this was the solution which worked the best, as it eased the pressure off her hands and hips. – Mammy and Daddy were both wrecks from trying to carry crutches while lift her legs at the same time – and her independence was taken away from her.

  • The third issue was bath time! Wrapping up the cast in plastic bags and sealing with cling film was the easy part, but we still could not submerge that leg…

File 27-08-2016 9 03 22 a.m.Solution 1: Bring a small stool (or stepladder as we did!) into the bath and have her sit in the bath with leg elevated.

Result 1: Her leg got tired from being lifted AND as she is of the age where she doesn’t like anyone to see her “in the nude” anymore so we also had to put her swimsuit on, meaning she didn’t get a proper wash.

Solution 2: Sit at the side of the bath with her head over the bath to wash her hair.

Result 2: Her neck got tired easily and again, she wasn’t getting washed properly.

Solution 3: Bring a chair into the shower, along with another chair outside of the shower to elevate leg.

Result 3: This worked best (even if half the bathroom got soaked!) But again, her independence was taken away from her

Now these were just the top three issues – we also had to find ways where she could open doors on her own; brush her teeth while balancing on crutches and the joys of having to keep the crutches standing together and not fall over when she sat at the dinner table. We had to find ways where she could carry things in her hands while using the crutches – and with school starting next week I’m sure we’ll find more fun things to get innovative with!

So, I suppose my question is – why are devices, like crutches, not built with the patients whole needs in mind?

Yes, they serve the purpose of keeping the weight off the injured leg, but they do not help with other issues that are part of daily life – and they put weight and strain on the rest of the body. Additionally she needed more pain relief for her tired hips and creams for her sore hands.

Also she is lucky that she is a child – and has us, her parents, to care for her – what happens with the poor adults who are living on their own?

Researching online showed me there are such innovations available across the seas – but they come with a high cost – and with her more than likely going to be taken off the crutches in a few weeks time – this is not something I am going to invest in (though I am still really tempted!)

I really feel our health services should invest in these solutions – not us, as patients.


  • A helpful booklet could be given to patients with ideas on how to do daily tasks – not just outlining what NOT to do
  • “Insulation” type covers given at the point of care for the handles would help ease the pain on hands
  • Giving out a waterproof cover for the cast would prevent patients having to come up with ideas all on their own
  • Having a little bag which attaches to the crutches could help people carry items with them
  • A simple little elastic could “stick” the crutches together temporarily so they don’t fall over, or fall apart

Or even better health services could research new crutches which aide in even distribution of weight, and then invest in same!

Yes, the pink cast makes having a cast more fun but this is only a short lived experience – the real experience is just trying to get on with it!

So have you ever had to be innovative while being a patient or carer – or even a health care professional?

If so, I would love to hear your stories…